Sentence Combining in English

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

sentence combining - puzzle
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Definition

Sentence combining is the process of joining two or more short, simple sentences to make one longer sentence. Sentence combining activities are generally regarded as an effective alternative to more traditional methods of teaching grammar.

"Sentence combining is a kind of linguistic Rubik's cube," says Donald Daiker, "a puzzle that each person solves by using intuitions and syntax, semantics, and logic" (Sentence Combining: A Rhetorical Perspective, 1985).

As demonstrated below, sentence combining exercises have been used in writing instruction since the late-19th century. A theory-based approach to sentence combining, influenced by Noam Chomsky's transformational grammar, emerged in the U.S. in the 1970s.

How It Works

Here's a simple example of how sentence combining works. Consider these three short sentences:

- The dancer was not tall.
- The dancer was not slender.
- The dancer was extremely elegant.

By cutting out the needless repetition and adding a few conjunctions, we can combine these three short sentences into a single cohesive sentence. We might write this, for instance: "The dancer was not tall or slender, but she was extremely elegant." Or this: "The dancer was neither tall nor slender but extremely elegant." Or even this: "Neither tall nor slender, the dancer was extremely elegant nonetheless."

Example and Exercises

Direction. Combine the following short sentences into longer ones.
Caution.  In combining short sentences into longer ones, the pupil should be careful to give every part its proper place. The leading thoughts must form the principal clauses and the others must occupy positions of subordination, corresponding to their importance. For example, in combining the statements, "In 1857 an Act was passed. It cut down the average of duty to twenty percent," if we wish to give "the passing of the Act" prominence, the sentence will read, "In 1857 an Act was passed, cutting down," etc. If, however, we desire to give prominence to the "cutting down of the average of duty to twenty per cent," then we must write, "The average of duty was cut down to twenty per cent by an Act passed in 1857."

Separate: A frog had seen an ox. She wanted to make herself as big as he. She attempted it. She burst asunder.
Combined:

  1. A frog had seen an ox, and wanted to make herself as big as he; but when she attempted it she burst asunder.
  2. A frog that had seen an ox, and wanted to make herself as big as he, burst asunder when she attempted it.
  3. When the frog burst asunder, she was wishing and attempting to make herself as big as an ox which she had seen.
  4. Because a frog, when she had seen an ox, wanted to make herself as big as he, and attempted it, she burst asunder.
  5. It is said that a frog, having seen an ox, wanted to make herself as big as he, and burst asunder in the attempt.

1. He drew a picture of his old home. It showed the house. He was born in it. It showed the barns. It showed the orchard.
2. They played on. They played till six in the evening. They then desisted. They desisted till after dinner.
3. He reached his house. He gave orders. He was not to be disturbed. He went to bed. He tried to sleep. He tried in vain.
4. The Declaration of Independence was agreed to. It was agreed to on the 4th of July. It was engrossed on paper. It was signed. John Hancock signed it. He was president of the Congress.
5. Fair sir, you spit upon me. It was last Wednesday morning. You called me dog. That was another time. I am to lend you money. It is for these courtesies.
6. Xerxes resolved to invade Greece. He raised an army. The army consisted of two millions of men. This was the greatest force ever brought into the field.
7. He then left the lists. But he returned. He returned almost immediately. He had in his hand a willow wand. It was long. It was about six feet long. It was straight. It was thick. It was thicker than a man's thumb.
8. I struck the man in self-defense. I explained this to the magistrate. He would not believe me. Witnesses were called to support my statements. He committed me to prison. He had a right to do this. This right is rarely exercised in such circumstances. I remonstrated.
9. Then two or three boys laughed. They sneered. A big fellow was standing in the middle of the room. He picked up a slipper. He shied at the boy. The boy was kneeling. The big fellow called him a sniveling young fellow.
10. The ceiling is arched and lofty. At one end is a gallery. In this there is an organ. The room was once adorned with weapons and trophies of the chase. The walls are now covered with family portraits.