sentence expanding (grammar exercises)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

How to Write a Sentence by Stanley Fish (HarperCollins, 2011).


Sentence expanding is the process of adding one or more words, phrases, or clauses to a main clause (or independent clause).

Sentence-expanding exercises are often used in conjunction with sentence-combining and sentence-imitation exercises. Together these activities may serve as a supplement or an alternative to more traditional methods of grammar instruction.

The primary purpose of using sentence-expanding exercises in composition is to heighten students' awareness of the variety of sentence structures available to them.

Sentence Expanding Exercises:

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:


Examples and Exercises

  • "Sometimes a sentence does not say enough, or it is too general. When that happens the sentence needs to be expanded. Sentence expanding simply means adding details. The best way to expand a sentence is to answer the 5 W's about the topic.
    Original Sentence: My friend is odd.

    Who is odd? my friend Jacob

    What is odd about him? He has a collection of bottle caps.

    Where are his bottle caps? In a set of boxes in his basement.

    When did he start collecting? about five years ago

    Why did he start? He had a Guinness in Dublin and saved the cap.

    Expanded Sentence: My friend Jacob is odd because he has a collection of bottle caps in a set of boxes in his basement.

    Note: The expanded sentence does not use all of the answers to the 5 W's, but a second sentence could cover the other details:

    He started the collection five years ago when he bought a Guinness in Dublin and saved the cap."
    (Dave Kemper, Verne Meyer, John Van Rys, and Pat Sebranek, Write 1. Wadsworth, 2012)

  • Sentence-Murdering and Sentence-Expanding
    "In a sentence-murdering activity, I butcher a selected sentence, usually turning it into a series of run-ons and comma splices, common errors beginning writers often make. In sentence-expanding, I give students a phrase from the selected sentence for them to expand into as long a sentence as possible without using correlative conjunctions or committing any syntactical errors. Copying well-written sentences daily gives students a tacit knowledge of how to write complex sentences without learning technical grammatical descriptions."
    (Sally E. Burkhardt, Using the Brain to Spell: Effective Strategies for All Levels. Rowman & Littlefield, 2011)

  • Expanding Texts
    "Write a single simple verb in the centre of the board. Invite students to add one, two or three words to it. For example, if the word was 'go,' they might suggest 'I go,' or 'Go to bed!' They go on suggesting additions of a maximum of three consecutive words each time, making a longer and longer text, until you, or they, have had enough.

    "The rule is that they can only add at the beginning or end of what is already written--otherwise you will end up with a rather untidy (and hard to read) series of additions. Add or change punctuation each time as appropriate. For example:
    Go to bed!
    'Go to bed!' said my mother.
    'Go to bed!' said my mother angrily.
    'You must go to bed!' said my mother angrily.
    . . . etc.
    "Variation: Students can erase the additions in reverse order, starting with the last addition and ending with the original word in the centre of the board.

    "Acknowledgement: Based on an idea in Dictation: New Methods, New Possibilities, by Paul Davis and Mario Rinvolucri (Cambridge University Press, 1988)."
    (Penny Ur and Andrew Wright, Five-Minute Activities: A Resource Book of Short Activities. Cambridge University Press, 1992)
  • Stanley Fish's Sentence-Expanding Exercise
    "You start small, with three-word sentences, and after you’ve advanced to the point where you can rattle off their structure on demand, you go on to the next step and another exercise. Take a little sentence ('Bob collects coins' or 'John hit the ball'), whose ensemble of relationships you are now able to explain in your sleep, and expand it, first into a sentence of fifteen words and then into a sentence of thirty words, and finally, into a sentence of one-hundred words . . .. And then--here comes the hard part again--tag every added component with an account of how it functions to extend and maintain the set of relationships that holds the sentence, however mammoth or unwieldy it becomes, together.

    "Here, for example, is the sentence 'John hit the ball' pumped up into something unreadable but perfectly formed:
    In the middle of the sixth inning of a crucial game in the pennant race, John, the league leader batting third, weakly but precisely hit on the nose the ball pitched with great velocity by the sure-to-be Hall of Fame hurler who had won his last five starts in an overwhelming fashion while going the whole nine innings and who therefore presented an intimidating image to anyone facing him, especially as the shadows lengthened over the mound, obscuring the mechanics of his delivery and rendering it difficult even to see the spheroid as it curved its sinuous way toward the plate, behind which were the umpire, ready to say 'ball' or 'strike,' and the catcher, prepared for whatever was about to happen.
    "Constructing this monster is easy, and I have found that freshman students have no trouble doing something similar with the three-word sentences of their choice. Giving an analytical account of how the construction was accomplished takes more work, and would require, for example, coming to see (and explaining) that everything following the word 'ball' is a modification of it. What ball is it? It is the ball 'pitched with great velocity by the sure-to-be Hall of Fame hurler who.' Everything from 'who' to 'anyone facing him' modifies or describes or characterizes the hurler (who, we must remember, has been brought in to further specify what ball it is that has been hit). Everything from 'especially' to the end of the sentence modifies or fleshes out the intimidating image the hurler presents. And everything remains tethered to the word 'ball,' the object of 'hit,' the action performed by John, whose biography precedes his appearance in the sentence. Within the overall structure there are all the smaller units, like 'as the shadows lengthened over the mound,' and they too have their own internal structure that must also be explicated. (A full analysis of this sentence would fill many pages.)

    "The more times you perform this exercise, always with different three-word sentences as the base, the easier it becomes, and the easier it becomes, the more practiced you will be in spotting the structure of relationships that gives sense and coherence even to verbal behemoths like this one."
    (Stanley Fish, How to Write a Sentence. HarperCollins, 2011)

  • Sentence Expanding and Metalinguistic Awareness
    "A sentence expanding activity invites learners to use their imagination to add more details to a sentence. Learners must have sufficient metalinguistic awareness to understand the terms attributive adjective, descriptive noun, and prepositional phrase and to be able to create constructions. In this case, a descriptive adjective, a descriptive noun, and another prepositional phrase are added:
    I bought shoes on my trip.

    I bought red tennis shoes on my trip to the city.
    Sentence manipulation can be modeled in class, but students can also learn to employ their awareness of modification while brainstorming or improving a draft paper during the writing process."
    (Barbara M. Birch, English Grammar Pedagogy: A Global Perspective. Routledge, 2014)