Test Your Sentence-Expanding Skills

How to add detail to your writing

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Sentence expanding is the process of adding one or more words, phrases, or clauses to the main clause (or independent clause) to do just that: expand your sentences.

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 and writing instruction.

The primary purpose of using sentence-expanding exercises in composition is to enrich a student's thinking and attention to detail in storytelling while heightening his or her awareness of the variety of available sentence structures. All together, it gives students the ability to paint a more vivid picture and express a more complex thought.

Sentence-Expanding Possibilities

The frameworks for sentence expanding are as rich and varied as are the grammatical structures offered to us by the English language:

Examples and Exercises

  • Sentence-Murdering and Sentence-Expanding. English teacher and author Sally Burkhardt offers the following exercise: "In a sentence-murdering activity, [you] 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, [you] 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."
  • Expanding Texts: Effective language-teaching practitioners Penny Ur and Andrew Wright offer the following exercise for forming grammatical sentences by adding words or phrases: "Write a single simple verb in the center 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."
  • In 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."


  • Burkhardt, Sally E. Using the Brain to Spell: Effective Strategies for All Levels. Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2011.
  • Davis, Paul, and Mario Rinvolucri. Dictation: New Methods, New Possibilities. Cambridge University Press, 1989.
  • Fish, Stanley Eugene. How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One. Harper, 2012.
  • Ur, Penny, and Andrew Wright. Five-Minute Activities: A Resource Book of Short Activities. Cambridge University Press, 1994.
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Nordquist, Richard. "Test Your Sentence-Expanding Skills." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, thoughtco.com/sentence-expanding-grammar-exercises-1691946. Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 28). Test Your Sentence-Expanding Skills. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/sentence-expanding-grammar-exercises-1691946 Nordquist, Richard. "Test Your Sentence-Expanding Skills." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/sentence-expanding-grammar-exercises-1691946 (accessed March 22, 2023).