I hate reading work by Ernest Hemingway. I find his use of short, staccato sentences to be choppier than the water in The Old Man and the Sea, and I often find myself wondering, “Would it have killed this man to write a complex sentence?” Sure, the grammar rules would have been a little more tricky, but it would have made English class my sophomore year of high school much more bearable.
That being said, here are some tips for writing complex sentences:
1) Join less important sentences together.
This is usually done by joining different clauses together. There are two types of clauses that can serve this purpose: dependent and independent. A dependent clause, which does not include both a subject and a verb, does not need to be separated from the rest of the sentence with a comma. Contrastingly, an independent clause contains both a subject and a verb, so it has to be joined to the sentence with a comma or a semi-colon.
“He only dreamed of places now and of the lions on the beach.” (Hemingway)
The phrase “of the lions on the beach” is not a complete sentence, so it does not need to be joined to the rest of the sentence by a comma.
“He only dreamed of places now and of the lions on the beach. He never dreamed about the boy.” (Hemingway)
This block of text can be joined into a complex sentence because it consists of two independent clauses.
He dreamed of places now and of the lions on the beach, yet he never dreamed about the boy.
2) Remember FANBOYS.
These coordinating conjunctions are easy tools for joining two independent clauses together. Below is an example of how complex sentences can give writing better flow.
Write drunk. Edit sober.
Authors should write drunk, but they should edit their work sober.
In the above sentence, the coordinating conjunction is bolded, and the subject and verb phrase of the independent clause are underlined.
**Please note that the writing tutors do not advocate doing your writing assignments while intoxicated. That is all Hemingway’s idea.**
3) Vary the structure of your sentences.
Not all sentences that consist of two independent clauses need to use a comma and a coordinating conjunction. Semi-colons can also be useful.
“The fish moved steadily [as] they travelled slowly on the calm water. The other baits were still in the water but there was nothing to be done.” (Hemingway)
With a semi-colon, the sentences above could look like this.
The fish moved steadily as they travelled slowly on the calm water; the other baits were still in the water, but there was nothing to be done.”
Writing that does not contain too many simple sentences is the easiest to read. Using different types of sentence structures can help a writer to achieve better flow, and make sure that a reader does not zone out while reading like I did in sophomore year English.
-Michelle, peer tutor
Hacker, Diana, and Nancy Sommers. A Writer’s Reference. Boston: Bedford St. Martin’s, 2010. Print.
Hemingway, Ernest. The Old Man and the Sea. New York: Scribner, 1952. Print.