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In terms of style, you will also find that sentences are classified as periodic or cumulative sentences. Periodic sentences begin with modifying phrases and clauses, sometimes piling them on, and then end with an independent clause, period.

If, instead of listening to the war-mongers of the military-industrial establishment, the politicians had only listened to what people had been writing in their letters and in the newspaper columns, if they had only listened to what the demonstrators had been shouting in the streets and on the campuses, if they had only listened to what was in their hearts, the war would have ended long ago.

Cumulative sentences, on the other hand, begin with the independent clause and then finish with a flurry of modifying constructions.

Again, it is not so much that one kind of sentence is to be preferred over another but that a good craftsperson uses the right tool for the right job and doesn't use the same tool all the time.

It does no good to be overly conscious of these sentence types in the first draft of your essay, but as you review your essay, keep in mind that too many sentences of any one kind — especially too many simple sentences — will be tedious for your reader. On the other hand, as we have seen, there is nothing like a brief sentence to drive home a point after a lengthy, rambling sentence. Try spicing up your prose by combining sentences into different structures.

The most important thing you will derive from using a variety of sentence types is the shifts in tone that will result. Variety of sentence structure and type liberates your text from the monotone. Ezra Pound said that writing aspires to music, "which is the art of arts." Good academic prose is not poetry and it is not music, but there is surely no reason for it to remain on the dull plains of sameness.

Try using an occasional cleft sentence. The structure of a cleft sentence allows a writer to emphasize a part of a sentence in the same way that a speaker can emphasize part of a sentence using voice stress. We could say "Coach CALHOUN came up with the program of recruiting players from foreign countries." and by stressing the word "Calhoun" we let the listener know that we're distinguishing this coach from all others (in this particular context). To create the same kind of stress in writing, we can "cleave" (split) the sentence into two parts:

  • It was Coach Calhoun who came up with the program of recruiting players from foreign countries.

Or we could stress the idea of the PROGRAM in this way:

  • It was the program of recruiting players from foreign countries that Coach Calhoun came up with.

The cleft sentence usually uses it as the main subject with a to be verb; the real information in the sentence, oddly enough, follows in the predicate and then in a dependent clause beginning with a dependent word (usually who, which, or that).

Another form of the cleft sentence can be created with what (instead of it).

  • What you did in your youth is your own business.

The what form of the cleft sentence will frequently take the main verb (and business) of the sentence and put it into an initial noun clause:

  • A massive typhoon off the east coast delayed the invasion.
  • What delayed the invasion was a massive typhoon off the east coast.

Cleft sentences are useful for putting stress in a sentence exactly where you want it, but they should be used sparingly, reserved for special occasions — like birthdays and wedding anniversaries.

An emphatic sentence puts the stress on an auxiliary verb instead of some element after the verb, a complement or modifier. In normal intonation, we might say something like "The President was traveling to EGYPT yesterday," thus stressing how the President spent the day. If someone doubted the veracity of our statement, however, we might make our statement more emphatic by placing the stress of our intonation on the auxiliary: "The President WAS traveling to Egypt yesterday." In the absence of an auxiliary, the verb "do" is used to create emphasis: "The President DID spend the day in Egypt." The "to do" form has no effect on the meaning of the sentence except that it adds emphasis.

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