5 Sentence-Folding Fixes
Does your last piece of writing feel flat, static, repetitive? Is a soporific sentence rhythm dulling your edge? Combining sentences is an easy solution for making your prose flow more smoothly and briskly.
1. “The logging practices of the time were extraordinarily wasteful. They involved cutting and then burning in order to clear the logged area of limbs and other forest debris.”
The second sentence neatly folds into the first between the subject and the verb: “The logging practices of the time, which involved cutting and then burning in order to clear the logged area of limbs and other forest debris, were extraordinarily wasteful.”
2. “Smith completed his report in September 1950. It represented five years of work.”
The second, shorter sentence here is easily folded into the first, but how it should be done depends on the emphasis. If the duration of the project should be emphasized, then work the completion date into a parenthetical phrase: “Smith’s report, completed in September 1950, represented five years of work.” If the completion date is more important, parenthesize the project duration: “Smith’s report, representing five years of work, was completed in September 1950.” In either case, reserve the more important information for the end of the sentence.
3. “The book’s author, Jane Smith, was a well-established, award-winning author. Jones and his advisers tried hard but failed to keep the book from being published.”
The information about Smith, which follows a first reference to the book in question, is the kind of detail that is important but does not merit a separate sentence. However, if the preceding sentence is already complex (as was the case here), work it parenthetically into the next reference to the book: “Jones and his advisers tried hard but failed to keep the book, written by Jane Smith, a well-established, award-winning author, from being published.” (This is a natural fit, because the author’s status likely had some impact on the failure to suppress the book’s publication.)
The sentence could be further compressed by inserting the writer’s qualities before her name, rather than after it: “Jones and his advisers tried hard but failed to keep the book, written by well-established, award-winning author Jane Smith, from being published.”
4. “They needed $40,000 to qualify their bid proposal. To raise that amount, they wrote to people who had visited the area.”
The combine these sentences, simply replace “that amount,” the second reference to the monetary figure, with the first reference, and adjust the syntax of the first statement: “To raise the $40,000 they needed to qualify their bid proposal, they wrote to people who had visited the area.”
5. “The new bill was 157 pages long and described 150 projects in more than 200 congressional districts in forty-four states. The total cost was a tidy $1.8 billion.”
Forms of the lifeless verb “to be” (is, was, were, and so on) serve as red flags marking sentences that merit revision. The classic fix for the two-sentence template “This was that. This was that.” follows: Replace the first “to be” verb with a comma, and change the form of the second verb and replace the period with another comma; these actions convert what follows was in the first sentence into a parenthetical phrase. Then, jettison the first two words of the second sentence and the second “to be” verb, which transforms cost from a noun to a verb: “The new bill, 157 pages long and describing 150 projects in more than 200 congressional districts in forty-four states, cost a tidy $1.8 billion.”
Find more examples of how to combine sentences in this post.
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2 Responses to “5 Sentence-Folding Fixes”
Also: the “fix” for #5 has several flaws.
1) Transforming “cost” from a noun to a verb doesn’t work very well. The bill itself doesn’t cost anything; the projects it describes will cost quite a bit, but only if the bill is passed.
2) Sentence-folding doesn’t really buy much in the way of brevity, clarity, or music in this case. The original two-sentence structure, stodgy though it may be, is at least grammatically correct.
Just had to get that off my chest. 😉
#1 and #6 are identical. (I’m sure others have, and will be, pointing this out.)