Improving sentence structure can help to augment the quality of your essays, exam answers, and theses.
In this article, you will learn what it means to improve the structure of your sentences, what you can do to improve them, and how to fix the writing you’ve already drafted to make it more readable.
Definition: Improving sentence structure
To begin with, a sentence is defined as a group of words, usually with a verb, that, together, convey a meaning when they’re put together coherently.1
Sentences can be statements, questions, or instructions in any tense. They’re begun with a capital letter and end in a full stop (period), question mark, or, in the case of an imperative instruction, an exclamation mark.
Sentences that don’t adhere to the above rules or that sound dull when read can be improved. This is what is meant by improving sentence structure.
Improving sentence structure: Parts of a sentence
Some sentences are very short: ‘Why?’ is an example of a one-word sentence.
That said, most sentences have a verb, such as ‘sat’ in the sentence
More complex sentences have adverbs and adjectives. These are describing words. Adverbs, such as:
- with haste
all describe verbs.
Conversely, adjectives describe nouns which can be subjects or objects. Examples of adjectives include:
These are the building blocks of sentences.
Where sub-clauses come in the middle of sentences – not at the start or the end – they are known as parentheses. Parenthetical clauses can be placed between commas, brackets, or dashes.
For most academic work, the use of commas is expected for parenthesis. Note that sub-clauses don’t make complete sentences. When they’re on their own, they are known as sentence fragments, that is to say, incomplete sentences.
Improving sentence structure with parenthesis
|Types of parenthesis||Example|
|Commas||You can, if you want, choose to stay at home.|
|Dashes||You can - if you want - choose to stay at home.|
|Brackets||You can choose to stay at home (if you want).|
Improving sentence structure: Different types of sentences
As you have already read, sentences can be basic or complex. Good writing tries to strike a balance between the two.
For example, a few basic sentences would be:
In this example, all of the sentences are short and rhythmically similar. While technically correct, they can be improved upon as a single, more complex sentence, such as:
By contrast, overly complex sentences can become unreadable. For instance:
In this sentence, there’s a list of shopping and some events that go back and forth in time. It’d be preferable to split up these ideas into new sentences when improving the sentence structure.
Of course, there are multiple ways of improving sentence structure when simplifying one long, complex sentence. Therefore, there is always a degree of personal preference and style when it comes to improving sentence structure.
How to fix sentence structure problems
Improving a sentence structure often means fixing common problems like those outlined above. To be clear, improving sentence structure can be done in many ways. These are just some of the most common examples of improving sentence structure that academics and teachers face when marking the work of students.
Sentences with a parallel structure use the same grammatical construction throughout and are best avoided.2
Improving the sentence structure of this example would mean altering it so that the parallel uses of verb forms ending in -ing are no longer present.
You will like hiking up the hills, walking around the town, and strolling through the market.
You will like hill hikes, a walk around the town, and a stroll through the market.
Wrong coordination occurs when incorrect prepositions are chosen to connect two parts of a sentence.3 Improving the sentence structure in cases of wrong coordination usually means choosing the correct preposition.
You should try and call me later.
You should try to call me later.
Run-on sentences appear to be two sentences that are fused together or that have a comma between two separate clauses without the correct conjunction.4
The cat sat on the mat was blue.
Not only was the cat on the mat, it sat there all day.
The cat sat on the mat. The mat was blue.
Not only was the cat on the mat, but it sat there all day, as well.
- Proofread your writing, looking for common errors like wrong coordination.
- Avoid repeating words where alternatives are available.
- Change the lengths of sentences, so they’re not all the same.
Improving the sentence structure of written work is important because it will help to make your writing more engaging, helping you to make your points in a way that is more interesting and possibly gaining better marks.
Words like “however”, “moreover”, and “hence” can be used at the start of one sentence to better reflect the previous sentence, thereby improving the sentence structure of each.
Try to leave your writing for a few hours or overnight before reading it to find ways of improving sentence structure. If you’re in an exam and want to improve your sentence structure, then allow a few minutes to make some edits.
1 University of Cambridge, Dictionary. “Sentence.” Accessed April 06, 2023. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/sentence.
2 Evergreen State College Writing Center. “Parallel Structure.” Accessed April 06, 2023. https://www.evergreen.edu/sites/default/files/writingcenter/handouts/grammar/parallel.pdf.
3 University College London. “False Coordination.” Accessed April 06, 2023. https://www.ucl.ac.uk/internet-grammar/conjunct/false.htm.
4 University of Guelph McLaughlin Library. “What Is a Sentence?” Accessed April 06, 2023. https://guides.lib.uoguelph.ca/Grammar/SentenceStructure.
5 Danahy, Kaitlyn, “The Importance of Improving Sentence Structure.” Study.com. Accessed April 06, 2023. https://study.com/academy/lesson/how-to-write-better-by-improving-your-sentence-structure.html.