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Build and punctuate with variety

We use words to communicate, stretching them into creatures we call sentences.

Sounds simple enough, but it’s not always easy to create clear, correct sentences unless we use punctuation efficiently.

If you are like me, it becomes comfortable to use the same structure and punctuation over and over. I need to be reminded now and again of the various choices we have in construction.

We can certainly use simple, direct sentences: "He fired up the engine." Or we can add prepositional phrases without additional punctuation: "He fired up the engine of his Maserati out in the alley."

A compound sentence can add a second subject and verb and needs a comma between the two complete ideas: "He fired up the engine, and it hummed beautifully."

A complex sentence utilizes one independent clause and one or more subordinate (dependent) clauses. The latter cannot stand alone and sounds as though something is missing: "Although he was warned of danger, he fired up the engine while it was still in the garage." Notice we need a comma after the subordinate clause, before the independent clause. After the independent clause (…engine), however, there is no comma prior to the second dependent clause.

A compound-complex sentence contains two or more independent clauses and one or more subordinate clauses: "Although he had been warned, and while still in the garage, Ralph fired up the engine, and he escaped just in time." Commas occur after each dependent clause because they are before the independent clauses; a comma also comes between the two independent clauses.

I just used a semi-colon to separate two complete ideas. That is an option apart from using one period after another. Remember the colon can be used to introduce something “as follows.” These are normally lists or examples as opposed to complete sentences separated by either periods or semi-colons.

A writer can be effective by using different types of sentences with varied punctuation. Earnest Hemingway’s work is known for short, simple sentence structure; he was a terse minimalist.

Victor Hugo and William Faulkner, on the other hand, created involved sentences that could cover most of a page. With what or how is your writing style best known?

— Sandi Ekberg taught high school English in Medford for 30 years. If you have grammar questions, email her at ifixgrammar@charter.net