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Writing

How to Write Short Sentences: Write Clearly and Simply

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Jan 27, 2020 • 5 min read

The craft of simple writing begins with learning how to write short sentences. Getting a complete idea across in fewer words allows you to be succinct and direct, and it improves the readability of your story. Ernest Hemingway was a master of minimalism when it came to writing. Follow in his footsteps and learn how to construct short sentences.

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4 Types of Sentences

In the English language, there are four kinds of sentences. Each sentence type can be written as succinctly to convey thoughts and ideas in a direct way.

  1. Simple sentences: A simple sentence is a basic sentence with one independent clause—a complete thought that can stand on its own. There are different types of simple sentences based on how many subjects and verbs are in the clause. The following examples of simple sentences show the variations. A basic simple sentence: “I’m going for a run.” A simple sentence with a compound subject: “Jill and I are going for a run.” A simple sentence with compound verbs: “I’m going to run and bike.” A simple sentence that is an imperative—a command with an implied subject: “Give me the salt, please.”
  2. Compound sentences: Compound sentences consist of two or more independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction. The coordinating conjunctions are “and,” “but,” “for,” “or,” “nor,” “yet,” and “so.” For example: “The girl hit the ball, and the ball flew out of the park.”
  3. Complex sentences: Complex sentences consist of an independent clause and one or more dependent clauses—a phrase with a subject and verb that does not express a complete thought—joined by a subordinating conjunction. Some subordinating conjunctions are “although,” “when,” “because,” “so,” “that,” and “until.” For example: “The fans cheered when the girl hit the ball.”
  4. Compound-complex sentences: Compound-complex sentences consist of multiple independent clauses as well as at least one dependent clause. For example: “When the girl hit the ball, the fans cheered, and the ball flew out of the park.”

4 Benefits of Writing Short Sentences

Sentences are the basic building block of literature. A writer carefully crafts every sentence to convey an idea or express a thought. Stringing these independent lines together allows you to create a clear, engaging story. Here are reasons to write short sentences:

  1. Short sentences provide a direct path to your main point. The shortest path between two objects is a straight line. Think of that axiom when you’re writing. A verbose sentence will distract readers and bury your main point under unnecessary words.
  2. Short sentences improve readability. Whether you’re writing a novel, a short story, or a piece of academic writing, you can make your writing more accessible with short sentences. When sentences are short, the audience can easily understand your storyline. When readers have to go over lines multiple times to grasp the concept, you run the risk of losing them altogether.
  3. Short sentences are more striking. You don’t have to write long, elaborate sentences to make an impact. Learning how to make a point in a crisp, short line, is important for every writer. As you learn how to pare down your excess word usage and sculpt a sentence, your overall writing skills will improve.
  4. Short sentences prevent you from overthinking. Often, when writers are staring at a blank page wondering what to write, they are most likely overthinking what they are trying to say. When facing writer’s block, one approach is to step back and think of how to convey your point in the simplest way.
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How to Write Simply: 9 Tips for Writing Short Sentences

Conveying your point in just a few words is a skill every successful writer should master. Follow these eight writing tips for crafting a short sentence that makes a statement:

  1. Start small. The first sentence of your story needs to create intrigue that makes your audience want to keep reading. Keep this first sentence, and even your second sentence, brief to make it punchy and draw the readers in.
  2. Think about what you’re trying to say. Make sure every word contributes to the meaning of the sentence. Keep your main point front and center and support it with words that are relevant to your message.
  3. Cut down your word count. Every single word in a sentence should feel necessary to your main point. If you have a sentence that is too wordy, it can feel clunky. Look at what you can cut out to create a smooth, coherent message.
  4. Break up long sentences into two or more lines. If you have a sentence that feels too long, look at how many independent clauses it contains. If a sentence involves polysyndeton—the repeated use of coordinating conjunctions to connect different items in a sentence—try replacing conjunctions with commas or semicolons. Or, simply break the thoughts out into two different sentences.
  5. Use the active voice. When writing, use the active voice. In other words, when writing a sentence, put the subject first and have it perform an action. It is the most direct way to write a sentence. The passive voice, when an action happens to a subject, creates clunky sentences that use more words.
  6. Remove redundant words. People often write redundant words and phrases. For example: “In my opinion, I think” could simply be “I think,” and “close proximity” could instead be just “close.”
  7. Lose fluff words. Writers often include unnecessary words in a sentence, like adverbs and modifiers. Look over every line for those filler words. “I completely know what you mean” could become “I know what you mean.” If you use the words “actually” or “totally,” chances are you don’t need them.
  8. Write one-word and two-word sentences. In certain literary scenarios, like when you’re writing character dialogue, it’s stylistically acceptable to be extremely brief and write sentences with one or two words. Seriously. Try it.
  9. Review your work for sentence length. When you’ve completed your first draft, self-edit your story and review every single sentence. Reviewing your work can help you catch excess words. One long line isn’t bad, but a book full of them will weigh your story down. Begin shortening sentences to create clear, concise thoughts. Before you know it, writing short sentences will come naturally.

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