The Structure of English Language — Sentence Styles

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Loose sentence | balanced sentence | periodic sentence

For purposes of analysing style, sentences may be described as loose, balanced or periodic.

Loose sentence

Here the writer or speaker states fact after fact as they occur, seemingly freely and artlessly, as in the opening of The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe:

“I was born in the year 1632, in the city of York, of a good family, though not of that country, my father being a foreigner of Bremen, who settled first at Hull: he got a good estate by merchandise, and leaving off his trade, lived afterwards at York, from whence he had married my mother, whose relations were named Robinson, a very good family in that country, and from whom I was called Robinson Kreutznoer; but by the usual corruption of words in England, we are now called, nay we call ourselves, and write our name Crusoe, and so my companions always called me. ”

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Balanced sentence

Here the writer or speaker has a concern for symmetry - the second half of the sentence contains a similar or opposite idea to the first half. These techniques are very effective in persuasion, and are sometimes known as parallelism or antithesis. Consider this from Francis Bacon (1561-1626):

“Children sweeten labours, but they make misfortunes more bitter: they increase the cares of life, but they mitigate the remembrance of death.”

Or this from Viscount Grey of Fallodon, on the eve of the First World War:

“The lamps are going out all over Europe: we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.”

Or, finally, this spoken by President John F. Kennedy:

“Ask not what your country can do for you: ask what you can do for your country.”

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Periodic sentence

Here the climax of the sentence comes at its end. A good example is in the opening of Edward Gibbon's 18th century Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:

“It was in Rome, on the 15th of October 1764, as I sat musing amidst the ruins of the Capitol, while the barefooted friars were singing vespers in the temple of Jupiter, that the idea of writing the decline and fall of the city first started to my mind.”

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