Sentence analysis
Syntax simply means the order of words in a sentence. Basically, the term
sentence can be applied to any group of words that make sense, and the
usual visual markers are a capital letter and a full stop, question mark or
exclamation mark.
Sentences can be divided into three basic types:
1. Simple sentences have one main clause (subject, object + verb).
2. Compound sentences have two (or more) main clauses linked by coordinating
conjunctions (and, but, or, nor, either, neither).
3. Complex sentences consist of two or more clauses, but one is the main and the
other(s) is/are subordinate. They are linked together by subordination using
words such as because, when, although.
A sentence may perform many functions. For example:
Declarative sentences are statements.
Interrogative sentences ask questions.
Imperative sentences issue commands.
Exclamatory sentences are exclamations and always end with an exclamation
When analysing texts it is essential that you comment on aspects of the grammar and
syntax, but it is not enough to write ‘this text uses long and short sentences’. You need
to explain why you think the writer has chosen to use particular sentence structures,
and effect they have on the tone, mood and impact of the overall writing.
Why are these types of sentences usually used?
Simple sentences can be used to create a straightforward, accessible style. They may
also be used selectively to achieve impact or emphasis, and for imperatives or
Compound sentences place equal importance on each clause. The word ‘and’ suggests
an additive relationship whereas ‘but’ suggests a contrastive relationship.
Complex sentences include more detail and they can create atmosphere, build to a
climax etc. Complex sentences might be used for a variety of different reasons, so you
need to think how and why the writer has chosen a particular sentence type.
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Sentence analysis
Read the extracts below. Identify the sentence types (simple, compound or complex)
and functions (declaratives, imperatives, exclamatory, or interrogative). Analyse why
the writer has chosen to use particular sentence structures and comment on the effect
these have on the meaning, tone and mood.
Text 1:
‘In unthinking panic, he leapt up to peer over the rail and at that moment
the Raider rolled and tipped him over the side into the dark. His basket of
needles followed him. The ship rose up like a cliff face above him and he
knew there was no one on deck. No one to see him fall or hear his cries.
His only chance was to grab the rail as it came plunging down towards him
slowly, slowly like a slow-motion film.’
From Raider by Susan Gates
Text 2:
‘At least once a fortnight a corps of caterers came down with several
hundred feet of canvas and enough coloured lights to make a Christmas
tree of Gatsby’s enormous garden. On buffet tables, garnished with
glistening hors-d’oeuvre, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of
harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold. In
the main hall a bar with a real brass rail was set up, and stocked with gins
and liquors and with cordials so long forgotten that most of his female
guests were too young to know one from another.
By seven o’clock the orchestra has arrived, no thin five-piece affair, but a
whole pitful of oboes and trombones and saxophones and viols and cornets
and piccolos, and low and high drums. The last swimmers have come in
from the beach now and are dressing upstairs; the cars from New York are
parked five deep in the drive, and already the halls and salons and
verandas are gaudy with primary colours, and hair bobbed in strange new
ways, and shawls beyond the dreams of Castile.’
From The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
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Sentence analysis
What type of sentence is this? Why has repetition
been used?
What effect does the writer achieve with this
sentence structure?
Why has coordination been used in this sentence?
What effect does it have on the relationship between
the narrator and the description?
Why has the writer used ‘But’ at the beginning of
this sentence, and an ellipsis at the end? What is the
What type of sentences are these? Why have they
been used?
‘Everything is as it was, I discover when I reach my
destination, and everything has changed.1
Nearly half a century has passed since I last stepped out
of a train at this little wooden station, but my feet carry me
with a kind of effortless, dreamlike inevitability down the
sloping station approach to the quietly busy mid-afternoon
main road, left towards the muddled little parade of shops,
and left again by the letter box into the long, straight,
familiar avenue.2 The main road’s full of fussy new traffic
arrangements, the shops have impersonal new commercial
names and frontages, and the stringy prunus saplings I
remember along the verges of the avenue are now wise and
dignified trees.3 But when I turn the corner once again, off
the avenue into the Close … 4
There it is, as it always was. The same old quiet, sweet,
dull ordinariness. 5
I stand on the corner, looking at it, listening to it,
breathing it in, not sure whether I’m moved to be here
again after all this time, or whether I’m quite indifferent.’ 6
How has the sentence structure and syntax changed
here? What effect does this have on the mood?
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From Spies by Michael Frayn
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