Vary Your sentences: Begin with a Different Part of Speech

“Vary Your Sentences: Begin with a Different Part of Speech” by Joan Y. Edwards

In the book Manuscript Makeover by Elizabeth Lyon, she gives you many ways to vary your sentences and improve your manuscript.  One new way intrigued me.  It was a new perspective on varying sentences for me. I’ve written about varying sentences by making them as long as ten words or shorter than 40 words. Make some sentences simple, some compound, others complex.  Elizabeth Lyon says you can vary sentences by beginning sentences with a different part of speech. Certainly you might not want to do this for every paragraph or use all ten of them on every page. But if you find yourself in a rut of the same kind of sentences in a paragraph, using her idea will help you change the pattern and add emphasis to the sentences instead of letting them disappear into a sing-song rhythm.

You say, “Explain it more. I don’t understand what you mean.”

Okay. Let me see if I can make it easier to understand.

Take the longest paragraph from the first ten pages of your manuscript.

Here’s one I made up for this blog post:

Steve left the bar at 2:00 a.m. He locked the doors and turned on the security. He wondered if that guy was really going to come back and get the girl at the bar. That creep wasn’t going to get her if he had anything to do with it. Where was Sarah anyhow? He’d seen her leave an hour ago with a friend. He looked to the right passed the cars parked near the dumpster. He saw sparkly material on the ground. He ran to check it out. He couldn’t believe what he saw.

I’m sure you’ll agree that this paragraph needs help with varying the sentences. Out of 10 sentences, seven of them begin with the word “he.” That is boredom at its height. Help! My paragraph needs help.

To improve the sentences using this method, you have to know the different parts of speech and how to use them properly.

What are the parts of speech? Here are parts of speech, definitions, and an example of a sentence beginning with it.

1. Interjection is a word or a short phrase usually followed by an exclamation point that can stand alone.  Use sparingly. The English has examples: Use sparingly in manuscripts.

Oh my! He lost his wallet.

Yikes! The roof is leaking.

2. Preposition is a connecting word that shows the relationship of a noun or a noun substitute to some other word in the sentence, including time, location, manner, means, quantity, purpose, and state of condition. (Unbelievable information about prepositions at this link from Hunter College Reading/Writing Center And even more about prepositions at

On Wednesday the bird in the tree sang a song for the children at the playground after lunch.

From the auditorium we could hear the band rehearsing.

3. Conjunction is a word that joins words, phrases, clauses and sentences. There are three types of conjunctions: and, but, or, yet, so, for, nor. Coordinating conjunctions work in pairs: both…and; either…or; neither…nor. Subordinate conjunctions: before, while, since, because, and until.

Jane went to the store. However, she did not make a purchase.

Neither Tom nor Jack drove the truck.

Before Jake blew out the candles, he took a deep breath.

4. Verb is an action word, state of being, or a helping or linking word. The English Club has a list of 600 regular verbs: and also Moms Who has lists and explanations of the uses of different kind of verbs:

Run to the corner and back.

Curl your hair with the new rollers.

5. Adverb is a word that describes or limits a verb.  Most of the time, it’s good to use a better more specific verb than to use an adverb of manner ending with “ly.” has a list of common adverbs: adverbs that indicate place, purpose, frequency, time:

Yesterday he raced his car.

Somewhere lurked the cat.

6. Gerund is a noun using the ing form of a verb. Owl at Perdue University has good examples of gerunds at work in sentences:

Running is his favorite stress reliever.

Sewing keeps her busy.

7. Noun is the name of a person, place, or thing.

Men, women, and children filled the mall.

Newspapers featured a story and pictures about the new invention.

8. Pronoun is a word that takes the place of a noun in a sentence.

Uncle Jim backed the trailer into a parking space. He was sure the space was big enough.

9. Adjective is a word that describes and often precedes a noun. Keep and has a great list of adjectives that describe appearance, condition, shape, size, sound, time, taste, touch, quantity, and feelings:

Red shoes tapped the rhythm.

Three uniforms hung in the lockers.

10. Limiting Adjectives Articles A, an, the.

A dog barked.

An apple dropped from the tree.

The mailman delivered the package on time.

Okay. Now you’re very familiar with the parts of speech mentioned above. You are ready to do one or more of the following exercises to help you see what pattern of sentences you use most often and decide if you want to use a different part of speech for the first word of your sentences to improve your writing.

Exercise 1: Print out a page of your manuscript – preferably a whole page. Underline or highlight the first word in each sentence, then put a tally mark in the appropriate column in the chart below.

Exercise 2: Rewrite that page with the purpose of varying the sentences. If you used only two ways to begin your sentences, use three more ways to vary your sentences on that page. You want the writing to flow smoothly. Sometimes you want to repeat a pattern.

Exercise 3: Copy the first page of your favorite book. Underline or highlight the first word in each sentence, then put a tally mark in the appropriate column. Does your favorite author vary the part of speech for the beginning of her sentences?

Exercise 4:  When you critique another writer’s work, you might think that sentence variation would improve the writing. If so, make a chart like this for them and mark the beginnings of their sentences on a random page or give them a link to this blog post.

Part of Speech Variation of First Words in Sentences on a Manuscript Page

Interjection Preposition Conjunction Verb Adverb Gerund Noun Pronoun Adjective Article

I hope this helps you understand the work of the parts of speech, and how to use them to vary the structure of your sentences in your manuscripts. Only use this if you agree with 100 per cent that it will help you.

Please leave a comment.
1. How many ways did you begin your sentences on the page you selected?
2. Do you think rewriting your page using a different part of speech for the first word in your sentences helped improve your story? If so, why? If not, why not?
3. How many parts of speech seems natural to use on a page?

If you leave a comment below before December 13, 2011, I’ll put your name in a hat to win a free first page critique (first 250 words). I’ll focus on critiquing it according to three questions you ask and three questions of my own.

Thank you for reading my blog. I appreciate you. Please subscribe by email from the left hand column, if you haven’t subscribed already.

Do something fun for you today!

Never Give Up
Joan Y. Edwards
Copyright © 2011 Joan Y. Edwards

12 thoughts on “Vary Your sentences: Begin with a Different Part of Speech”

    1. Dear Mary, It’s good to hear from you. I’m glad you liked the post. I do hope it helps you. It seems like when I look back over the first ten pages, I’ve reviewed and revised them many times. If I look in later chapters, I might find a lot of paragraphs that need a little variance to bring them to life. Did you get the book 1001 Ways to Market Your Book yet? Please let me know when it arrives. They sent it last week from Georgia.

      Add Color to Your Life

      Play. Laugh. Smile. Joan Y. Edwards

  1. I notice things like this when I’m on the second or third draft. I think that when we write our first drafts, they tend to follow our own speech patterns. We repeat favourite phrases.

    I still shudder to think how many ‘fierce’ hugs’ I came across in my MS, even as I was doing the final line edits. I did leave one or two in, ‘cos it’s such a strong image.

    And sometimes repetition is a good thing, but for emphasis only, and sparsely scattered throughout the MS. Except if a character is prone to annoying amounts of repetition … then you have to kill them!

    I have a rule of thumb with editing. It goes something like this. I ask myself, how would I react if I read this in someone else’s work? If favourable, I consider keeping it, if it throws me out of the story, then it’s fate is sealed!

    1. Dear Widder, I like your test with your editing. How you would react if you read this passage in another person’s work? If the answer is “Not so good,” then you’re right the words have sealed their own fate. Thanks for writing. You always have an interesting twist to add. That is good.

      Add Color to Your Life

      Play. Laugh. Smile. Joan Y. Edwards

  2. Dear Linda,
    Thanks for replying. I appreciate it. I’m glad you like the suggestions for varying the sentences in your manuscripts. You’re right, “Variety is the spice of life.” Do something fun for you today.
    Never Give Up
    Joan Y. Edwards

  3. Synchronicity at work! This has been one of my pet editing peeves lately with so many authors using same sentence construction time and again. Mary did this and then Paul did that and then Mary and Paul did something else…..aaargh.
    Thanks Joany, I have bookmarked this and shall share it round lavishly.
    Fierce hugs–just love this, Widdershins. Hope they’re not copyrighted. 🙂
    PS Wouldn’t dream of asking for a first page critique. My faults are legion LOL

    1. Dear Annie,
      Thanks for writing. I’m glad that this post speaks volumes to you. Great minds wander in the same plane – synchronicity at its best. Thanks for bookmarking my blog and sharing it round lavishly. Dream of asking for a first page critique. We are all imperfect. Thanks for taking a chance on winning a first page critique. Do something fun to celebrate you right where you are.

      Never Give Up
      Joan Y. Edwards

    1. Dear Carol, It’s good to hear from you. I’m glad you like the post so much that you’re going to save it. Thank you. I am honored. I hope your novel writing is going well. Happy Thanksgiving.

      Play. Laugh. Smile. Joan Y. Edwards

    1. Dear Carol, Thanks for stopping by. I’m honored that you added a link to my “Vary Your Sentences” blog to your summer course on “Fiction Writing” at CPCC. Thank you for the compliment saying I really have assembled a ton of info on my blog. I am bowing humbly.

      Do something fun to celebrate your gift of teaching Dream! Love! Laugh! Never Give Up Joan Y. Edwards

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