On this day in 2004, Ronald Reagan died at his home in Bel-Air, California. Certainly much has been written about Reagan’s political career as governor of California and as the 40th president of the United States, but after his career in politics was over, Reagan accomplished something unique. On November 5, 1994, he announced to the world that he had Alzheimer’s disease, the brain disease that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills.
In a short handwritten letter, Reagan explained his desire for privacy, but also his desire to raise public awareness for the millions afflicted with Alzheimer’s. With his characteristic candor and optimism, Reagan closed the letter by saying: “I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead” (1).
The disease is named after a pioneer in brain research, Alois Alzheimer, a German doctor who described the abnormal brain tissues of one of his patients in 1906.
The May 14, 2001 edition of Time magazine contained a cover story tracing the search for the causes and a potential cure for Alzheimer’s. One study of particular interest involved a group of more than 600 nuns. Scientist David Snowdown of the University of Kentucky began studying the nuns’ personal and medical histories looking for clues that might solve the mystery behind why some people get Alzheimer’s and others don’t.
Snowdown became interested in autobiographical essays that the nuns had written when they entered the order in their early 20s. He analyzed each essay for its idea density and grammatical complexity, and the results provided some interesting insights. Snowdown discovered that the nuns whose essays contained grammatically complex sentences were the same nuns who six or more decades later were free of any signs of Alzheimer’s. Conversely, those nuns who used relatively simple sentences were the same nuns who contracted Alzheimer’s. With the nuns’ early writing, Snowden was able to predict with 85% to 90% accuracy which nuns would have the disease 60 years later (2).
There is no evidence yet that teaching students to incorporate complex sentences into their writing will prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s in later years. However, one thing is certain, a healthy menu of intellectual pursuits, including writing, in your younger years doesn’t hurt. Another certainty is that good writers use a variety of sentences, and understanding the difference between simple sentences and complex sentences is a starting point for adding variety to your sentences.
Seven Major Sentence Types
Knowing the major types of sentence types allows writers to revise and edit their sentences, making them more varied and clear. Below, the following seven types of sentences are explained: simple, complex, compound, compound-complex, balanced, cumulative, and periodic. Notice that the definition given for each sentence is a Meta-Sentence, that is, the definition is written in the form of the sentence being defined. Each definition is followed by an additional example:
A simple sentence is a sentence with one independent clause — a group of words with a subject (noun), a predicate (verb), and a complete thought.
Example: Bill completed his homework.
A compound sentence is a sentence with at least two independent clauses; often the two clauses are connected by a coordinating conjunction (FANBOYS), a semicolon, or a conjunctive adverb — such as “however,” “therefore,” or “then.”
Example: Bill completed his homework, and Jane wrote a report on penguins.
A complex sentence is a sentence that contains one independent clause and at least one dependent (adjective) clause.
Example: Bill, who owns a dog named Huck, sat studying for his math test.
If a sentence has a single independent clause and at least one dependent (adverb) clause, it is a complex sentence.
Example: Bill was angry because his dog chewed up his homework.
A compound-complex sentence is a sentence that contains two independent clauses, and it also includes at least one dependent clause.
Example: Although there were a lot of good things to watch on television, Bill, who always gets his work done on time, sat doing his homework.
If a sentence has two parallel independent clauses, it is a balanced sentence; if it does not have two parallel independent clauses, it is not a balanced sentence.
Example: Bill read his math book; Jane wrote her English essay.
A cumulative sentence begins with an independent clause, followed by additional modifying clauses and phrases which elaborate on the main clause.
Example: Jane is a great student even though she works two jobs after school and rarely has time to do homework.
Unlike a cumulative sentence, which has its main clause at the beginning, a sentence with its main clause at the end is a periodic sentence.
Example: Even though she works two jobs after school and rarely has time to do homework, Jane is a great student.
Today’s Challenge: Seven Ways to Make Sentences Sing
What are examples of the different types of sentences you can write to create sentence variety? Write one original example of each of the different sentence types: Simple, Complex, Compound, Compound-Complex, Balanced, Cumulative, and Periodic. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)
Quotation of the Day: The maker of a sentence launches out into the infinite and builds a road into Chaos and old Night, and is followed by those who hear him with something of wild, creative delight. -Ralph Waldo Emerson