The Grammar Doctor


Unity in writing means that there is one idea, and that one idea controls everything in that piece of writing, whether it is a sentence or a book. A sentence that contains two unrelated ideas lacks unity. A series of clauses strung together often lacks unity. The effect of such a sentence is like that of a very bad orchestra. All the members are playing some kind of instrument, but they don't seem to be playing the same tune.

Simple, uncomplicated sentences are usually unified. They contain just one clear idea.

The old man was dreaming about lions. The old man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway

The earth seemed unearthly. "Heart of Darkness," Joseph Conrad

Sentences need not be be simple to be unified.Compound sentences can join two clauses effectively. The compound structure says that the ideas contained in the two clauses are related. The conjunction signals the kind of relation that exists between the sentences.

His shoulders were moving, and I wondered if he was crying. "Defender of the Faith," Philip Roth

In complex sentences the subordinate clause expands or explains some part of the main clause.

A blow to my head as I danced about sent my right eye popping like a jack-in-the-box and settled my dilemma. "Battle Royal," Ralph Ellison

Even sentences with very complicated structures can focus on just one idea.

[The whippoorwills] were everywhere now among the dark trees below, constant and inflectional and ceaseless, so that, as the instant for giving over to the day birds drew nearer and nearer, there was no interval at all between them. "Barn Burning," William Faulkner

The complexity of Faulkner's sentence conveys the idea that sounds of the whippoorwill seemed to come from everywhere.

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