Clear Sentences and Clauses

1) Long sentences are difficult for the reader to understand, and it is best for a sentence to have no more than three clauses. For example

Having decided to move beyond her love of painting and extend her practice to other disciplines, Jenny enrolled on a print-making course, which she found challenging but enriching.

This would be clearer as follows:

Having decided to move beyond her love of painting and extend her practice to other disciplines, Jenny enrolled on a print-making course. She found the course challenging, but also enriching.

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2) The order in which the clauses are placed is also important. A subordinate clause is one which adds to the meaning of the main clause, but cannot stand on its own. If a sentence is interrupted by a subordinate clause, it will be harder to understand than if that clause is placed at the beginning or the end of the sentence. For example, this is not very clear:

Jenny, having decided to move beyond her love of painting and extend her practice to other disciplines, enrolled on a print-making course.

3) Subordinate clauses are best placed at the end of the sentence.

It is best to place the subject of the verb at the beginning of the sentence:

Jenny enrolled on a print-making course, because she had decided to move beyond her love of painting and extend her practice to other disciplines.

4) The shorter your sentences, the easier it will be for you to construct them clearly.

More in depth resources on grammar are available from the OWL at Purdue and the British Council, who also have a quick reference guide.

If English is not your first language, you may find helpful these interactive resources from the British Council: