In a periodic sentence, descriptive elements (or details) introduce the sentence, pushing the complete thought to the end of the sentence. This pattern proves quite effective for emphasis or suspense because the most emphatic point of a sentence is the end.  Periodic sentences are usually long, complex sentences, the independent clause appearing at the end, near the period.  Here is one possible pattern for a periodic sentence:  dependent clause, dependent clause, independent clause.


1. Because he wrote both tragedies and comedies, because he glorified England, and because he penned deathless lines, Shakespeare became immortal.

2. With the Tibetan mastiff “as big as a donkey,” with the wolfhound as a member of its Mongolian clan, and with the Pekingese as the most popular of pet classes on earth, China has produced three special dogs.

3. By the creation of the American Gothic tale, by the origination of the detective story, and by the writing of many masterpieces, Edgar Allan Poe occupies an important niche in American literature.

4.   In his humorous light-stepping through human foibles, in his interpretation of God, and in his accentuation of the positive, Chaucer created tales that have lasted since the Middle Ages.

5.   Through their use of irony, their blending of powerful images, their re-imagining of universal ideas and themes using symbolism, these three—Pearl Buck, John Steinbeck, Toni Morrison—rank among the great modern writers.

6.  Shuffling up an insipidly named Academae Avenue from the pea-green walls of the town’s Greyhound station, wrapped tightly in his parka (the blanket of Linus, the warmth of the woods, his portable womb), the rucksack packed thickly with the only possessions and necessities of his life:  a Captain Midnight Code-O-Graph, one hundred and sixty-nine silver dollars, a current 1958 calendar, a plastic sack of exotic seeds, a packet of grapevine leaves in a special humidor, a jar of feta, sections of wire coathanger to be used as shish kebab skewers, a boy scout shirt, two cinnamon sticks, a bottle-cap from Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray Tonic, a change of Fruit-of-the-Loom underwear from a foraging at Bloomingdales, an extra pair of corduroy pants, a 1920’s baseball cap, a Hohner F harmonica, six venison loin chops, and an arbitrary number of recently severed and salted rabbit’s feet, Gnossos Pappadopoulis, keeper of the flame, arrived.  (18)

—Richard Fariña, Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me

7.   When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

—Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence


A cumulative sentence is, in a sense, the opposite of a periodic sentence:  instead of appearing at the end of a series of dependent clauses, the independent clause opens the sentence, followed by the accumulation of dependent clauses and phrases that modify the independent clause.  Like the periodic sentence, cumulative sentences are usually complex sentences.


1.  We hold these truths to be self-evident:  that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with inherent and inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

—Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence

2.  All the parts and parcels of the winter that had been were sliding down the gullies of the hill, plunging into gorges, swelling streams brown and gurgling, creeping through fissures and corridors of shale in the glacial countryside, skimming over tops of fallow fields, across slopes like ducks’ backs, seeking a level:  the broad, steel-blue plain of bottomless Maeander, where if you listened carefully you heard the French and Indian cannons booming as some monumental piece of earth or stone was shouldered loose from a cliff face by the swelling lunge of ice beneath and dumped into the flawless, pregnant surface of the lake.  (141)

—Richard Fariña, Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me


Absolute phrases modify or describe the actions or ideas presented in a clause or sentence.  An absolute phrase consists of a noun and a participle.  When the participle is the verb “to be,” it is usually implied or not stated.


1.  Freddy dozes comfortably, feet up on the desk.

2.  Cigarette lit, he pumped the gas coolly.

3.  The President, his face oily like a burger patty out of the fryer, lied to Congress.

4.  Hips grinding through the dry, neon air of Las Vegas, Elvis saunters down the sidewalk.

5.  Carrying a pitcher of root beer to the gentlemen watching Monday Night Football, the bumbling barmaid suddenly tripped—her hand toppling the pitcher, soda drenching the astonished gentlemen, her body buckling like a sacked quarterback, and her head plummeting into the lap of her future husband.

6.  Drums the size of wine casks vibrating the floor, a monolith of Marshall amplifiers exciting mosh pits of dust motes, a circa World War II fog machine capable of obscuring an airfield chugging, sputtering, making the floor toxic to children under 3 feet high—the wedding band inspired a lofting of Bic lighters from the remaining bachelors of the wedding party and brought tears to the heavily rouged cheeks of the bride.

Original:  Fanny Pucker, her voice cracking with rage, denounced the hecklers.

Imitation: The confused biology student, his mind roiling in DNA code, accidentally cloned his teacher.

Note: The absolute phrase is an important grammatical structure. Consider that the debate over gun control hinges on the interpretation of an absolute phrase:

A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of the free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

—Second Amendment, U.S. Constitution

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