Virginia Tufte Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style In Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style, Virginia Tufte presents — and comments on — more than a thousand excellent sentences chosen from the works of authors in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The sentences come from an extensive search to identify some of the ways professional writers use the generous resources of the English language. The book displays the sentences in fourteen chapters, each one organized around a syntactic concept-short sentences, noun phrases, verb phrases, appositives, parallelism, for example. It thus provides a systematic, comprehensive range of models for aspiring writers. Fresh examples from fiction and nonfiction bring new insights into the ways syntactic patterns work.
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I like how it stayed away from listing "rules" and instead talked about how different sentences create meaning differently. For about a month after I read this book it was really hard to write, because I wanted every sentence to be as perfect as the examples in this book. Here is the book review I wrote for one of my classes: The streets were calm with Sunday. With this quote from Aimee Bender, Virginia Tufte begins; she continues with As far as style guides go, this is one of my favorites.
But Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style is more than a catalogue of beautifully written writing samples. It is a well-written grammar guide, a book on style that embodies its subject, and a clear, descriptive analysis of the English sentence and its myriad forms. Articulating the complex and varied possibilities offered by the sentence is a difficult task. Tufte takes a different approach, one of description. She illustrates what sentences are made of, and how small changes in word order can have a huge impact on not only style, but meaning as well.
What is unique about the models, or examples, it contains, is their diversity. They are taken from every written discipline. Poetry is paired with technical writing, and science fiction with art criticism.
Moreover, her range and variety of contributors is a parallel to her range and variety of sentence types and constructions. Although she begins with the simple sentence, she moves through compound, complex, and compound complex sentences quickly, describing the sentence parts and how they can be used. Her descriptions are clear and well organized, her own sentences often competing with her examples in artfulness.
And even as she uses advanced terms that may be unknown to the beginning writing student, she explains and defines them. Terms such as parataxis, synecdoche, as well as the elusive wysiwyg clause what you see is what you get , are defined for readers who may not yet be familiar with them. The vocabulary required to understand this book may seem daunting to a student, and may be too much for a beginning writer to take in. But Tufte makes it easier on them by defining many difficult terms, and an observant and patient reader can learn much.
Vocabulary acquisition is only one of the benefits this book offers students. Just as she claims, Tufte also gives the reader the valuable skills and models to follow. And also important, she offers the student a flexible and optimistic view of the possibilities sentences offer. This optimistic view of the flexibility language provides for us is a liberating one. It gives the reader a sense of excitement and is a great antidote to the pessimistic, rule-bound, feeling that traditional grammar study can present.
Tufte truly illustrates the infinite capacity to create sentences form finite means. And in looking at hundreds even approaching thousands of types of sentences, she frees students from feeling bound to particular constructions, offering them freedom and autonomy.
This creation of autonomy through mastery of the sentence is similar to the know-the-rules-before-you-can-break-the-rules attitude of other style guides. She describes examples to follow, but only rarely does she give set rules.
Placing the focus on style and flexibility instead of rules provides tutors in the Writing Center with an excellent model for non-directive tutoring.
Often the rules of grammar and syntax seem very prescriptive and directive. An excellent example of this is given by Tufte on page And after providing the example, Tufte describes the syntactic options that could be considered in revision: Sensing a possible rival, wondering who he was, I watched him warily, I, sensing a possible rival, wondering who he was, watched him warily.
I watched him warily, sensing a possibly rival, wondering who he was. These options are each unique in both syntax and semantics, and by describing their individual attributes and effects, principles of style are easily learned and understood. The method of offering students variations of their own sample sentences, both as examples and options for revision, is very non-directive. It assures that students keep their autonomy, while also effectively communicating writing principles.
By following the strategies that Tufte uses in teaching effective styles, tutors can teach students to write sound prose, that not only follows the traditional grammatical conventions, but is stylistically effective as well.
Another method that can be beneficial for tutors is that of vocalizing the students prose. Vocalizing the written words is a common strategy adopted by tutors. Sometimes the tutor will read out loud to the student, sometimes the student to the tutor. And she achieves it. Artful Sentences: Style as Syntax is what it sounds: artful. Velde rated it it was amazing This is my favorite book on writing. There are a great many books out there that do this already. Instead, Tufte is an expert on how careful usage of different parts of speech gives different effect.
For example, consider the This is my favorite book on writing. Inside were long-unused rubber stamps, twenty or more, apparently in the distant past employed to mark student papers.
It is easy to visualize an overburdened writing teacher efficiently, firmly, perhaps even angrily, stamping with red ink the margins in stacks of student compositions: AWK. And what was probably regarded as the greatest of all sins, FRAG.
I remember a teacher long ago who announced that any student paper containing a fragment automatically receiving an F, unless the student had labeled the fragment "intentional. She introduced the concept of sentence fragments using a sentence fragment.
While the examples she uses are fun to read, I think the way Tufte uses the various parts of speech in her own writing is as educational than the examples she gives.
Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style