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Establishing Focus in Sentences and Paragraphs

by Sally Jennings

Spicing up your essay writing can be easy if you learn a few tricks with sentences. The basic sentence structure in English has the word order Subject, Verb, Object. If you know how, you can easily change this order to establish focus.

When you use the structures shown below, you are moving a word or words out of the basic sentence order, so you have to use appropriate punctuation (usually a comma) to show that something is out of order in the sentence.

The techniques below rearrange groups of words in chunks that belong together. The first sentence in the pair is the basic grammar version. The second sentence is the variation.

  1. FRONTING - used to focus attention on a word or phrase by bringing it to the beginning (the front) of the sentence. This is especially useful to emphasize a chronological progression (a time sequence), paragraph by paragraph.

    Example One:

    Mary went to the store because she wanted to buy butter.

    Add focus by fronting the purpose clause

    Because she wanted to buy butter, Mary went to the store.


    Example Two:

    Paragraph 1, sentence 1:

    The area occupied by the city of Vancouver was populated by First Nations settlements for centuries....

    Paragraph 2, sentence 1:

    Government buildings, private homes, lumberyards and a Chinatown were built during the late 1800's as early Vancouver became a town....

    Paragraph 3, sentence 1:

    Glittering tall skyscrapers rub shoulders with a quaint old Gastown district bordering historic Chinatown in modern Vancouver today.

    Add focus by fronting the time words in each introductory sentence in each paragraph to emphasize chronological parallelism:

    For centuries, the area occupied by the city of Vancouver was populated by First Nations settlements....

    During the late 1800's as early Vancouver became a town, government buildings, private homes, lumberyards and a Chinatown were built...

    Today in modern Vancouver, glittering tall skyscrapers rub shoulders with a quaint old Gastown district, bordering historic Chinatown.



  2. IT WAS, IT IS - used to focus attention on a word or clause. Useful to make a connection more clear, or to emphasize a particular person, object, or event.
  3. Example One:

    John was mean to Mary on the playground, calling her names and hitting her. Then he spat on her, so she finally decided to act, and complained to the teacher about him.

    Add focus using It was when.(event)..that..(action).

    John was mean to Mary on the playground, calling her names and hitting her. It was when he spat on her that she finally decided to act, and complained to the teacher about him.


    Example Two:

    Jill and Jean are good students, but Mary is the brilliant scholar in the family.

    Add focus using It is (focal noun or noun clause)...who...

    Jill and Jean are good students, but it is Mary who is the brilliant scholar in the family.


  4. FRONTING combined with IT WAS, IT IS

    Example One:

    Sherry and Jim had invested time and effort to see their investment in their business grow. In 1995 they even took on a new partner, hoping to increase sales in the outlying areas of the state. However, the new partner was dishonest, and the business began to suffer from bad sales contracts and deceitful communication, finally bankrupting both Sherry and Jim.

    Add focus using fronting and It was (key focal noun or noun clause)...which.. (consequence).

    Sherry and Jim had invested time and effort to see their investment in their business grow. In 1995 they even took on a new partner, hoping to increase sales in the outlying areas of the state. It was the dishonesty of this new partner, however, which damaged the business through bad sales contracts and deceitful communication, finally bankrupting both Sherry and Jim

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