Sentence structure

Sentence structure

I'm always reminded of Ted Rogers when I think about sentence structure. He was nearly as famous as the booby prize for his show, 3-2-1, called Dusty Bin. The quiz show ran for several years and Ted had a clever hand gesture to remind us of the show's name. But what I want to talk about is 2-3-1.

2-3-1 is considered the best structure for a sentence. And a sentence much like a joke, follows the rule of three in that it finishes with the punchline. To illustrate it, I'll use the classic dog and cat scenario to demonstrate conflict. We know the cat likes to sit on things and as long as she sits on her own mat, everything's fine. But what if:

  • The dog's mat was sat on by the cat
  • Siting on the dog's mat was the cat
  • The cat sat on the dog's mat

Let's agree that the priority of importance in this scene is cat, sitting then the dog's mat. So cat is 1, sitting 2 and the mat 3. Looking at the above options, we now have

  • 1-2-3
  • 3-1-2
  • 2-3-1

Hopefully, on reading the options, you'll agree that 2-3-1 is the preferred option. Check out some one liners if you're not sure e.g. 'I hate Russian dolls, they’re so full of themselves'.

I find it particularly useful during the editing process, to write 2-3-1 at the top of each page as I work my way through it. Of course there are situations where you might want to switch it around, in particular, dialogue. But as rule, it's nearly golden.