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How to Improve Your Writing Style with Grammatical Sentence Openers

One of the best ways to improve your writing style is to improve the variety of your sentence structures. Professional writers vary the subject-verb-object pattern with other grammatical sentence structures. A simple guideline for good sentence variety would be 50% subject-verb-object sentence openers and 50% other grammatical sentence opener forms.

Prepositional Phrase

Start with a phrase beginning with one of these common prepositions to improve writing style:

aboard, about, above, according to, across, after, against, along, among, around, as, as to, at, before, behind, below, beneath, beside, between, beyond, but, by, despite, down, during, except, for, from, in, inside, instead of, into, in place of, in spite of, like, near, next, of, off, on, onto, outside, out of, over, past, regardless of, since, than, through, throughout, to, toward, under, underneath, unlike, until, up, upon, with, within, without

Place a comma after a prepositional phrase sentence opener when a noun or pronoun follows.


Behind the cabinet, he found the missing watch


Start with a word or phrase that describes a proper noun, common noun, or pronoun with How Many? Which One? or What Kind? to improve writing style. Place a comma after an adjective or adjective phrase sentence opener.


Angry, the neighbor refused to leave.

Happy as always, the child played in the park.


Start with a word that answers these questions: How? When? Where? or What Degree? to improve writing style. Many adverbs end in __ly. Usually place a comma after an adverb sentence opener if the adverb is emphasized.


Everywhere, the flowers were blooming; quickly, the winter turned to spring.

Adverbial Clause

Start a dependent clause (a noun and verb that does not express a complete thought) with one of the following subordinating conjunctions to improve writing style:

after, although, as, as if, as long as, as much as, as soon as, as though, because, before, even if, even though, how, if, in order that, once, since, so that, than, that, though, unless, until, when, whenever, where, wherever, whether, or while.

Place a comma after an adverbial clause that begins a sentence.


Although better known for its winter activities, Lake Tahoe offers much during the summer.

__d, __ed, or __en Verbs

Start with a __d or __ed verb, acting as an adjective, when combined with a prepositional phrase, or an __en verb, when combined with an adverb to improve writing style. Usually place a comma after the sentence opener.


Frightened by the noise, I sat up straight in my bed.

Taken quickly, the pill did not dissolve for minutes.

To + Verb

Start with To and then add the base form of a verb to improve writing style. Add related words to create a phrase. Place a comma after the sentence opener, if a noun follows.


To smile takes great effort.

To play the game, Mark had to sign a contract.

__ing Verbs and Nouns

Start a phrase with an __ing word that acts as an adjective to improve writing style. Usually place a comma after the sentence opener. Start a phrase with an __ing word that serves as a noun. Usually do not place a comma after the sentence opener.



Falling rapidly, the climber hopes the rope will hold.


Tasting the sauce makes them hungry for dinner.

Having Verbs and Nouns

Start a phrase with Having and then add a verb that ends in __d, __ed, or __en to serve as an adjective or a noun, referring to something that happened in the past to improve writing style. Usually place a comma after the sentence opener.



Having listened to his teacher, the student knew how to study.


Having learned all of the answers is helpful.

Noun Clause

Start with a group of words that acts as the subject of a sentence beginning with: How, However, What, Whatever, When, Whenever, Where, Wherever, Which, Whichever, Who, Whoever, or Whomever to improve writing style. Place a comma after the noun clause when used as a sentence opener if it does not serve as the subject of the sentence.


However the students answered, the scores were marked wrong.

Nominative Absolute

Start with a possessive pronoun (my, mine, our, your, his, her, or their) followed by a verb with a  d, __ed, or __en ending to serve as a noun phrase that provides information, but no grammatical connection with the rest of the sentence. A comma is placed at the end of the nominative absolute when it opens a sentence.


His friends angry and frustrated, Paul promised to change his behavior

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Teaching the Language Strand Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics lessons. (Check out a seventh grade teacher teaching the direct instruction and practice components of these lessons on YouTube.) The complete lessons also include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Teaching the Language Strand also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out PREVIEW THE TEACHER’S GUIDE AND STUDENT WORKBOOK  to see samples of these comprehensive instructional components. Check out the entire instructional scope and sequence, aligned to the Grades 4-8 Common Core Standards.

The author also provides these curricular “slices” of the Teaching the Language Strand “pie”: the five Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4−8; the five Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4−8 programs (digital formats only); and the non-grade-leveled Teaching Grammar and Mechanics with engaging grammar cartoons (available in print and digital formats).

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