Writer’s Workshop: How to Grow Sentences

Popcorn and kernels

How to Grow Kernel Sentences

Kernel sentences also known as simple sentences contain a simple subject and a simple predicate.  Here are kernel sentences:

1.  Jane babysat the new kids.

2.  The kids cried for their mommy.

3.  The kids’ sister Becky showed up with Melody.

4.  Melody used to be Jane’s best friend.

5.  Melody and her new friend Becky had gone to the movies.

6. Melody said Jane didn’t know how to baby sit.

To the kernel sentence, we can add compellling detail and explanation three different ways:   connective, subjective, and modifying phrases.

1. Connective

A. Practice: Choose one or more of these sentences above to help it or them to grow with more detail and explanation by using the connective strategy. Connective words include these conjunctions and, or, but, and, nor, for, so, yet.

 B. How does the connective strategy look?  Using conjunctions aka connective words  are words that link other words, phrases, and/or clauses together.

  • The baseball pitcher swung at the 5th pitch and the umpire yelled “Strike three.”

  • I like cooking and eating, but I don’t like washing dishes afterward.

  • Sophie is clearly exhausted yet she insists on dancing til dawn.

Conjunctions allow you to form complex sentences and avoid the choppiness of multiple short sentences. Make sure that the phrases joined by conjunctions are parallel in structure.

2. Subjective 

A. Practice: Using one of the sentences above, help it to grow with more detail and explanation by using the subjective strategy words which include these relative pronouns: that, when, who, whose, where,





 who, whom







We use who and whom for people, and which for things. Or we can use that for people or things.

B.  How it looks:  We use relative pronouns:

  • after a noun, to make it clear which person or thing we are talking about:

                    —the house that Jack built

                    —the woman who discovered radium

                    —an eight-year-old boy who attempted to rob a sweet shop

  •  to tell us more about a person or thing:

                  —My mother, who was born overseas, has always been a great traveller.

                  —Lord Thompson, who is 76, has just retired.

                  —We had fish and chips, which is my favorite meal.

                  —(But we do not use that as a subject in this kind of relative clause).

3. Modifying Words and Phrases

Practice: Using one of the sentences above, help it to grow with more detail and explanation by using the modifying words and phrases strategy. 

Brooks Landon talks about extending sentences by  “adding modifying words and phrases” from his wonderful book, Building Great Sentences:

“. . .Adjectival steps (modifying words and phrases). . .  intrigue me the most because I think they offer tremendous rewards for the writer.”   Mr. Landon suggests that the long poem,The House that Jack Built, uses the relative pronoun “that” for so many lines, the poet grew tired of it so he amended the last stanza from This is the farmer that sows his corn, to This is the farmer sowing his corn.

Modifying words and phrases are usually noun phrases or verb phrases also called verbals.  “Sowing”  is a verbal describing the farmer.

In this excerpt from my story “Naive Expectations,” I used modifying words and phrases to describe my snowy childhood.   “We reveled in the snow: we slid down slick hills, tunneled under it, packed it high enough to withstand any snowball onslaught, and laid our snow-suited bodies on it, our sweeping legs and arms imprinting stout snow angels in the white blankness.“

The verbals in this strategy caress the “divine detail” as Vladimir Nabokov quipped.  Adjectival steps aka modifying words do reward the writer with amazing sentences that are fun to write, then read.

B.  How it looks: Here are a few of famous authors’ use of modifying phrases:

Katherine Anne Porter:  The jockeys sat bowed and relaxed, moving a little at the waist with the movement of their horses. 

Sinclair Lewis:  He dipped his hands in the bichloride solution and shook them, a quick shake, fingers down, like the fingers of a pianist above the keys

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets:  The pages of the diary began to blow as though caught in a high wind, stopping half way through the month of June. 

Read More:

A kernel sentence has a subject, a predicate, and sometimes an object.

An example is The dog barked all night.    Noun +  Verb. + Adverbial clause

In grammar, an adverbial (abbreviated adv) is a word (an adverb) or a group of words (an adverbial phrase or an adverbial clause) that modifies or more closely defines the sentence or the verb. (The word adverbial itself is also used as an adjective, meaning “having the same function as an adverb”.)

When you think of “kernel, “ you may think of a popcorn kernel.  A kernel sentence can pop with  more meaning if you add descriptive words or modifiers.  

Remember modify means to change.  Also modifiers are used as adjectives, adverbs, prepositions to add to the meaning of what they are depended on

In grammar, a modifier is an optional element in phrase structure or clause structure. A modifier is so called because it is said to modify (change the meaning of) another element in the structure, on which it is dependent.

Write a brief kernel sentence about something you like or are interested in: your family, your siblings, your pets, your hobbies, your favorite time of the day, your toys, books, etc.

Then create two more brief sentences that might add detail or explanation about your first sentence.

Finally, create a single sentence that contains all the details of the three sentences, using the details of sentences 2 and 3 as modifiers acting as adjectives, adverbs, nouns, verbs.