The Cumulative Sentence

Most commonly a cumulative sentence consists of an initial independent clause followed by a number of subordinate constructions which accumulate details about the person, place, event, or idea. Though the elements that come after the main clause are technically subordinate, they carry the main load of the sentence and are fully as important.

Cumulative sentences appear most often in description. The writer begins with a general picture, like an artist's charcoal sketch, then fills in the details:

A creek ran through the meadow, winding and turning, clear water running between steep banks of black earth, with shallow places where you build a dam. MarkSchorer

7000 Romaine St. looks itself like a faded movie exterior, a pastel building with chipped arte moderne detailing, the windows now either boarded up or paned with chicken-wire glass and, at the entrance, among the dusty oleander, a rubber mat that reads WELCOME. Joan Didion

Cumulative sentences are also useful in character sketches:

She [Anne Morrow Lindbergh] was then twenty-one, a year out of Smith College, a dark, shy, quiet girl with a fine mind and a small but pure and valuable gift for putting her thoughts and fancies, about the earth, sky, and sea, on paper. John Lardner

Though less often used in narration, the cumulative sentence can also handle a series of events, as in this account of an English military expedition into France in 1359:

The unwieldy provision carts, draught horses, and heavily armed knights kept the advance down to nine miles a day, the huge horde moving in three parallel columns, cutting broad highways of litter and devastation through an already abandoned countryside, many of the adventurers now traveling on foot, having sold their horses for bread or having slaughtered them for meat. John Gardner

Like the freight-train style, the cumulative has the problem of being open-ended, without a natural stopping place. But the deficiency may be made good by artful construction. In the following example the writer, a photograph of his parents, opens with the clause "When they sat for a photograph together," follows this with accumulated details, and ends by assessing the meaning of the picture:

When they sat for a photograph neat slim bodies, the girl unsmiling and her eyes astare, elbows and knees tight, hands clenched in her lap, immaculate to the throat in lacy white, and the young man with grin and straw hat both aslant, jaunty on the bench arm, one leg crossed, natty in his suit and tie complete with stickpin, his arm around her with fingers outspread possessively upon her shoulder—it was a portrait not only of contrasts, but of a nation's lower middle class coming out of its COCOOn. William Gibson

What happens in that sentence is that the accumulation is gathered between dashes and intrudes into the middle of the main sentence ("When they sat for a photograph together ... it was a portrait not only of contrasts, but of a nation's lower middle class coming out of its cocoon"). That sentence becomes a frame enclosing the details, a pattern nicely suited to what the sentence is about.

Finally, there is another variety of the cumulative sentence, in which the order is reversed: the accumulated details precede the main clause instead of following it. In the following example a novelist, discussing her art, begins by listing the essentials of a story.

Conflicts and rivalries and their resolutions, pride and its fate, estrangement and reconciliation, revenge or forgiveness, quests and searches rewarded or unrewarded; abidingness versus change, love and its are among the constants, the themes of the

Story. Elizabeth Bowen

Notice how Bowen uses these to sum up all the preceding nouns and to act as the subject of the sentence. (These, this, that, those, and such are other pronouns which may be used in this way.)

100 Cover Letter Tips

100 Cover Letter Tips

100 Cover Letter Tips EVERY Single Person Should Know. In applying for a job, you need to know what a cover letter is so that you would be able to recognize its importance. The cover letter is actually the same as the letter of application, letter of intro duction, as well as a transmittal letter. It is a letter that should always accompany the applicant’s resume, since not too many employers would consider an application without it.

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Responses

  • haylom
    What is 7000 romaine used for now?
    8 years ago
  • joseph
    How to do a cumulative sentence?
    8 years ago
  • Raul
    How to write cumulative sentences?
    8 years ago

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