Another very valuable strategy for combining sentences is embedding. At first this might seem less familiar to you than the process by which you form compound and complex sentences. But if you look at a large sampling of your own writing, you’re sure to find examples of embedded sentences. You are already creating them, so it’s just a matter of becoming more conscious of how the process works and learning the fine points of punctuation.

This process does not involve conjunctions. It involves relative pronouns, and these are the most important ones:




(The word that can also be used for embedding, but we’ll deal with it in Chapter 3 because it involves a different punctuation rule.)

Let’s say that you wanted to combine these two sentences:

(a) Eudora Welty is a major Southern writer.

(b) She was born in Mississippi in 1909.

If you try to combine clauses (a) and (b) to make a compound or a complex sentence, you’ll find that none of the conjunctions seems quite right. Sure, you could probably say, “Eudora Welty is a major Southern writer, and she was born in Mississippi in 1909,” but doesn’t that sentence have a weak, flat sound to it?

The process of embedding, on the other hand, works well with clauses (a) and (b). The first thing we have to do is change the subject of the second clause to a relative pronoun. Here’s what we do:

Then we insert the new clause (b) between the subject and predicate of the (a) clause. Now this is what we have:

Eudora Welty who was born in Mississippi in 1909 is a major Southern writer.

As a finishing touch, we’ll add two commas—one before and one after the clause we have embedded. And here’s our final product, an embedded sentence:

Eudora Welty, who was born in Mississippi in 1909, is a major Southern writer.

The commas set the embedded clause off from the main clause, making the whole sentence much easier to read.

Exercise 2.3

Combine these sets of sentences by using the embedding process. Remember to insert commas around the embedded clause. (Again, the relative pronouns we are using are which, who, and whose.)

1. (a) Thomas Jefferson was broke when he died.

(b) He was certainly one of America’s most brilliant presidents.

2. (a) Monrovia was founded in 1822 and named after President James Monroe.

(b) It is the capital of the West African nation of Liberia.

3. (a) Herbert Hoover was supposedly worried that King Tut was becoming too attached to other people.

(b) He once gave an order that no White House staffers were to pet his dog.

4. (a) James Buchanan was the only president to remain a bachelor.

(b) His 23-year-old fiancé broke off their engagement and died mysteriously a short time later.

5. (a) Grover Cleveland’s duties as a sheriff in New York State resulted in his participation in the execution of two convicted murderers.

(b) They included serving as one county’s official hangman.

Two variations of embedded sentences

Some of the embedded sentences that are made with the words who and which can be reworked in two ways. Knowing how to create these two variations will give you a little more flexibility in your writing.

Look at this example. First, we will combine two sentences by embedding, just as you did in the last exercise. We’ll use these two simple sentences:

(a) Flashlight fish blink their lights to attract their prey.

(b) They are equipped with glowing pockets of bacteria beneath each eye.

When they are combined by embedding, we have:

1. Flashlight fish, which are equipped with glowing pockets of bacteria beneath each eye, blink their lights to attract their prey.

Sentence 1 is the type of sentence you were creating in the last exercise, but we’re going to start calling it a “full embedding” or a “fully embedded” sentence.

Now we’re going to make the first variation. We simply drop the relative pronoun (which) and the helping or linking verb (are). With what we have left, we make a “reduced embedding”:

2. Flashlight fish, equipped with glowing pockets of bacteria beneath each eye, blink their lights to attract their prey.

Now we’re going to try the other variation. All we do is take the words that appear between the commas in sentence 2 and use them as an introductory phrase. Now we have:

3. Equipped with glowing pockets of bacteria beneath each eye, flashlight fish blink their lights to attract their prey.

Sentence 3 is the “moved embedding.” Notice that we haven’t changed any wording when we went from 2 to 3. All we did was change the order of the words. Also notice that the reduced embedding takes two commas. The moved variation takes only one.

Exercise 2.4

Here are five fully embedded sentences. Practice working out the two variations for each.

1. A quetzal, which is unable to take off into the air like other birds, has to jump off a tree branch backward to avoid snagging its 24-inch tail.

Reduced: ___________________________________________________________

Moved: __________________________________________________

2. Male narwhals, which are nicknamed “unicorns of the sea,” sport a single nine-foot-long tusk.

Reduced: ________________________________________________

Moved: __________________________________________________

3. Some biologists, who are puzzled by the hump on the back of the thorny devil, speculate that the lizard can push the hump up to create the illusion of a second head when it wants to confuse its enemies.

Reduced: ________________________________________________

Moved: __________________________________________________

4. A sloth, which is blessed with three very efficient curved claws on each foot, normally hangs from a tree for its daily 18-hour snooze.

Reduced: ________________________________________________

Moved: __________________________________________________

5. One scientist, who was curious about the basic color of the zebra, conducted a study and concluded that zebras are actually black with white stripes, not white with black stripes.

Reduced: ________________________________________________

Moved: __________________________________________________