Expository: Sweet, Sour & Resentful

19 Sentence Structure and The Power of Three: Sweet, Sour, and Resentful

Writers choose not only what to write but how to write it. Which sentences should be short or long?  Simple or complex? This chapter teaches you how to identify the choices that Firoozeh Dumas made in her essay ,“Sweet, Sour, and Resentful.”


In her essay “Sweet, Sour, and Resentful,”  Firoozeh Dumas describes a childhood scene that repeated itself every week: her mother would cook a Persian feast for Iranian immigrants who settled in Newport Beach, CA, just as Dumas’ family had. The guests, who were welcomed so warmly into Dumas’ home, had no idea that the delicious feast was preceded by a week of the author’s mother cooking, complaining and criticizing her family as they tried to help her.

Dumas uses different writing strategies to make her essay interesting and lively.

Strategy 1: Varying Sentence Length

Length of sentences and sentence structure:  One strategy is varying the length of her sentences. This means that Dumas uses a combination of long sentences and short sentences to give her writing texture. For example, in the 5th paragraph, she writes:

“Fortunately, our rice dishes were made to be shared; our dilemma, however, was space.  Our condo was small.”

The first sentence is two independent clauses joined by a semi-colon. The second sentence, however, is a simple sentence: Subject – verb – adjective.  Although  “Our condo was small” is a short sentence, it stands out because it is short. Following long, complex sentences with short ones is one strategy writers use get your attention.

Exercise 1. Finding Short Sentences

Re-read paragraphs 7, 8, and 10 and find examples of effective short sentences. How do the short sentences affect the way you read the paragraph?

Strategy 2: Using the Power of Three

The Power of Three suggests that lists are most powerful when they contain three items.   “Sweet, Sour, and Resentful” has many examples.  In fact, the title itself shows the Power of Three because it consists of three adjectives.

The Power of Three has two rules:

  1. Each item in the list is separated by a comma, and the word “or”  or “and” precedes (comes before) the third item.
  2. If each item is a verb, then each verb must be in the same form or tense. This is called parallelism.

There are other examples of the power of three in “Sweet, Salty, and Resentful.”

In the third paragraph, which begins “By the time,”  Dumas explains the specific ways that her Iranian family adjusted to the American way of life when she writes:

“We said  ‘Hello’ and ‘Have a nice day’ to perfect strangers, wore flip-flops, and grilled cheeseburgers next to our kebabs.”

This sentence follows rules 1 and 2 listed above:

  1. Each item (in bold) is separated by a comma and the word “and” precedes the last item.
  2. Because each item is a verb (said, wore, grilled)  each one is in the same tense (simple past?).

Dumas uses the Power of Three several more times in her essay.  Sometimes the list consists of three verbs all in the same tense, as shown above, but other examples use three nouns.

Exercise 2. Finding the Power of Three

Reread paragraphs 5, 6, 7, and 9 to find examples of the Power of Three. Remember that the example can contain three nouns or three verbs.

  • In paragraph 5, find one example of the Power of Three that uses three verbs.
  • In paragraph 6, find two examples of the Power of Three that uses three nouns.
  • In paragraph 7, find one example of the Power of Three that uses three nouns.
  • In paragraph 9, find one example of the Power of Three that uses three verbs.

Share This Book