Expository: Why Rituals Are Good

25 Sentence Structure and the Power Of Three

Writers choose not only what to write but how to write. They think about what words to use and when to use a short sentence instead of a long one. This chapter teaches you how to identify the choices that Ari Honarvar made in her essay “Why Rituals are Good for Your Health.”

Sentence Structure and the Power Of Three


The essay “Why RItuals are Good for Your Health,” by Ari Honarvar, accomplishes three purposes:

  • It describes the author’s personal experiences in her native country, Iran, and in her current home, the United States, so it is a narrative (personal) essay.
  • It argues that rituals are good for health and includes research to support that idea, so it is also an argument essay.
  • It explains the process she went through to establish rituals with her own children and husband, so it is also a process essay

To accomplish the three purposes listed above, Ari Honarvar uses a variety of different sentence structures.  Sometimes, when including research, she writes long sentences that include a lot of information.  Other times, when she wants to make a bold statement, she gets your attention by choosing a simple, short sentence, such as “I moved to the U.S. when I was 14.”  Using sentences of different lengths makes your writing interesting to read and lets adjust your writing to your purpose. 

The first two sentences of the essay are powerful hooks written in the first person (“I”)  in which she described living through the Iran-Iraq War:   “I don’t know if I could have survived seven years of my childhood without the soul-saving rituals of my Persian culture.  I grew up amid the Iran-Iraq War, which killed a million people.”

When she provides research to support her argument about rituals, she changes her sentence structure to include the names and titles of experts, their universities, and their statements.  Here is an example from the 4th paragraph:

“Cristine Legare, a researcher and psychology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, says, ‘Rituals signify transition points in the individual life span and provide psychologically meaningful ways to participate in the beliefs and practices of a community.’”

Near the end of her essay, she explains the process he used to create rituals for her own children. Because processes often include simple steps, her writing is straightforward and easy to understand, as shown in her first step:  “I started with my family.”

The Power of Three

No matter the purpose of a sentence, writers often use “the power of three.” The power of three suggests that lists are most powerful when they contain three items.   “Why Rituals are Good for Your Health” has many examples.  Look at this sentence in the first paragraph,which describes the freedoms that women lost during Iran-Iraq War:

“We lost the right to jog, ride a bicycle, or sing in public.”

First, you can see that Honarvar lists three freedoms: jog, ride a bike, and sing in public.  The structure of the list is freedom 1 (jog), freedom 2 (ride a bike), and/or freedom 3 (sing in public).

  1. Each item (freedom) is separated by a comma, and the word “or” precedes (comes before) the third item (sing in public).  Sometimes, the word “and” precedes the last item.
  2. If each item is a verb, as in the example, then each verb must be in the same form or tense. In the example, each verb is in the simple present tense: jog, ride sing.

There are other examples of the power of three in “Why Rituals are Good for Your Health.”

In the fourth paragraph, which begins “Cristine Legare,” Honarvar explains the benefits of rituals this way:

“They [rituals] have been instrumental in building community, promoting cooperation, and marking transition points in a community member’s life.”

Here, you’ll notice that the 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, each one is in the same tense (ing tense?)

Honarvar uses the power of three again when she describes how she established rituals for her family. Her sentence follows the structure outlined above.  This time, all of the verbs are in the past tense.

“At dinners, we banned books and devices, lit candles, and discussed set topics of conversation.”

Can you find the three items in this sentence?  Hint: they are all verbs in the past tense.

Can you find other sentences in “Why Rituals are Good for Your Health” that use the power of three?

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