Expository: Sweet, Sour & Resentful

17 Vocabulary Focus: Sweet, Sour & Resentful

This chapter focuses on the following activities to support your understanding of the article, Sweet, Sour & Resentful, and to help you develop your academic vocabulary fluency.

  • Sentence Structure: The Power of 3
  • Writing the One Page Essay
  • Listening Activity: “Small Town” by John Mellencamp

Printable worksheets for students can be found in the instructor section at the end of the text.

Sentence Structure: The Power of 3

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.

Writing Strategies

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

STRATEGY 1: 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.


Please re-read paragraphs 7, 8, and 10 to find examples of effective short sentences and write those examples in the space below.

Para. 7 _________________________________

Para. 8 _________________________________

Para. 9 _________________________________

How do those short sentences affect the way you read the paragraph?

STRATEGY 2: The Power or 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.”

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 (said, wore, grilled)  each one is in the same tense (the Past Simple tense).

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.


Please re-read paragraphs 5, 6, 7, and 9 to find examples of the Power of Three and write those examples in the space below.

Paragraph 5 – One example using verbs.

Please write the three verbs here: _________________________


Paragraph 6 – Two examples using nouns

Please write the first set of three nouns here: _________________________

Please write the second set of three nouns here: _________________________


Paragraph 7  – One example using nouns.

Please write the three nouns here: _________________________


Paragraph 9 – One example using verbs

Please write the three verbs here: _________________________

Listening Activity: “Small Town” John Mellencamp

In our article, the author mentions the song, “Small Town” by John Mellencamp. Listen to the song and fill in the blanks with the words you hear.

Small Town – John Mellencamp

Official video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0CVLVaBECuc


Well I _______ in a small town
And I live in a small town
Probably die in a small town
Oh, those small communities

All my friends are so small town
My parents live in the same small town
My job is so small town
Provides little opportunity

_______ in a small town
_______ the fear of Jesus in a small town
Used to daydream in that small town
Another boring romantic that’s me

But I’ve seen it all in a small town
Had myself a ball in a small town
Married an L.A. doll and brought her to this small town
Now she’s small town just like me

No I cannot forget ____________________________________
I cannot forget the people _______

Yeah, I can be myself here in this small town
And people let me be just _______

Got nothing against a big town
Still hayseed enough to say
Look _______
But my bed is in a small town
Oh, and that’s good enough for me

Well I _______ in a small town
And I can breathe in a small town
Gonna die in this small town
And that’s probably where they’ll bury me


Discussion Questions


  1. What type of clauses have you written in the blanks?
  2. What type of verbs have you written in the blanks?


  1. Mellancamp sings, “Got nothing against a big town. Still hayseed enough to say…” What does “hayseed” describe about him?
  2. Why does he describe his wife as an “L.A. doll”?

General discussion

  1. How does Mellencamp feel about his “small town”? What lines in the song support your opinion?
  2. Many people have a place that feels like “home” to them, whether they live there currently or have moved away. Do you have a place that feels like home? Write a short paragraph describing the place you call home.

  Grammar points that could be added to this assignment:

  • Add five full or reduced adjective clauses to your paragraph.
  • Add five full or reduced adverb clauses to your paragraph.
  • Add five full or reduced noun clauses to your paragraph.
  • Add five passive verbs to your paragraph
  • Use the power of three in five places in your paragraph.



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