7 SIMPLES RULES OF THUMB FOR CREATING CLEAR AND GRACEFUL SENTENCES
Grammar is about
style is about
In this lesson, we’re concerned with the choices you make at the sentence level:What choices do you need to make? What are some criteria for making them?The following stylistic rules of thumb are exactly that:
rules of thumb,
not ironclad laws. Use them to help you make smart choices; and if you believe that the thought you want to express would be more effectively communicated by breaking a rule than by following it, then — by all means — break it!
when there are words in your sentences that don’t add anything to the sentences’ meaning; wordy is theopposite of
The dogs who were barking outside in the alley next to my house kept me up and awake all night long.
The barking dogs in the alley kept me up all night.
My sister is a nice, kind person who cannot understand or comprehend how other people in our town can be somean and cruel to people.
My sister is a nice person who cannot understand how others can be so mean.
The struggle for liberty and freedom is a struggle that has gone on for a very long time indeed.
The struggle for liberty has gone on for a long time.
To express actions and conditions, use specific verbs, adverbs, or adjectives rather than abstractnouns.
like walking, speaking, sleeping, raining, developing, etc., and also
like believing, meaning, representing, conceptualizing, etc.The term
refers to a “state of being,” as in “The sun is larger than the moon,” or “Tim is angry,” or“Calculus is a challenging subject.”
are verbs turned into nouns: e.g., the noun “investment” from the verb “to invest;” the noun“interpretation” from “to interpret;” “sight” from “to see;” etc.
We had a discussion of the matter.
We discussed the matter.
A review was done of the relevant regulations.
The team reviewed the relevant regulations.
The intention of the committee is the improvement of the company morale.
The committee intended to improve company morale.
When it is appropriate, make the subjects of your verb the agents of the action the verb describes.
A word that describes an action or condition.
The word or phrase in the sentence that names
is doing/being that the verb describes.
who or what named by the subject. Here’s an example of a sentence where subject and agent match:
“Elvis recorded ‘Blue Suede Shoes.’”
The subject of the sentence is the word “Elvis.” And the agent of the action (recording) is this guy
Notice, however, that subjects and agents can be mismatched, as in this example:
“’Blue Suede Shoes’ was recorded by Elvis.”
Here, the agent of the action described the verb “recorded” remains the guy pictured on the right.However, the subject of this sentence is
the word “Elvis” but the phrase “‘Blue Suede Shoes.” Did the song record itself?Of course not. So unless you want to displace attention from singer to song, you’ll stick with first, matched sentence: “Elvisrecorded ‘Blue Suede Shoes.’”
The case was vigorously prosecuted by the District Attorney.
The District Attorney vigorously prosecuted the case.
Baed upon Joseph M. Williams’
Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace
(New York: Longman, 2003).