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7.2 Sentence Structure

“In my sentences I go where no man has gone before.”

–George W. Bush.

Use active verbs.

Be-verbs (is, am, are, was, were, be, has/have been) indicate condition and often require an extra sentence or clause to be sound. Active verbs allow you to compose sharply without numbing the rhythm of your writing. Read your writing with an objective eye and think: “How can I make every sentence and paragraph straightforward and simple?” Below are examples in italics of wordy and confusing verbiage. Below the italics are the same sentences that have been simplified.

The sharp rise in fuel prices is a serious challenge to trucking firms. It makes it hard for them to provide timely service to customers and to meet payroll expenses.

Sharply rising fuel prices challenge trucking firms by causing delays in customer service and payroll.

Primary causes of the rise in fuel prices are an issue of confusion for many citizens. They don’t know how to fight the rise because they don’t know its cause.

Primary causes of rising fuel prices elude many citizens, making them unaware of how to fight the increase.

Name the people. Directly state who or what group is acting in your sentences.

Note the contrast in power and clarity among the sentences below

  • Without people: A citywide ban on indoor smoking in Duluth originally caused a marked drop in bar patronage.
  • With people: When the Duluth City Council passed a citywide ban on indoor smoking, many people stopped going to bars.

Eliminate wordy phrases. Certain stock phrases are weak and wordy. They can make you sound stuffy or as though you’re just trying to fill up space. Use these replacements

  • Because, Since, Why: the reason for, for the reason that, owing/due to the fact that, in light of the fact that, considering the fact that, on the grounds that, this is why
  • When: on the occasion of, in a situation in which, under circumstances in which
  • About, Regarding: as regards, in reference to, with regard to, concerning the matter of, where ABC is concerned
  • Must, Should: it is crucial that, it is necessary that, there is a need/necessity for, it is important that, it cannot be avoided that
  • Can: is able to, has the opportunity to, has the capacity for, has the ability to
  • May, Might, Could: it is possible that, there is a chance that, it could happen that, the possibility exists for

Luckily, Internet users can find numerous web sites about how to eliminate wordiness.

Use Parallelism in sentences. Parallelism sounds difficult but is easy to write or edit. Parallelism uses the same pattern in words and structure to show equal importance or provide balance in sentences John likes reading, his studies, and talking.

Corrected: John likes reading, studying, and talking.

We were asked to calculate scores, record them, and putting them on the bulletin board. Corrected: We were asked to calculate scores, record them, and post them on the bulletin board.

Editing Tips

The science class had to dissect frogs or were experimenting with gases.

Corrected: The science class had to dissect frogs or experiment with gases.

To check for parallelism, first circle or highlight every and or or to check for balance in the sentence. List the phrases from your sentence on a separate piece of paper. Example: reading, his studies, and talking. Make corrections to your list to create balance: reading, studying, and talking.

Once you fix a few sentences, problems with parallelism become easier to recognize and to correct!


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Expression and Inquiry by Christopher Manning; Sally Pierce; and Melissa Lucken is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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