by Patrick Cole
Sometimes you're reading a story and you're really getting into it, when suddenly, out of the blue, there's a sentence so poorly constructed that it throws you completely out of whack. Suddenly you're no longer focused on the thoughts that the writer is portraying or the picture they are painting, but on the malformed sentences that they are doing it with.
And with that the piece of writing comes tumbling down.
Now if you're a writer, this is the last thing you want to have happen. To make sure that doesn't happen to you and your writing, here are some awkward sentence structures that you want to pay especial attention to. Pay attention to these, together with these 8 sentence constructions you should avoid, and you'll be ready to rock the writing world.
He has a tendency to write before he's carefully thought through his word choices.
When you read this sentence did you have to stop and read a part of it again? Was that perhaps the section 'thought through'? You aren't the only one. This is actually quite a common construction in the English language.
It shouldn't be.
As we now know through reading analysis, people don't actually read words letter by letter. They take them in as chunks. The problem is that when those words are very similar (like in this case the words 'thought' and 'through') we struggle.
A much better choice here would have been 'consider'.
In some languages using a double negative is acceptable. English just happens not to be one of them. So make sure you avoid them. That means you should avoid such structures as:
And so on and so forth.
[Note: This applies to formal written and spoken English. There ain't nothing wrong with double negatives in informal English.]
In fact, we're very bad at negative constructions. This was wonderfully demonstrated by the incredibly simple white polar bear experiment.
Experimenters asked people not to think about a white polar bear. The result? People couldn't stop thinking about it. That seems to be in part down to how the human brain is constructed. We start out with the positive version of the thought and then apply a negative sign to it, which means that it's a two-step process.
Having two negative signs makes things even more complicated. So try to avoid it.
Many sentences will have a main thought as well as several subsidiary thoughts, which help expand the original idea.
It happens all the time when we talk. We introduce one idea, which leads to another one and so on. The thing is, when you're speaking it's easy to let the person know that you're creating a sub-thought. It can be far harder to make it clear while writing.
Nor is it necessary. The above sentence can easily be divided into three sentences. These would go:
Many sentences have a main thought. They will also have several subsidiary thoughts. These will expand the original idea.
Doesn't that read far more engagingly and easily without losing any of the meaning? That's because to our brains the period means 'this idea is closed', allowing us to lump and move on. This frees up more space in our working memory for the next thought, making the reading far easier and the strain far lighter.
A person taking on the role of caregiver for another, a sick elder, perhaps, is a very demanding job.
This is what is known as a 'mixed construction'. Here the subject of the sentence does not match the object. Or, in plain English, the sentence is actually suggesting that the person is a job.
Just cut out the middle (which is irrelevant to the mistake) to see what I mean. 'A person is a very demanding job'.
See the problem now?
A person has a very demanding job would certainly be a more accurate statement.
In fact, this sentence in some ways links back up to the sentence outlined above. There are too many parts moving together and this mistake would immediately have been noticed if the thoughts would have been separated out.
Using unnecessarily elongated words to demonstrate your verbosity will - contrary to possible held beliefs - not impress.
Or, in normal English, using big words won't impress people. In fact, studies have demonstrated that people will generally actually think less of you if you try to hide behind big words.
So don't do it. The trick to writing well is often, in fact, taking big or uncommon words and substituting smaller words that people are more familiar with.
That will make your writing far easier to read and thereby allows your audience to not spend their time figuring out what you're trying to say but instead focused on whether they agree with what you mean.
If you're not sure if your writing is easy to understand, consider using something like this readability score program, which will analyze your text for you and thereby give you an idea what reading level would be required to actually understand you text.
Lower is better (in case that wasn't yet obvious).
People seem to think that texts that are easy to read are easy to write. Now, that might be true with the spoken word, but it couldn't be further from the truth in written test. Easy to read texts are incredibly difficult to write and take a huge amount of editing.
In part that's because with the written word you have far less channels of communication than when people are speaking. With speech you have tone, volume, emphasis and speed, to name but a few. With the written word none of those extra dimensions are available to you.
And so, you have to make certain that you communicate more clearly with the few channels that you do have. A good place to start in that regard is by avoiding these awkwardly worded sentences.
Patrick Cole is an entrepreneur and freelancer. He is also a contributing blogger for several websites. Patrick loves self-education and rock music. More of his works you can find at Pro Custom Writing.
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Page last modified: 22.04.21
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