Do Not State What Sentence Structure Itself Makes Clear

Use Colon or Dash for Announcement wordy There were many reasons for the Civil War, which include slavery, economic expansion, states' rights, cultural differences, and sectional jealousies. CONCISE There were many reasons for the Civil War: slavery, economic expansion, states' rights, cultural differences, and sectional jealousies. WORDY Pitchers are divided into two classes. These classes are starters and relievers. CONCISE Pitchers are divided into two clasps—starters and relievers.

In sentences like these, the colon or dash says: "Here comes a series of particulars." If you let the punctuation mark talk, you won't need deadwood like "which include" or "these classes are." (The only difference between the colon and the dash in this function is that the colon is a bit more formal. However, each mark has other, very different tasks in which they are not equivalents.)

The colon or dash can also set up an important idea delayed for emphasis:

WORDY But a counterforce has been established within the weapons platoon. This counterforce is the antitank squad.

CONCISE But a counterforce has been established within the weapons antitank squad.

Use Ellipses

WORDY He is taller than his brother is. CONCISE He is taller than his brother.

WORDY When you are late, you must sign yourself in. CONCISE When late, you must sign yourself in.

WORDY He lost his wallet; she lost her pocketbook.

CONCISE He lost his wallet; she, her pocketbook.

An ellipsis (plural, ellipses) is the omission of words implied by the grammar but not necessary to complete the sense. The writer using an ellipsis assumes that readers can supply the missing words from the context.

Ellipses often secure concision with no loss of clarity or emphasis. They may even enhance those qualities. In the first example above, the sense does not require the second "is"; moreover, the revision allows the sentence to end on the key term "brother." In the second, the concise version stresses "late" and avoids repeating "you"; while in the third, dropping "lost" from the second clause makes a striking statement.

The unusual quality of some ellipses, however, limits their usefulness. For example, "He lost his wallet; she, her pock-etbook" has a literary flavor that might seem odd in a matter-of-fact, colloquial passage.

Use Parallelism

WORDY These books are not primarily for reading, but they are used for reference. CONCISE These books are not primarily for reading but for reference.

WORDY The beginner must work more slowly, and he must work more consciously. CONCISE The beginner must work more slowly and more consciously.

Parallelism means that two or more words, phrases, or clauses are grammatically related in the same way to the same thing. In "The man and the boy came in together," "man" and "boy" are parallel because each acts as a subject of the same verb ("came in"). Or in "She stood and raised her hand," "stood" and "raised" are parallel because each is a verb of the same subject ("She").

Parallelism is like factoring in mathematics; instead of repeating it in 2ax + 3ay + az, the mathematician writes a(2x + 3y + z). In a grammatically parallel construction the governing term need not be stated two or three times. In the first example, the phrase "for reference," by being made parallel to "for reading," does duty for the entire second clause.

But at times parallelism improves nothing. Emphasis or rhythm often justifies a certain amount of repetition. Thus in the second example above, the so-called "wordy" version would be preferable if the writer wished to stress "he must work."


The Well-Written Sentence: (2) Emphasis

In speech we achieve emphasis in a variety of ways: by talking loudly (or sometimes very softly); by speaking slowly, carefully separating words that ordinarily we run together; by altering our tone of voice or changing its timbre. We also stress what we say by nonvocal means: a rigid, uncompromising posture; a clenched fist; a pointing finger; any of numerous other body attitudes, gestures, facial expressions.

Writers can rely upon none of these signals. Yet they too need to be emphatic. What they must do, in effect, is to translate loudness, intonation, gesture, and so on, into writing. Equivalents are available. Some are merely visual symbols for things we do when talking: much punctuation, for example, stands for pauses in speech. Other devices, while not unknown in speech, belong primarily to composition. Some of these we shall look at in this chapter.

First, though, we need to distinguish two degrees of em-emphasis, which applies to the entire sentence, and partial emphasis, which applies only to a word, or a group of words, within the sentence. As an example of total emphasis, consider these two statements:

1. An old man sat in the corner.

2. In the corner sat an old man.

Sentence (1) is matter of fact, attaching no special importance to what it tells us. Sentence (2), however, like a close-up in a film, suggests that the fact is important. Now this distinction does not mean that the second version is superior to the first: simply that it is more emphatic. Whether or not the emphasis makes it better depends on what the writer wants to say.

By their nature strong sentences (that is, those having total emphasis) cannot occur very often. Their effectiveness depends on their rarity. Writing in which every sentence is emphatic, or even every other, is like having somebody shout at you.

Partial emphasis (emphasis within the sentence), however, is characteristic of all well-written sentences. Usually one word (or phrase or clause) is more important than the others. Consider these two variations of the same statement:

1. It suddenly began to rain.

2. Suddenly, it began to rain.

If we suppose that the writer wished to draw our attention to "suddenly," sentence (2) is better. By moving it to the opening position and isolating it with a comma, the writer gives the word far more weight than it has in sentence (1). Again there is no question of an absolute better or worse. Each version is well-suited to some purpose, ill-suited to others.

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