T Express Modifiers in the Fewest Possible Words

WORDY He acted in an unnatural way.

CONCISE He acted unnaturally.

WORDY The organization of a small business can be described in a brief statement.

CONCISE The organization of a small business can be briefly described.

WORDY She prefers wines having a French origin.

CONCISE She prefers French wines.

WORDY American exploration was rapid considering the means which the pioneers had available to them.

CONCISE American exploration was rapid considering the means available to the pioneers.

WORDY The targets that are supplied in skeet shooting are discs made of clay.

CONCISE Skeet targets are clay discs.

Adverbs and adjectives ought to link as directly as possible with what they modify. The writers of the first two examples above are afraid of adverbs. (Many people are, perhaps made timid by uncertainty about the -ly ending.) "Unnatural" really describes "acted," but instead of directly connecting it to that verb, the writer hangs it on the empty word "way" in an unnecessary prepositional phrase. Similarly, the adverbial phrase "in a brief statement" can be rendered with equal clarity and far more economy by "briefly." The other three sentences labor under ponderous adjectival phrases or clauses when much briefer construction will do.

Use Participles

WORDY It leaves us with the thought that we were hasty. CONCISE It leaves us thinking that we were hasty. WORDY This is the idea that was suggested last week. CONCISE This is the idea suggested last week.

Wordy modification often results from failing to use participles. In cases like the first example an abstract noun ("thought"), which requires a preposition and an article, can be replaced by one word, "thinking." The second example here shows how to prune an adjectival clause consisting of a relative word ("that") + a linking verb ("was") + a participle ("suggested") or other predicative term. By dropping the relative word and the linking verb, you can move directly from the noun to the participle (or predicative word).

Sometimes an entire adverbial clause can be cut back to the operative participle.

WORDY Because they were tired, the men returned to camp. CONCISE Tired, the men returned to camp.

And sometimes an independent clause or sentence can be trimmed:

WORDY These ideas are already old-fashioned, and they are not frequently met with.

CONCISE These ideas are already old-fashioned, infrequently met with.

WORDY The women of the settlement would gather together at one home to work on the quilt. They would bring their children with them and spend the entire day, chatting gaily as they worked.

CONCISE The women of the settlement would gather together at one home to work on the quilt, bringing their children and spending the entire day, chatting gaily as they worked.

Use Predicate Adjectives

WORDY Riots became frequent affairs. CONCISE Riots became frequent.

WORDY Mr. Martin is a quiet, patient, and cautious person. CONCISE Mr. Martin is quiet, patient, and cautious. WORDY The day was a perfect one. CONCISE The day was perfect.

A predicate adjective stands after the noun it notionally modifies, connected to it by a linking verb (is, are, was, were, seems, becomes, and so on), like "large" in this sentence:

The house is large.

An attributive adjective stands before the noun it modifies: the large house

Predicate adjectives are not necessarily better. But it is better not to restate a word or idea pointlessly as the above examples do. "Affairs," "person," and "one" are empty words, hooks on which to hang an attributive adjective. Why not use the adjective predicatively? Then the empty word is no longer needed. And even more important, the adjective will get the emphasis it deserves.

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Project Management Made Easy

Project Management Made Easy

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