The Grammar Doctor


Economy makes your sentences more clear because extra words obscure the basic meaning of the sentence. A short sentence is easier to read than a long one. A writer can achieve greater economy by eliminating deadwood and avoiding wordy structures. Elimination of such structures might be compared to stripping an automobile of unnecessary weight to achieve great fuel economy. Another way to achieve great fuel economy in a care is to get a fuel efficient engine. The same can be done with a sentence.

The verb powers the sentence. The effective use of verbs can give sentences greater density, so that they convey more information with fewer words. One way to do this is with a compound predicate (verb). Sentences with compound predicates have more action and movement. They tell the reader more.

He had done for himself in the office, pawned his watch, spent all his money; and he had not even got drunk. "Counterparts," James Joyce

In the middle of the day the air was alive over the land, like a flame burning; it scintillated, moved and shone like running water, mirrored and doubled all objects, and created Fata Morgana. Out of Africa, Isak Dinesen

Action verbs are more vivid than linking verbs. They communicate more by creating a picture for the reader to see.

Late in the morning a really terrible argument blew up between Hawkins and Noble. "Guests of the Nation," Frank O'Connor

Active verbs are more vivid than passive verbs. They put the focus of the action on the subject of the sentence, the actor.

He handled the oxen with a delicate brutality that was fascinating and horrifying to watch. "The Nuisance," Doris Lessing

Verbals also give life, movement, and action to sentences. They give the sentence more density, carrying more weight, more information.

A fat government girl in a Bennington sweat shirt, recently engaged to an ensign attached to the Forrestal, came charging into the kitchen, head lowered, and butted Slab in the stomach. "Entropy," Thomas Pynchon

Flames glided in the river, small green flames, red flames, whites flames, pursuing, overtaking, joining, crossing each other--then separating slowly or hastily. "Heart of Darkness," Joseph Conrad

Any kind of series can give a sentence density and economy. Many of the sentences above contain a series of verbs or verbals. A series of prepositional phrases can also add the the effectiveness of a sentence.

In waves, in clouds, in big round whirls the dust comes stinging and with it little bits of straw and chaff and manure. "The Wind Blows," Katherine Mansfield

In the clothes tree alone Father Fabre noted a cartridge belt, a canteen stenciled with the letters U.S., a pair of snowshoes, and old bicycle tire of wrinkled rubber, a beekeepers's veil. "A Losing Game," J. F. Powers

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