The key to clarity at the sentence level is to choose with intention, and then be consistent with the choices you make. [Image: Mike Tinnion | Unsplash]
DEFINITIONS TO REMEMBER:
• Verb Tense: choose with intention, and then be consistent.
• Pronoun Reference: be sure the pronoun and its antecedent always match.
• Collective Nouns: choose with intention, and then be consistent.
• Modifiers: be sure the modifier and its antecedent are as close together as possible.
RULES TO REMEMBER:
1. If you choose to use past tense, stay consistently in past tense. If you choose to use present tense, stay consistently in present tense. When you alternate between the two, your readers will be confused and unsure of your meaning.
Consider the following:
◦ The author argues a strong cause, listed several notable contemporaries, and promises to be remembered for her work. Argues and promises are present tense verbs, but listed is in the past tense. To ensure consistency, change listed to lists.
◦ Timothy marched past the line of waiting customers, straight to the counter. He shouts at the woman that he wants a refund. Then he emptied his bag onto the counter to show her the broken device.
Here, again, the verbs alternate between past and present tense. Marched and emptied are in past tense, while shouts is in present tense. To ensure consistency, change shouts to shouted.
2. Any time you use a pronoun, make sure you can draw a straight and clear line to its antecedent so your readers are never left wondering. Be sure, too, that the pronoun and antecedent are either both plural or both singular.
◦ When a club member does not want to pay their dues, we will need to impose a penalty.
A club member is singular, which means the pronoun their must be singular as well. Revised: When a club member does not want to pay his or her dues, we will need to impose a penalty.
◦ Everyone should cast their own vote.
Everyone is a singular collective noun, which means their must be singular as well. Revised: Everyone should cast his or her own vote. If his or her sounds cumbersome, another fix is to make the antecedent plural so their works as a plural pronoun: All members should cast their own votes.
3. Many collective nouns can be either singular or plural depending on the context. Choose intentionally, and be consistent once you choose. When in doubt, keep collective nouns singular.
◦ The faculty is divided into six colleges within the larger university.
In this example, faculty functions as a singular collective noun. But consider this example: The faculty are each expected to complete the survey by Friday. Here faculty functions as a plural collective noun. Either is fine, but be sure to be consistent throughout a single work so your readers are not confused. Other examples of collective nouns include jury, media collective, department, flock, herd, hive, army, and catch.
4. A misplaced modifier is a modifier that is so far from the noun it modifies that your readers could mistakenly assume that it is modifying another part of the sentence. To avoid confusion, always ensure that the modifier is placed as close to its antecedent as possible.
◦ Bathed in brandy, the church ladies enjoyed the baked pears.
Revised: The church ladies enjoyed the baked pears that were bathed in brandy.
◦ Eagerly awaiting her trip, Bertha’s suitcase was placed by Bertha on the top of the stairs.
Revised: Eagerly awaiting her trip, Bertha placed her suitcase on the top of the stairs.
◦ The couple bought a pony for their daughter named Oreo.
Revised: The couple bought a pony named Oreo for their daughter.
“Using clear and concise writing ensures that the customers we serve understand what we expect of them and what they can expect of us. Avoiding confusion saves time and has the added benefit of helping employers avoid litigation.” Joel D. Moore, Graduate Admissions Counselor
• Assuming that writing is a one-step process, rather than recognizing the importance of revision. Most of the sentence equation errors discussed in Part 1 are difficult to catch without a careful second or third reading. Always save time to reread your work, whether you have written a text, an email, a letter to a client, or a final paper for a course.
• Allowing yourself to be distracted by sentence-level math when you are writing a first draft. When you sit down to draft, imagine the person or people you are writing to and simply talk to them without worrying about grammatical errors. Allow the revision process to catch those errors rather than risking writer’s block by second-guessing yourself.
• Assuming that your readers will understand what you mean. Never assume. Chances are they will assume something you never imagined, and your chance at effective communication will be lost.
Find and correct the errors in the following sentences.
1. Anyone who wants to go to college can put together a plan that they will hold to until their goal is accomplished.
Find and correct the errors in the following sentences.
1. At the circus, we bought hot dogs for the children covered in ketchup.
Find and correct the errors in the following paragraph.
When Zane brought his two year old to the swimming pool for a first lesson last week, he is surprised by the chaos of pre-lesson preparations. With goggles gripped tightly in her fist, another parent’s friendly Labrador retriever distracted Emily with her wet kisses. Sprawled across the wet cement floor with her arms wide open to the friendly dog, Zane tried to redirect Emily toward the swimming pool. At the athletic club, they always did a nice job of hiring welcoming, knowledgeable swimming instructors. Once Zane introduced Emily to her teacher, he tries to retreat back to the parents’ seating area. A small crowd were gathered, and Zane found a seat among them. Once seated, Emily realized that he had left her and began to cry. Waving with a wide smile on her face, Zane saw that the teacher was looking directly at him and beckoning him to come back. Rising to his feet, Emily reached for her dad as he made his way back to the poolside. For the remainder of the lesson, Zane crouches near the water’s edge, encouraging Emily as she laughs and splashes in the water.
|Answer Key Exercise 6.1
|1. Anyone who wants to go to college can put together a plan that he or she will hold to until the goal is accomplished.
2. Raul reclined in the lawn chair, opened his magazine wide, and promptly fell sound asleep in the sun.
3. The team played its best players in the first three innings.
4. Why won’t the restaurant advertise what time it opens?
5. Each one of the kids has his or her own unique personality.
6. The book reads like a fast-paced novel. The author closes each chapter with a cliff-hanger that compels readers to keep reading.
7. The neighborhood church serves its community with joy and enthusiasm.
8. I drink my coffee slowly. It burns my mouth if I drink too quickly.
9. When you answer the question, be sure to select the person who had the greatest impact with his or her intellectual contributions.
10. This kind of heat can impact your ability to think as you try to do homework.
|Answer Key Exercise 6.2
|1. At the circus, we bought hot dogs covered in ketchup for the children.
2. Reading the restrictions sign, the mother realized that the baby was not permitted to join her in the hotel hot tub.
3. With carefully gelled hair, the auto mechanic changed the tires of the Ford F150.
4. While Josephine was eating chicken soup, the parakeet swooped over her head.
5. The old woman watched the beautiful willow tree waving in the wind.
6. Driving along the one-lane highway, Mark drove as the Dalmatian leaned his head out of the passenger window.
7. The magazine editor proudly ran a story about Eva, a 104-year old woman with deep wrinkles etched in her cheeks who had helped to start the publication many years before.
8. Sun danced across the top of the water as the boy with red swim trunks rode his surfboard.
9. The textbook with the scientist in a lab coat on the cover belonged to Eric.
10. Reaching down, the nanny lifted the baby into the stroller.
|Answer Key Exercise 6.3
|When Zane brought his two year old to the swimming pool for a first lesson last week, he was surprised by the chaos of pre-lesson preparations. With goggles gripped tightly in her fist, Emily was distracted by the wet kisses of another parent’s friendly Labrador retriever. Zane tried to redirect Emily toward the swimming pool even though she was sprawled across the wet cement floor with her arms wide open to the friendly dog. At the athletic club, the management always did a nice job of hiring welcoming, knowledgeable swimming instructors. Once Zane introduced Emily to her teacher, he tried to retreat back to the parents’ seating area. A small crowd was gathered, and Zane found a seat among them. Once Zane was seated, Emily realized that he had left her and began to cry. Waving with a wide smile on her face, the teacher was looking directly at Zane and beckoning him to come back. Rising to his feet, Zane made his way back to the poolside as Emily reached for him. For the remainder of the lesson, Zane crouched near the water’s edge, encouraging Emily as she laughed and splashed in the water.