Sunday, August 30, 2015

How to Shorten Wordy Sentences

from The Practical Stylist by Sheridan Baker

1. "Our thoughts are naturally roundabout, our phrases naturally secondhand. Our satisfaction in merely getting something down on paper naturally blinds us to our errors and ineptitudes. It hypnotizes us into believing we have said what we meant, when our words actually say something else: "Every seat in the house was filled to capacity." Two ways of expressing a thought, two clich├ęs, have collided: every seat was taken and the house was filled to capacity. Cut the excess wordage, and the absurd accident vanishes: "Every seat was taken."

2. Learn to count your words. Any time you can shorten a sentence, and keep the meaning, do it.

3. Don't use the passive voice! It adds more words, and it's weaker.

4. Remove redundant words (see attached lists)

5. Replace long phrases with short ones:

Examples:                               Better:                        In a Sentence
 
due to the fact that                   because            The game was canceled because of rain.
in connection with                   about                They liked everything about the university.
in many instances                    often                 People often take offense over trivialities.
in some instances                    sometimes         Sometimes it's better to be polite than right.
rarely ever, seldom ever          rarely                Billy rarely misses a chance for comedy.

6. Change a noun to a verb to shorten a sentence:

Examples:                                                                    Better:
Acid rain causes water pollution.                                 Acid rain pollutes water.
The invasions caused depopulation of the country.     The invasions depopulated the country.

7. Limit your of's. If you use too many, it begins to look like sausage links:

Example: "Education is the acquisition of the art of the utilization of knowledge."
Better: "Education instills the art of using knowledge."

8. You can shorten a complex sentence with the following tricks: appositives, relatives understood, phrasal adjectives, past participles, gerunds, and ablative absolutes.

Appositives
Apposition (not opposition) is when two things sit next to each other, in this case words. An appositive is a noun, used as an adjective, like William the Conqueror. Conqueror is a noun, but here, it describes William. This is a shortened form of "William, who was a conqueror," and adds complexity to a sentence. Appositives can be a word or a phrase:

Examples:   "Bob's car, a wreck, could barely go past 40 kph."
                     "Columbia University, the second-largest landowner in NYC, is part of the Ivy League."

Phrasal Adjectives
This works just like an appositive, using an adjective in place of a noun
 
Example: "There was the lake, [which was] smooth in the morning air."

Relatives Understood
These are sentences where you can omit the words that, which, and who. Basically, when you don't have to use these words, it's better not to.

Example: The house, [which was] facing north, had a superb view.

Past Participles
1. You can start a subordinate clause with a participle. In this example, there are three participles leading up to a simple sentence.

Example: "Dead to the world, wrapped in sweet dreams, untroubled by bills, he slept till noon."

2. Beware dangling participles!!! This is when your clause doesn't agree with the subject. This creates confusion:

Example: "With his tail held high, my father led his prize poodle around the arena."

This sounds like the speaker's father has a tail. Most likely, the poodle held its tail high, not the man.

Fixed: "With his tail held high, the prize poodle followed my father around the arena."

Gerunds

Gerunds can begin clauses, just like participles, and can also fall into the same trap:

Example: "Driving like a maniac, the deer was hit and killed."

This sounds like the deer was driving like a maniac. But most likely, there was a human at the wheel, and the deer was merely crossing the street at the wrong time.

Fixed: "Driving like a maniac, Paul hit and killed a deer."

Note how similar this sentence is to a Relative Understood:

Example: "Paul, [who was] driving like a maniac, hit and killed a deer.

Ablative Absolutes

These are prepositional phrases, where the preposition itself is omitted (ablative means omitted). These are similar to appositives, but notice how the nouns don't describe the subject, because they're part of a prepositional phrase:

Example: "He ran up the stairs, [with] a bouquet of roses under his arm."

 "The cat froze, [with] its back arched, [and with its] eyes frantic."

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