We’ve looked in the past at the dubious phrase due to, but a few remarks here again about its stylistic effects might be in order. What are we to think, for example, about a sentence like this: Due to my sister’s condo’s rules not allowing dogs any longer, she is presently confused about if she should move. In a word? Overwritten, and there’s something to learn from that. It is common to believe that we’ll write more clearly if we write more, that a string of words will better explain what a few words can’t. Now although that’s true—sometimes, it’s
Here is an example of a grammatical construction I have seen a number of times recently in professional writing. It’s unusual, but apparently not as uncommon as I had thought. Try to identify the subject and its verb in this sentence: He coming home from work so late worries me. What is it, we wonder, that actually worries me, he or the fact that he comes home from work so late? To answer that, we have to go to the border between grammar and logic. Grammar gone awry can complicate an otherwise simple idea quickly, and that’s what has happened
About the only tools necessary to practice the art of writing are paper and pencil or screen and keyboard. That’s the romantic view, at least. A more realistic perspective would include at least a dictionary, but even then we don’t often realize just what practical information a lexical entry can give us as writers and readers both. Most of us have heard about the parts of speech, a traditional conceptual scheme that organizes words according to the way they are used grammatically in a particular sentence. Words, of course, are the first and most basic element in the craft of
I knew a writing teacher whose first question to a student was always, Do you keep a notebook when you read? However one answered, his next question was, What are you reading? Much was implied in that second interrogation, because it assumed one was surely reading something at the moment. And it wasn’t good when one hesitated in replying. This connection between notebook and reading was an attempt to teach the lesson of slowing down. Modern culture moves inhumanly fast, and we often unknowingly content ourselves with the idea that getting the big idea of something is to understand it.
Let’s say you’ve found yourself in an unworkable sentence, something like this, for example: One month into my vacation after not taking any time off for almost three years, I began to experience persistent thoughts about being away from work that plagued me. If we have agreed, as I think we should, that anything goes in a first draft, then we should accept our sentences as we find them there. The writer here has laid down ideas as they presented themselves to his first recollection, and the work of revision begins now with identifying those ideas and giving each its
In an earlier post entitled From Phrase to Clause, we looked at the first half of a difficult sentence and saw how changing an opening phrase to a clause can bring precision, and thereby energy, to our writing. The second half of that same sentence presented other difficulties, which I would like to look at now. Here’s the original sentence once again: One month into my vacation after not taking any time off for almost three years, I began to experience persistent thoughts about being away from work that plagued me. As is ever our procedure, we begin with identifying
Let’s return to the border of grammar and logic, or if the term logic is off putting, let’s call it critical thinking. If it’s true that precision lies at the heart of style, then the more we know exactly what we’re talking about, the clearer will be our language and the more distinct our style. Clarity and precision, though, are not achieved at a stroke, and so we should be patient with ourselves as we search in a first draft for the words to express the ideas we have in mind. Generalities are often the first to come to mind,
We pay a high compliment to a writer’s style when we say that it has energy, that it carries us confidently through a number of ideas, and shows one idea arising from another. What is energetic is moving and what moves changes, and that dynamic, dramatic quality seems to be at the heart of a higher human perception. I say higher perception because our more common way of looking at the world (and perhaps necessarily so) is not dynamic but static; we see things standing alone rather than acting together, and we believe something is and will always be what
I ask my students to keep a record of their reading by transcribing in a notebook a sentence or two which has caught their attention by the way it says what it says. This attentive copying (with appropriate quotation marks and citation, of course) holds the eye and mind to form, and furnishes a stock of grammatical shapes that will then be ready at hand as they revise their own work later. Recently, a student brought to class this quote from the famed biologist and writer Rachel Carson, and it illustrates a good number of rhetorical designs in a mere