Being Clear about the Connection

In a recent post (From Clause to Phrase), we looked at one way to redesign a compound sentence. Our example, I have read your proposal and I will send it to the committee for approval, comprised two independent clauses joined with the conjunction and—a textbook model of a writing workhorse. We saw that we could convert the first clause into a phrase, and in so changing the sentence structure, change the manner in which we were presenting the same ideas to the reader: Having read your proposal, I will send it to the committee for approval.

When we reduce a clause like that, we create a design called an abridged clause. To abridge something means to shorten or abbreviate it, and we can see in our example that the phrase having read your proposal, has eliminated both the subject I and the auxiliary verb have from the original design. Whether we call the result a phrase (here it is a participial phrase) or an abridged clause depends merely on whether we are referring to the original or to the result. Six of one, half a dozen of the other.

I mention the term abridged clause because understanding it can help us find yet another possible design for our example sentence. First, let’s remind ourselves that there are two classes of clauses, independent and subordinate. Our original compound sentence, by definition, has two independent clauses, and that arrangement is meant to boldly present two ideas whose connection is clear: this is this and that is that. A subordinate clause, on the other hand, recognizes that thoughts and ideas can be connected in more complex ways, the most common of which is cause. To make that more subtle relationship clear, we employ subordinating conjunctions to introduce a thought, and in so doing create a subordinate clause: because of this, that.

What we are abridging in an abridged clause, then, is an understood conjunction. I read your proposal became having read your proposal. Both of those versions imply that my reading the proposal was the cause of my eventually sending it to the committee for approval. Neither version makes that specific; both only imply it, and that’s because neither uses the subordinating conjunction because or since to explicitly express the causal connection. But why not use the conjunction and give ourselves a third design choice: Since I read your proposal, I will send it to the committee for approval. This new version, though not quite polished yet, is in construction a complex sentence, by definition a sentence with at least one subordinate and at least one independent clause. With the addition of the conjunction, this design stands midway between the original compound sentence and the abridged clause revision.

But this new version is not quite there yet. By using the conjunction since and making the logical connection clear, the sentence sounds stilted—exactly because the explicit logic demands precision. It’s not so much because I read your proposal that I will now send it to the committee; it’s rather because I read your proposal and found it interesting or workable or profitable that I will now send it to the committee for approval. Thus, a finished version of this new design might be: Since I read your proposal closely and found it had real merit, I will send it to the committee for approval.

Writing a complete subordinate clause like that, with the conjunction clearly stated, has forced us, then, to unearth new ideas and be more precise. Not every new idea might be good, but being more precise always is.


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