Thoughts About Writing

A headline recently at CNN to promote a new podcast read, the most famous crime you may have never heard of. This innocent little statement gives us the chance to review a number of points that bear on both grammar and style. We should begin by noting that what we’re looking at is a fragment, only a piece of the headline that we want to examine closely for a few minutes, so we shouldn’t be surprised that the statement doesn’t express a complete thought. That said, how do these ten words work together? The noun crime seems to be the
Discussions about sentence design and stylistic effects can risk giving the impression that these are matters only for imaginative literature, not for language in its workaday character. Here’s an example of an interestingly constructed sentence in an ordinary (by which I do not mean undistinguished) college textbook on critical thinking of some years ago. At the conclusion of a thorough treatment of logic and the scientific method, the author (W. Ward Fearnside in his About Thinking, Prentice Hall, 1997) begins his last paragraph with this sentence: Loud though our praise has been for the methods of science, we must end
Rearranging what we’ve written makes up a large part of revising our work. Grammarians refer to what is called syntax, the arrangement of words across a sentence to produce meaning. Change the syntax and we change the meaning, or at least the angle from which the reader sees what we’re saying. So there’s some reason we should understand how an English sentence is put together. It can be helpful to think of three elements as we look over what we’ve written. Sometimes called sentence units, these elements—words, phrases, and clauses—are the bricks, or components, or building blocks we assemble into

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