7 Steps to Better Writing - Charles Maxwell 2020
Step 6 – Revise
In the same way that chefs understand different ingredients and how they contribute to a tasty meal, persons editing their writing need to understand the basic elements of language—words, phrases, and clauses—and how those elements work with one another. Here is a short summary of English grammar.
Parts of Speech
Parts of speech are categories of words grouped by the way they function in language. Modern linguists have many methods for classifying words according to their function. Those methods provide the most comprehensive explanation of how language works, but for our purpose, the eight traditional parts of speech for English are sufficient. They include:
· Noun: a concrete or abstract entity: a person, animal, place, thing, activity, event, or idea. Examples: George Washington was the first president of the United States. His horse ran to the barn. Writing is a challenge.
· Pronoun: a substitute for a noun or noun phrase. Personal pronouns include: I, me, my, mine, we, us, our, ours, you, your, yours, he, him, his, she, her, hers, it, its, they, them, their, theirs, thou, thee, thy, thine, ye. Demonstrative pronouns include: this, these, that, those. Relative pronouns include: who, whom, whose, what, which, that. Interrogative pronouns include: who, whom, whose, what, which. Reflexive pronouns include: myself, ourselves, yourself, yourselves, himself, herself, itself, themselves. (There are a few other types of pronouns not discussed.)
· Verb: a word that conveys action or states being. Examples: I saw the dog. He ate his dinner. He is tired.
· Adjective: a modifier of a noun or a pronoun. Examples: John’s long sentences are awkward. I prefer short phrases.
O Within the category of adjectives is the article. An article is a word that marks a noun as being definite (the) or indefinite (a, an). Examples: the book, a pencil, an allowance.
· Adverb: a modifier of a verb, adjective, or adverb. Examples: Short sentences flow quickly. Very long sentences force readers to read slower.
· Preposition: a word that establishes relationship. The most common prepositions are: at, by, for, from, in, of, on, to, with. Examples: The team of experts prepared the report for the client by working from morning to dusk.
· Conjunction: a connector. Examples: and, or, nor, but, yet, so. Examples: She picked up a pencil and some paper, but she forgot what she wanted to write.
· Interjection: an emotional expression, which is independent of words around it. Examples: hi, bye, goodbye, cheers, hooray, good day, farewell, oh.
A phrase is one or more words that work together as a single unit.
A prepositional phrase is a phrase commencing with a preposition. Examples: The team of experts prepared the schedule for the client.
A clause is a combination of a subject and a predicate phrase, where:
· The subject is an actor, agent, or attribute carrier. Examples: John read the email. Proofreading long reports is difficult.
· The predicate gives information about the subject. The predicate contains a verb and possibly other elements. Examples of predicates: Adam drafted a long report. Sue revised the last chapter.
Subjects and predicates can be a single word or many words.
Clauses are either independent or dependent. An independent clause can stand alone. Example: Martha wrote the report.
A dependent or subordinate clause augments an independent clause. Example: Martha wrote the report after she investigated the customer’s claims.
Conjunctions that often indicate subordinate clauses include: after, although, as, because, before, how, if, since, so, unless, until, when, where, while, why.
Pronouns that function as subordinate conjunctions are: who, which, what, that. When faced with the decision of using the subordinating conjunctions which or that, use that for clauses that are essential to meaning and which for clauses that are nonessential. Furthermore, add a comma to set off clauses that are nonessential to understanding the essence of the sentence.
A sentence is a group of words that expresses a complete thought. Most sentences include at least one independent clause, thus including a subject and a predicate.
A sentence with only one independent clause and no dependent clauses is a simple sentence. Example: John read the email.
A sentence with two or more independent clauses joined by conjunctions or by punctuation (comma, semicolon, colon, or dash) and free from dependent clauses is a compound sentence. Example: John read the email, and Nathan read the newspaper.
A sentence with one independent clause and one or more dependent clauses is a complex sentence. Example: Adam is waiting for the report, which Sue is proofing.
A compound- complex sentence (or complex-compound sentence) has at least two independent clauses and at least one dependent clause. Example: Martha wrote the report, after she investigated the customer’s claims, but she failed to take into consideration everything that she had learned.
When a group of words fails to express a complete thought—that is, lacks an independent clause—it is called a sentence fragment or incomplete sentence. Sentence fragments occur when:
· A subject, verb, or object is missing
· Example (missing subject): Ran to the barn.
· Example (missing verb): George Washington, the first president of the United States.
· Example (missing object): Matthew received.
· A group of words is nothing more than a preposition phrase
· Example: For the cause of liberty.
· A group of words is nothing more than a dependent clause
· Example: When the tide rolls in.
The old school rule was never create a sentence fragment. In academic settings, the rule still applies. In formal settings, it is best to avoid sentence fragments, but there are occasions when they prove effective. In informal writing, you will see many sentence fragments.
Do not confuse sentence fragments with sentences written in the imperative mood, meaning they are commands or suggestions, such as: Keep it simple. Use shorter words. Write shorter sentences.
Even though these sentences lack a subject, they are not sentence fragments. They are commands. As you have already learned, many of the sentences in this book are in the imperative mood.
Another flawed sentence structure is the fusion of two or more independent clauses into one sentence without punctuation or joining words. This is called a run-on sentence. Example: James wrote Sue typed William phoned.
One way to transform this run-on sentence into a proper sentence is: James wrote, Sue typed, and William phoned. Another approach is: James wrote, while Sue typed, but William phoned.
In the example above of a run-on sentence, it is easy to see that something is wrong with the sentence. On the other hand, it is harder to detect run-on sentences when they occur in long and complex sentences, which contain many prepositional phrases and dependent clauses. The same is true of sentence fragments; they occur more often in long, confusing sentences than in short, straight-forward sentences.
The way to avoid both sentence fragments and run-on sentences is to ensure that each sentence possesses at least one independent clause. Consider the following example of a run-on sentence:
Stringing many words together in pleasant-sounding passages and providing ample informative facts to your readers does not ensure meaning or readability this is achieved through sound logic and proper sentence construction.
Here is the sentence corrected by adding the word rather to link the two independent clauses with a semicolon preceding and a comma following the word rather.
Stringing many words together in pleasant-sounding passages and providing ample informative facts to your readers does not ensure meaning or readability; rather, this is achieved through sound logic and proper sentence construction.
You also could correct the run-on sentence by creating two sentences.
Another language element
Another form of language important to writing, which is not a traditional part of speech, is the appositive. An appositive is a noun or noun phrase set next to a noun or noun phrase that provides more information. It is set off with a comma or a dash. Example: We discussed elements of language—words, phrases, and clauses.
Further reading on language structure
There is much more to English grammar and linguistic theory, but these basic concepts are sufficient to discuss good writing. If you need more information on English grammar, see the following Wikipedia articles:
· English grammar
· Parts of speech
· Clause syntax
· Sentence clause structure
· List of prepositions
· Grammatical mood
· Imperative mood
Another good resource is the Khan Academy course on grammar at: www.khanacademy.org/humanities/grammar.
The remainder of this chapter discusses how to improve clarity.