Lesson for Sentence Clarity
Three very important ways to refine your prose:
- Active Voice
Create parallel constructions for the following sentences (parallel means that each item or phrase is in a similar grammatical structure):
- The new employee is enthusiastic, skilled, and you can depend on her.
- Revision: The new employee is enthusiastic, skilled, and dependable.
- Each item in the series–enthusiastic, skilled, and dependable–is an adjective.
- The original “you can depend on her” is a clause and doesn’t fit the other two items in the series.
- Our trip was boring, expensive, and one I’ll never repeat.
- Revision: Our trip was boring, expensive, and unrepeatable.
- Better Revision: I’ll never repeat our boring, expensive trip.
- Forcing an item to conform to a series isn’t a good idea. Consider all strategies for revision.
- She plans to study all this month and on scoring well in her licensing examination.
- Revision: She plans to study all this month and score well in her licensing examination.
- Keep verbs in the same tense and form for parallelism.
Create non-redundant constructions for the following sentences:
- I think I should forewarn you ahead of time before you visit my parents.
- There are many revisions here, but you must get rid of the redundant forewarn you ahead of time because you forewarn before something and not during or after.
- Asking what your country can do for you isn’t appropriate. Asking what you can do for your country is, however, appropriate.
- The above butchers John F. Kennedy’s famous line and demonstrates redundancy as opposed to effective repetition from Kennedy’s original phrasing.
- Rhetorically, his original has quite an impact, but it’s probably not going to be professional prose.
- Also, the next line furthers the style of effective repetition but is sexist, which we’ll discuss next:
“Ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”
- Using “man” to refer to all humans in 1961 was sexist, but 2nd wave feminism had yet to reach the mainstream, so people (the men in charge) wouldn’t have thought its use was wrong.
Revising sexist language. As a general rule, don’t refer to a person, job, or activity as gendered. In other words, don’t forget that men and women may occupy the same jobs. What to do?
- Make things plural.
- Use person instead of man or woman.
- Use they as the singular pronoun.*
- Switch between he and she. (This is a bit outdated, and s/he is even worse.)
*In my recent book Video Game and American Culture: How Ideology Influences Virtual Worlds, I use they as a singular pronoun. Because I thought there might be someone out there who thought I was making a mistake, I used the following footnote to put the issue to rest: “It is past time for English to have non-gendered singular pronouns. I use they, their, them, and themselves for both plural and singular pronouns instead of maintaining the he/she binary.”
It is important to use the appropriate pronouns that a person wants you to use. We must be aware of individuals who identify as non-binary, neither he nor she, and respect this preference. Just as it is unacceptable to use “man” or “mankind” anymore to refer to “humanity” or all “humans,” it is not appropriate to ignore a person’s stated pronoun preference. This is related to the course goal of using inclusive language.
Unless you’re addressing high school children or younger people, use man/men or woman/women.