Better Together: How proper sentence construction helps give clarity to your content… [Tuesdays: “Write with the Pen of the Masters”]
In the book, “The Elements of Style,” authors William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White said that sentence structure is the principal means of showing the relationship between each word.
When a sentence is poorly constructed, that word-to-word relationship is broken and confusion and ambiguity can happen.
Therefore, as a writer, you must always make sure to put together words that are related in thought and keep apart those that aren’t.
Keep related words connected!
Take a look at the sentences and underlined words below:
He noticed a large stain in the rug that was right at the center.
You can call your mother in London and tell her about George taking you out to dinner for just USD 2.
New York’s first commercial human sperm bank opened Friday with semen samples from 18 men frozen in a stainless steel tank.
In the first example, the underlined words were supposed to describe the large stain but because they were placed after “rug,” the meaning of the sentence changed. It was no longer the stain that was at the center, but the rug.
In the second example, “for just USD 2” should pertain to the phrase, “You can call your mother in London.” However, placing the modifier at the end of the sentence sounded like it’s the dinner that was worth USD 2.
Meanwhile, the structure of the third sentence was a bit… shocking and terrifying. Imagine seeing 18 men frozen in a stainless steel tank!
That wouldn’t have happened if the modifier was placed correctly in the sentence. The underlined words should describe the semen samples but just like the first two sentences, the third one is a case of a dangling modifier.
[Dangling Modifier: A type of ambiguous grammatical construct where a modifier is misinterpreted as associated with a word other than the one intended.]
So, to correct the structure of the sentences above, they should be:
He noticed a large stain right at the center of the rug.
You can call your mother in London for just USD 2 and tell her about George taking you out to dinner.
New York’s first commercial human sperm bank opened Friday with semen samples from 18 men. The samples were frozen in a stainless steel tank.
See? The statements became less confusing and ambiguous after the revisions!
Aside from dangling modifiers, Strunk Jr. and White wrote about avoiding separating the subject and principal verb of a sentence.
Toni Morrison, in “Beloved,” writes about characters who have escaped from slavery but are haunted by its heritage.
A dog, if you fail to discipline him, becomes naughty and irresponsible.
My grandmother, according to the doctor, is getting weaker each day.
Strunk Jr. and White said that interposing a phrase or clause in a sentence interrupts the flow of the main clause. Therefore, avoid separating a subject and its predicate using a phrase that can be transferred at the beginning of a statement.
To revise the examples above, write:
In “Beloved,” Toni Morrison writes about characters who have escaped from slavery but are haunted by its heritage.
Unless disciplined, a dog becomes naughty and irresponsible.
According to the doctor, my grandmother is getting weaker each day.
By placing the underlined phrases at the beginning of the sentences, the flow becomes smoother and less bothersome for some readers.
Another reminder from the authors of “The Elements of Style” book:
Relative clauses should come immediately after their antecedents.
[Relative Clause: A type of clause that modifies a noun or noun phrase and connects ideas by using pronouns such as which, that, who, whom, whose, when, and where.]
Failing to apply this guideline in constructing your sentences could also lead to dangling modifiers, which we discussed a while ago.
Here are a few examples to demonstrate this point:
There was a stir in the audience that suggested disapproval.
He wrote 3 articles about his adventures in Europe, which were published in Harper’s Magazine.
This is a portrait of Benjamin Harrison, the grandson of William Henry Harrison, who became the US President in 1889.
In the sentences above, the underlined relative clauses didn’t immediately come after the nouns they should modify so the statements above became a bit ambiguous.
Whereas if we place these clauses beside the nouns they intend to modify, the sentences will be:
A stir that suggested disapproval swept the audience.
He published 3 articles in Harper’s Magazine about his adventures in Europe.
This is a portrait of 1889 US President Benjamin Harrison, the grandson of William Henry Harrison.
As you can see, the messages became clearer when the clauses were placed near their antecedents!
Anything else you noticed about the revised sentences?
Aside from being easier to understand, they also became shorter and simpler in format―2 other characteristics of effective copy!
– – –
Modifiers clarify and qualify word/s in a sentence to add emphasis, explanation, or detail.
… and while these phrases or clauses help make your copies vibrant and definite, Strunk Jr. and White said that these groups of words should be arranged properly so that no wrong relation or meaning is suggested to readers.
After all, that’s one of the goals of effective copywriting, right?
You have to construct sentences correctly and properly so that there is no room for any miscommunication from your part and misinterpretation on your readers’ part.
Apply this copywriting tip!
Heed Strunk Jr. and White’s call and keep related words in your content related and connected!
About The Dynamic Marketing Communiqué’s
“Tuesdays: Write with the Pen of the Masters”
Who doesn’t find content writing to be a skill that requires a lot of practice and effort?
In fact, many people may even find copywriting very intimidating.
However, you can be a good writer as long as you have the right tools. You won’t always get things right the first time, but with enough time and practice, you’ll get the hang of it!
When you write a copy for any brand or for your company, your aim is to make an impact and…
…to get people to remember.
Getting people to remember means getting consumers to buy your product or to avail of your service.
And when you get your content to deliver the results you want, THAT is a great copy!
Every Tuesday, we publish content based on tips and insights from the masters of content writing, copywriting, and storytelling.
Become more familiar with ways to write great copy that helps you gain ROI from your efforts, drive profitability, and achieve your business goals.
Learn time-tested tactics that better capture the attention of your target audience, and maximize the benefits of great copywriting.
Hope you found this week’s insights interesting and helpful.
Stay tuned for next Tuesday’s “Write with the Pen of the Masters!”
Head of Marketing
Valens Dynamic Marketing Capabilities
Powered by Valens Research