5 Awkward Sentences

By Mark Nichol

Innumerable missteps in constructing sentences are possible. Here are five random statements with assorted obstacles to comprehension, each accompanied by discussion and a revision.

1. The past month has seen two major developments.

Avoid bestowing the gift of sight on inanimate objects or on concepts such as duration of time: “Two major developments have occurred during the past month.”

2. The question becomes why has everyone been unable to solve this puzzle.

Treat the question in a sentence constructed this way as if it were spoken: “The question becomes, ‘Why has everyone been unable to solve this puzzle?’” Alternatively, reword the sentence so that a direct query is not stated: “The question then becomes one of why everyone has been unable to solve this puzzle.”

3. We would welcome your opinions and feedback on the results of this research.

Inserting would in an entreaty that expresses what in marketing-speak is known as a call to action, an invitation to the reader to do something in response to a message, is an unnecessary and unproductive (and ingratiating) attempt to sound courteous. Instead of stating, literally, that welcoming opinions and feedback is potential but not actual, make the statement more emphatic by omitting the qualifying word: “We welcome your opinions and feedback on the results of this research.”

4. Additional processes for incident handing and breach reporting may be required to meet these requirements.

Does this sentence mean that that the specified additional processes must conform to previously mentioned requirements, or that the processes may be mandated so that previously mentioned requirements are met? Normally, the phrase “in order to,” preceding a verb, can safely be omitted from a sentence. However, in this case, its inclusion will aid in comprehension: “Additional processes for incident handing and breach reporting may be required in order to meet these requirements.”

5. Those pressure tests and related assessments will clarify how prepared the organization is to make the actual transition.

Because the reader cannot immediately tell which part of speech prepared is (it can be either a verb or an adjective, and is usually the former), inserting the adverb well before it will send a clear signal: “Those pressure tests and related assessments will clarify how well prepared the organization is to make the actual transition.” (Otherwise, a miscue might occur—the reader might assume that a noun has been omitted before the verb prepared: “. . . how [the (blank)] prepared . . . .”)

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1 Response to “5 Awkward Sentences”

  • Lynn

    On #1, I’m unclear why you feel this usage is unacceptable; it’s a perfectly valid use of the phrase. Google has 213,000 results just for the specific phrase “month has seen,” including one in the Macmillan dictionary as an example of word usage: “This month has seen a moderate increase in house prices.” I wouldn’t hesitate to use this wording.

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