5 Cases of Premature Reference

By Mark Nichol

Writers occasionally fall into the trap of inserting too much information between a verb and its object, or introducing a pronoun before the noun it refers to has appeared — in effect, alluding to the point of the sentence before specifying it. This syntactical structure isn’t wrong, but it can be annoying. Take care to use the following constructions in moderation, if at all.

1. “I have decided — and I thank you all for your input about the subject — that the policy will go into effect immediately.”
Interjecting a long parenthetical digression between a verb and the predicate is the least irritating variety of premature reference — at least the writer made it to the verb before veering off — but it might be better to express the basic statement and then tack on the additional information: “I have decided that the policy will go into effect immediately. I thank you all for your input about the subject.” (Or start with the parenthetical and continue with the basic statement: “I thank you all for your input about the policy. I have decided that it will go into effect immediately.”)

2. “The question is of whether — and, if so, to what extent — the phenomenon has an impact on climate.”
This sentence also interrupts the basic statement with an additional dimension that, in this case, itself is subjected to an interjection. Again, the parenthesis might better follow the fundamental element: “The question is of whether the phenomenon has an impact on climate, and, if so, the extent of that impact.”

3. “Whether you appreciate them or not, the devices serve a practical purpose.”
When you name something and then refer to it by a pronoun, it’s best to do so in that order: “Whether you appreciate the devices or not, they serve a practical purpose.”

4. “These earthquakes, as do most, occurred on faults near boundaries between two tectonic plates.”
This type of interruption is also distracting, and it can be solved in the same way as the first two examples: “These earthquakes occurred on faults near boundaries between two tectonic plates, as do most temblors.” Alternatively, even a slight simplification in wording reduces the distraction: “These earthquakes, like most, occurred on faults near boundaries between two tectonic plates.”

5. “The senator, as have many others, brought up the contradiction between the two laws.”
The “as have” interjection can be moved just like the “as do” parenthesis above: “The senator brought up the contradiction between the two laws, as have many of his colleagues.” Or, as before, the substitution of like for “as have” improves the sentence somewhat: “The senator, like many others, brought up the contradiction between the two laws.”

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5 Responses to “5 Cases of Premature Reference”

  • thebluebird11

    Maybe people use this technique of putting the cart before the horse, so to speak, because they think they need to vary their sentence structure so as not to become monotonous. While it is a good idea to do that, this is not the way to do it! It isn’t the most egregious mistake someone could make, but it is definitely annoying, in the sense that it sort of burdens the reader with carrying some portion of the sentence forward, in order to understand the rest of it in proper context. Something to think about.

  • Andrei

    Good post. I’m not quite sure, but I think your second corrected sentence lacks proper parallel structure and needs further revising.

    “The question is of whether the phenomenon has an impact on climate, and, if so, the extent of that impact.”

    If you take out the parenthetical element “and, if so,” you end up with “The question is of whether the phenomenon has an impact on climate the extent of that impact,” which doesn’t quite make sense.

    The revised sentence, in my opinion, should have been as follows: “The question is of whether the phenomenon has an impact on climate and, if so, what the extent of that impact is.”

    Here, if you take out the parenthetical element “if so,” you get a perfectly sound sentence: “The question is of whether the phenomenon has an impact on climate and what the extent of that impact is”

  • venqax

    Andrei

    I, and others like myself, believe, although think might be the more precise term, that you, and others if in fact they agree with your observation, correctly.

  • Mark Nichol

    Andrei:

    You’re right. Thanks for your revision.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Example sentence.
    “These earthquakes, as do most, occurred on faults near boundaries between two tectonic plates.”

    This can be simplified quite easily and retain the the same meaning:
    “These earthquakes occurred on faults near boundaries between two tectonic plates.”

    “These earthquakes” specifies which earthquakes you mean, and
    “occurred on faults near boundaries between two tectonic plates,” is simply common sense.
    Treating your reader as if he/she is stupid is not a good idea. Some things are just supposed to be common knowledge, and it is not necessary to explain every tiny detail.

    But wait! You didn’t know that most earthquakes occur on the faults near the junctions between two tectonic plates???
    Oh well, I am 57 and I have known that since I was about 17.

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