5 Verbose Sentences Made Shorter

By Mark Nichol

When you write, think tight. The goal is not to reduce every sentence to its most concise form but to avoid distractingly extraneous wording and phrasing. Here are five sentences improved by a reduction in length.

1. “The teacher is speaking on a phone in his classroom between classes, and he breaks away for a moment to answer a student’s question.”
To condense a sentence with two independent clauses separated by a conjunction, open a parenthetical where the sentence’s first verb appears, and close it where the second clause begins, deleting the verb and the conjunction respectively: “The teacher, speaking on a phone in his classroom between classes, breaks away for a moment to answer a student’s question.”

2. “The theme of this year’s summit is ‘From Essential Elements to Effective Practice,’ and the conference will include a variety of interactive sessions.”
Here’s a revision of a sentence constructed like the one in the previous example, which is improved by the same technique — deletion of the initial verb and parenthesis of what followed that verb: “This year’s summit, ‘From Essential Elements to Effective Practice,’ will include a variety of interactive sessions.”

3. “John Smith runs the DJ Project, an after-school program in San Francisco for students struggling in school. He uses hip-hop to connect with the students.”
To combine two sentences into one, convert key information from either sentence into a parenthetical and tack the other statement onto the end: “John Smith, who runs the DJ Project, an after-school program in San Francisco for students struggling in school, uses hip-hop to connect with the students.”

4. “It’s rather annoying that you can’t turn off the various sounds that play when you use the zoom and other functions.”
Strive to pare explanations and descriptions down to the fewest possible words. For example, there’s a standing phrase for the concept of “the various sounds that play”: “It’s annoying that you can’t turn off the sound effects for zoom and other functions.”

5. “Students worked collaboratively on unfamiliar and open-ended problems.”
Look for opportunities to reduce sentence length by omitting a sentence’s verb and converting an adverb to a verb to take its place: “Students collaborated on unfamiliar and open-ended problems.” (The problem this revision solves is called smothering a verb.)

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7 Responses to “5 Verbose Sentences Made Shorter”

  • cj

    The revised sentences are indeed much tighter and flow more easily, but I don’t think that this is due to the advertised reduction in length. In a couple of the examples, the reduction in word count is very modest, and in example three the word count is the same as the original.

  • Dale A. Wood

    @CJ: Your problem is that you are counting words, and not counting syllables and letters. Try that.

    I can give one definition of a verbose sentence in any one that contains “subsequently” or any other adverb that is four or more syllables long. Our British neighbors just don’t get it. They must be captivated by their polysyllabic words.

    By the way, Sir Winston Churchill himself spoke out against that. He said that there is no reason to use a complicated word when a simple one would do. That is a great way to cut out verbose sentences.

    Some people have no idea that a syllable is a basic unit of communications. In fact, some languages have an alphabet that is a syllabiary. Japanese is one of these. The problem with Japanese is that it uses multiple alphabets, including syllabiaries, the Latin Alphabet, and Chinese characters. Note that the Japanese word SONY is spelled just like this. That is the company’s registered name and trademark.

    D.A.W.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Spoken Japanese has about 47 syllables, hence the syllabiary has 47 symbols. We could do the same thing in English or French if anyone wanted to.
    D.A.W.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Yes, this article completely omitted a great way to make verbose sentences shorter: Just replace most of its polysyllabic words with shorter words and short phrases, such as prepositional phrases.

    Of course, nothing can be done about words like Massachusetts, Mississippi, Manitoba, and thermonuclear, but for a lot of other words like “subsequently” and “heretofore”, there are shorter alternatives, and by that I mean words and phrases with fewer syllables and letters.

    Why this method of shortening verbose sentences was not included is a mystery to me.

    Also, to the writer, the single-digit numbers from zero through nine, such as “five” ARE TO BE written out as words in English text. This has been the practice for centuries, and we can live with it for clarity.
    How easy it is to confuse “5” with “S” or “6”. This practice is also explaned in numerous reference books on our languge.
    “1” is easy to confuse with “l”, “I”, or even “7”. Get clear!

    D.A.W.

  • Stephanie

    Great article. I’d even go a bit further with #3:

    “John Smith uses hip-hop to connect with struggling students through the DJ Project, an after-school program in San Francisco.”

  • Oliver Lawrence

    Writing tight helps to convey meaning effectively. There are some good examples here.

    But no. 3 would flow better by editing out the dependent clauses: “John Smith runs the DJ Project, an after-school program in San Francisco that uses hip-hop to connect with students struggling in school.”

    And on no. 5, although it involves two words, “work together” may be a better plain-language equivalent for “collaborate”.

  • Mark Nichol

    Oliver:

    Yes, your revision of number three is better. I should have noticed that solution.

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