3 Clumsy Compositions

By Mark Nichol

In each of the sentences below, awkward syntax results in a distractingly clunky flow that obstructs comprehension. Discussion and revision of each example tells and shows how to make the statements flow more smoothly.

1. They wanted to evolve the organization beyond its roots as a traditional hospital network with success measured by occupancy, or “heads in beds.”

When an informal word or phrase used as a synonym for a more formal term appears, the coinage often follows the standard term as an appositive (a term equivalent to an adjacent term), which is illogical—why introduce the slang term after using the official one, when, whether it appears again or not, it seems immediately redundant? The only sensible reason to use both synonyms is to first introduce an informal term that will subsequently reappear in the piece of content, then gloss (briefly define) it with the formal term; thereafter, when readers encounter the term again, they will have already been informed of its meaning: “They wanted to evolve the organization beyond its roots as a traditional hospital network with success measured by ‘heads in beds,’ or occupancy.”

2. The issue has been under the spotlight in Hong Kong. Hong Kong Monetary Authority spokesperson John Chang commented on its response last week.

In this sentence, “Hong Kong” is awkwardly repeated in immediate succession, separated only by a period, which makes it difficult to read. The phrase describing John Chang’s affiliation is easily relocated to follow his name, a solution recommended in general when such a description is extensive: “The issue has been under the spotlight in Hong Kong. John Chang, a spokesperson for the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, commented on its response last week.”

3. The customer risk rating calculation methodology should be adjusted to take into account any heightened risk of financial crime.

The adjectival cluster that precedes methodology is awkward because all the words in that string are nouns serving as adjectives, and the reader can easily become frustrated about having to haltingly read the phrase while trying to parse where the phrasal adjective ends. The technically correct solution is to hyphenate the string, but the result is unwieldy. Better yet, relax the sentence to reduce the number of elements in the phrasal adjective: “The methodology for calculating customer-risk rating should be adjusted to take into account any heightened risk of financial crime.”

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2 Responses to “3 Clumsy Compositions”

  • David

    Each is always singular and requires a singular verb: “…each of the words in that string is a noun serving as an adjective…”

  • Mark Nichol

    David:
    Thanks for pointing out the error, which has been corrected.

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