5 More Sentences Rendered More Concise

By Mark Nichol

Each of the examples below illustrates a distinct strategy for shortening and simplifying sentences. A discussion and a revision follows each example.

1. You can go ahead and turn off the valve.

The phrase “go ahead and” is a classic example of an extraneous phrase, preceding a verb, likely to turn up in speech when the speaker wishes to avoid seeming too assertive, but it has no place in writing, and the sentence can be further pared down by reducing it to a bare imperative statement with an implied subject: “Turn off the valve.”

2. If possible, take the rug outside and shake it to dislodge resistant dirt.

Similarly, the two-step instruction in this sentence is easily truncated to a more concise direction by omitting the first verb and replacing it with the second one after the latter has been divested of the pronoun that follows it: “If possible, shake the rug outside to dislodge resistant dirt.”

3. It is not a matter of if such a risk event might occur, but more a matter of when it will occur and the organization’s preparedness to reduce the impact and proliferation of the event.

The counterpoint phrases in the sentence are easily combined: “It is a matter of if, not of when, such a risk event will occur, and of the organization’s preparedness to reduce the impact and proliferation of the event.”

4. The Safe Harbor agreement was the framework used by companies in the United States and the European Union to exchange citizens’ personal data. This mechanism was declared invalid by the European Court of Justice on October 6, 2015.

Simply constructed declarative statements are easily combined, usually by one of two methods—either insert one modified sentence into the other as a parenthetical, or, as here, revise both sentences so that one can be tacked onto the other: “The Safe Harbor agreement, the framework companies in the United States and the European Union used to exchange citizens’ personal data, was declared invalid by the European Court of Justice on October 6, 2015.” (Note, too, the shift from passive to active construction of the verb used. Also, the entire sentence could be rendered more active—and slightly shorter—by replacing the subject as follows: “On October 6, 2015, the European Court of Justice declared the Safe Harbor agreement, the framework companies in the United States and the European Union use to exchange citizens’ personal data, invalid.”)

5. Phorusrhacids were known as “terror birds,” and it’s clear why. They were prehistoric carnivorous birds. They were the largest flightless birds to ever walk the plant. They reached a height of up to ten feet. They were natural inhabitants of South America. 

This annoyingly inelegant paragraph, written in simple, repetitive sentences as if by a child, is easily rehabilitated by employing the first method described in the previous example—incorporating a couple of the statements into the others: “Phorusrhacids, natural inhabitants of South America, are informally known as “terror birds,” and it’s clear why. These prehistoric carnivorous avians, the largest flightless birds to ever walk the plant, stood up to ten feet tall.”

Find 5 more examples in this post.

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10 Responses to “5 More Sentences Rendered More Concise”

  • Dale A. Wood

    Venqax, you are so right! “5 More Sentences Rendered Conciser!”
    Also, be original should have read “Five More Sentences Rendered More CONCISELY”, but you probably noticed that.

  • Agua Caliente

    What seems like redundancy can often provide a bit of emphasis or clarity. I prefer that to drifting closer to Newspeak. Fine line sometimes, I know.

  • venqax

    Ha! Part of Scrabble’s greatness is its role in preserving and promoting vocabulary! Words like akimbo are, IMO, so great precisely because they have such precise (might even say strangely precise!) meanings. When they get used incorrectly, it disturbs their purpose in word-life and the whole language suffers. So there! ( I pronounce, akimbo.)

  • thebluebird11

    @venqax: As I am trying to imagine knees akimbo or perhaps shrugging one’s eyebrows, I am LMAO. I suppose someone with bilateral AKAs (above-knee amputations) might not be able to kneel, at least not on his knees…
    And I must say, “akimbo” is a great Scrabble word. I was able to make it once 🙂

  • venqax

    Conciseness also comes from not being redundant in the use of words. Three entries from an English usage site simply providing examples of the use of the word “akimbo” in a sentence show how widespread this is, even among those who present themselves as language authorities:

    “She lays you flat, arms akimbo.”
    “He stared at his men, arms akimbo.”
    “She looked across the room and stood accusingly with her arms akimbo.”

    Nothing done without the arms is akimbo, so the arms are unnecessary. It’s not different from saying “and et cetera”,
    “She lays you flat, arms with arms out and hands on his hips”
    “He stared at his men, arms with his arms out and hands on his hips.”

    Likewise, “He shrugged his shoulders” vs. “He shrugged.” What else but shoulders get shrugged? A lot of these are regularly corrected,m but there are quite a few you see repeated without correction in publications what should know better (;): Capitol building (a capitol IS a building), Cirrhosis of the liver (you can’t get cirrhosis of anything else), knelt down on my knees…

  • venqax

    But “avians” is a noun.

    The “flightless” part gives me pause. Were there any flightful (ha!) birds that were larger? If not, the statement makes it sound like there were. Or were they just the largest birds to ever inhabit/grace/exist on the planet.

  • MH

    With regard to #2, the proposed revision could lead to ambiguity. Without context, the sentence “If possible, shake the rug outside to dislodge resistant dirt.” could refer to an outside rug or doormat to which the speaker could be referring. The original sentence more clearly describes the action to be taken to an inside rug.

  • Lynn

    Whoops, I didn’t reread it before posting. My suggestion is clunky with the repetition of “birds,” so it could say “At up to ten feet tall, these prehistoric carnivorous creatures were the largest flightless birds to ever walk the planet” (best replacement I can think of).

  • Lynn

    On #3, the revision reverses the meaning; it should be: “It is a matter of when, not if, such a risk event will occur…”

    On #4, I like the first revision. But on the second, the 21 intervening words blur the connection between “declared” and “invalid.” I’d either word it “On October 6, 2015, the European Court of Justice declared invalid the Safe Harbor agreement,…” or stick with the first.

    On #5, using so many commas can also make the text sound choppy. Could remove at least one with this wording: “At up to ten feet tall, these prehistoric carnivorous birds were the largest flightless birds to ever walk the PLANET.” (“Avian” is an adjective, not a noun.)

  • venqax

    5 More Sentences Rendered Conciser!

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