5 Sentences That Should Save the Best Until Last
English is a flexible enough language that a set of words can be ordered in any of several ways to communicate the same idea. However, in writing — as in many other human endeavors — just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Here are five sentences rendered more effective by positioning the most important information at the end.
1. “He had told her that his illegal drugs were actually vitamins for months.”
This sentence, like many others that include a misplaced modifier, suffers because it reads as if the perpetrator had told someone that the illegal drugs in his possession were vitamins intended as nutritional supplements for the periods of days known as months, after which they were not so intended. This is a “You know what I meant” mistake, which is still a mistake. A better rendition — one that appropriately positions the modifier directly after the verb it modifies — places the key detail in the final position: “He had told her for months that his illegal drugs were actually vitamins.”
2. “Outdoor illicit drug markets are free of the stuff and crime bosses say they get the credit, not the government.”
What is it about drugs and clumsy sentences? The latter part of the sentence implies that crime bosses say that they get one thing (the credit) and not the other (the government). What the sentence means is that crime bosses are taking credit for the absence of a substance from illicit drug markets; they, not the government, they claim, are responsible for the beneficial result. Placing the two contenders for credit in contrasting parallel, as I did in the previous sentence (and inserting a helpful comma between the two independent clauses), improves the sentence structure and clarifies the meaning: “Outdoor illicit drug markets are free of the stuff, and crime bosses say they, not the government, should get the credit.”
3. “He was a member of the team during that series but did not play due to a concussion.”
“He . . . did not play due to a concussion” invites the question “Why did he play?” But the concussion is the cause of his nonparticipation in the series. The intended meaning becomes clear if the phrase “due to a concussion” is inserted as an interjection before the key fact (“he . . . did not play”), rather than confusingly appended to it: “He was a member of the team during that series but, due to a concussion, did not play.”
4. “It’s not just losing in the regular season that strengthens your core, but losing in the playoffs as well.”
The correction to this sentence may seem to contradict the point of this post. Isn’t “losing in the playoffs,” rather than “losing in the regular season,” the point of the statement? Actually, as demonstrated in the previous sentence, contrasting phrases are best positioned together in the midst of a sentence. The key detail is what the two types of losing have in common: “It’s not just losing in the regular season, but losing in the playoffs as well, that strengthens your core.”
5. “The longer she stayed, the more interesting and meaningful the experience became, despite the hardships involved.”
The false key, however, isn’t always best relegated to the midst of the sentence. Sometimes it’s best to get it out of the way at the beginning: “Despite the hardships involved, the longer she stayed, the more interesting and meaningful the experience became.”
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