Avoid Beginning a Sentence with “With”

By Mark Nichol

Sentences (and clauses) that begin with with are doomed to be weak. The following sentences suffer from this affliction; discussions describe how to improve the sentence, and revisions demonstrate the solutions.

1. With a quarter-billion-dollar industry possible, there is a real possibility of supporting the community with something other than an economy based on a nearby prison.

To strengthen this sentence, simply delete with, slightly alter the main clause and present it as a parenthetical phrase, and close the sentence with a verb to transform what was originally a subordinate clause into the main clause: “A potential quarter-billion-dollar industry, and a real possibility of supporting the community with something other than an economy based on a nearby prison, awaits.”

2. With almost one in three residents below the poverty line, the business of mass incarceration has had mixed effects on the community for twenty-five years. With the promise of good jobs, four prisons opened. With a 10 percent tax on potential cultivation revenue, the company has the chance to make more money in a year than it would off the prison industry in two centuries at the current rate.

All three sentences in this paragraph start with with. As in the previous example, convert the introductory subordinate clause in the first sentence into a main clause, and insert a conjunction to change the main clause to a subordinate one: “Almost one in three residents lives below the poverty line, so the business of mass incarceration has had mixed effects on the community for twenty-five years.”

For the second and third sentences, simply substitute a stronger word or phrase for with: “Based on the promise of good jobs, four prisons opened. Thanks to a 10 percent tax on potential cultivation revenue, the company has the chance to make more money in a year than it would off the prison industry in two centuries at the current rate.”

3. A company can adopt a standardized approach or an internal models approach, with the former generally leading to much higher capital charges and the latter requiring regulatory approval.

Here, a subordinate clause headed by with ends rather than begins the sentence. In this case, simply omit the word and alter the form of the verbs that follow, then set the clause—now a main rather than subordinate clause—off with a semicolon or a period (and insert a comma to divide the two independent clauses within it): “A company can adopt a standardized approach or an internal models approach; the former generally leads to much higher capital charges, and the latter requires regulatory approval.”


5 Responses to “Avoid Beginning a Sentence with “With””

  • D.A.W.

    I agree with Mr. Perry that the expression with “doomed” is overwrought.
    Furthermore, such sentences and phrases are well-known in the titles of movies and books, and the lyrics of songs:
    “With a Song in My Heart”,
    “With a Lot of Luck”, “With a Lot of Love”,
    “With Me and My Girl”, “With Me and You and a Dog Named Boo.”
    In summary: “The road to perdition is paved with good intentions,” and “With good intentions is paved the road to perdition.”

  • Michael W. Perry

    Quote: “Sentences (and clauses) that begin with with are doomed to be weak.

    Doomed? I find that first example powerful. The “with” allows the sentence to lead with its most powerful idea. In contrast, the replacement limps along, sounding like those awful German sentences that have clause after clause before finishing with the verb at the very end.

  • D.A.W.

    There seems to be an odd discrimination between “with” and “without”. Without a hope or a prayer, the few survivors set off across the boundless wasteland without any supplies.

  • D.A.W.

    I agree with TheBluebird11: the phrase “set off” needs to be treated as an inseparable unit. In other words, do not put anything whatsoever between “set” and “off”.
    Please set off the sheep from the wolves.
    Please set off the appositives with commas.
    Please use great care when you set off a charge of dynamite.
    Please be careful about the expressions “offset” and “set off”.

  • TheBluebird11

    Oooh, that made me stop and double back. Example #3:. “…then set the clause—now a main rather than subordinate clause—off with a semicolon…” Set the clause??
    How about revision there…and eliminating the split infinitive? “…then set off the clause—now a main rather than subordinate clause—with a semicolon…”
    OK? OK. 🙂

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