Resolving Both Passive Construction and Verbosity

By Mark Nichol

Writers often unconsciously construct a sentence in which the key information appears at the tail of the sentence. Many, too, take insufficient care to avoid wordiness. All too frequently, readers stumble across sentences that suffer from both problems. In this post are three examples of sentences that are both passive and verbose. The discussion that follows each describes the problems, and revisions demonstrate solutions.

Note that passive construction is not always a malady to be remedied (it can effectively emphasize a point) and verbosity is not necessarily bad (wordiness can be employed for effect or to clarify an ambiguity), but the careful writer always chooses to retain such features only after consideration.

1. At this time, an economic downturn is not anticipated by most established business plans.

Notice that in each of these examples, the sentence ends with the syntax “(verb) by (noun phrase).” However, the sentence is usually improved if a noun phrase relegated to this position supplants the original subject, as here: “At this time, most established business plans do not anticipate an economic downturn.” Further improvement results by omitting the extraneous introductory phrase: “Most established business plans do not anticipate an economic downturn.”

2. Relocation of buildings could eventually be implemented by property owners.

“Relocation of buildings” is a valid subject, but actors, rather than people, places, or things acted on, best fill the role: “Property owners could eventually implement relocation of buildings.”
Here, the sentence is rendered more concise by converting the nominalization (verb turned noun) back to a verb and omitting what is now a superfluous verb: “Property owners could eventually relocate buildings.”

3. The major contribution to increased efficiency was achieved by the team.

Again, whenever possible, begin a sentence by first naming the actors rather than the acted upon: “The team achieved a major contribution to increased efficiency.” Here, too, the sentence can be truncated by converting one part of speech to another and jettisoning unnecessary words; in this case, increased is transmogrified from an adjective to a verb, the weak verb achieved is eliminated, and the excessive elaboration “a major contribution to” is deleted as well: “The team significantly increased efficiency.”

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1 Response to “Resolving Both Passive Construction and Verbosity”

  • Dale A. Wood

    “Writers often unconsciously construct a sentence in which the key information appears at the tail of the sentence.”
    Well, Sir Winston Churchill did it on purpose, and to great effect, too. There is a phrase for it, and that is “a periodic sentence.
    Churchill won the Nobel Prize for Literature, too.

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