Let’s Link Up – Part 1

Compare the following two sample texts*. Which paragraph do you think reads more clearly? Why do you think this is so? VERSION A This case is not so much a contest between the United States Department of Justice and two defendant companies as a skirmish in a broader battle over the direction American economic lifeContinue reading “Let’s Link Up – Part 1”

Too many notes, too many nouns

In Miloš Forman’s film, Amadeus, Emperor Joseph II tells Mozart his latest work is excellent, except that there are “too many notes”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dCud8H7z7vU None today would agree with His Majesty, but we can fairly accuse academics, scientists, lawyers, government officials and other writers of “too many nouns”. Nouns are to writing what fat is toContinue reading “Too many notes, too many nouns”

Dummy Subjects for Dummies

Our world has no shortage of dummies. And they can be cute and amusing – think McDull or the Three Stooges. But you don’t want to be a dummy, and neither does the subject of your sentence. So what is a “dummy subject” anyway? As with many features of English, this is best explained byContinue reading “Dummy Subjects for Dummies”

How many tenses does English have?

How many tenses does English have? I’m sure you answered this correctly. But many people are surprised to learn that English has only two tenses. Many are also surprised that English has no future tense, unlike the romance languages (think of the song Que Sera, Sera or more recently Andrea Bocelli’s Con Te Partirò). OK, I’mContinue reading “How many tenses does English have?”

The other two “S’s”: Such and the Said

Earlier we had a look at the use and misuse of shall. Today we turn to the other two of the “three S’s”: such and the said (with its close cousins, the aforesaid and the aforementioned). Such “Such” is often used in legal writing in the place of determiners such as “the”, “this” or “these”.Continue reading “The other two “S’s”: Such and the Said”

No Piling On

In American football, piling on occurs when players continue to jump on a player who is already down. In writing, piling on nouns is not a sanctioned offense, but it can definitely impede comprehension. A sentence from Dr. Seuss’s Fox in Socks illustrates the phenomenon: “When beetles fight these battles in a bottle with theirContinue reading “No Piling On”

A modest recommendation/suggestion

How often have you heard people say something like “I recommend you to see a lawyer”? This structure is very common in Asia but is never used by native speakers (unless they’ve soaked up too much of the local patois). Unfortunately no rule applies to this situation. The correct form is simply a matter ofContinue reading “A modest recommendation/suggestion”

The Wednesday Writer with Bill Lawrence

Hello, everyone, and welcome to the first of what I hope will be numerous instalments of The Wednesday Writer. Just in case I get hit by a bus in the coming week, I want to go straight to the feature that affects comprehension more than any other. Did you think “long sentences”? Bravo, you areContinue reading “The Wednesday Writer with Bill Lawrence”