1. zaffy
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    zaffy Contributing Member

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    how does one organise a sentence?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by zaffy, Mar 4, 2010.

    I saw the sentence below in a parish magazine.

    An unfamiliar young man in my congregation last Sunday, hung around after divine worship condcluded, seemingly to talk to me.

    It is clearly wrong.

    Are there rules on how to alter a badly constructed sentence?
    Such as, prepositional phrase first etc.
     
  2. Humour Whiffet
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    Humour Whiffet Banned

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    See the “principles of composition” section in Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style for advice on this.

    Re the above sentence:

    1. The writer has separated the subject and verb with a single comma. Don’t do that.

    2. As a general rule of thumb, it often helps if you put the main thrust of the sentence at the end (you’ll read about this in the Strunk & White book).

    3. The “seemingly to talk to me” bit doesn’t make much sense to me as written.

    4. I’ve had a play around with it, and I think it works better as two sentences. It was doing a bit too much for my liking. See my suggested changes below.

    After divine worship last Sunday, a young male member of the congregation waited outside the church. I think he wanted to talk to me.
     
  3. dgraham
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    dgraham Senior Member

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    The only problem is that first comma that, as mentioned above separates the subject from the rest of the sentence. Doing that makes no sense. The last bit, seems to be perfectly placed to me.

    I'm not sure about writing, but when speaking/listening people understand better the closer the main thrust of the argument is to the front of the utterance. The longer the sentence the more brain work required to parse it out, so the further you get the harder it is to keep track of what's going on, and people tend to just properly parse the beginning.
     
  4. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    What do you think is wrong with it? Aside from ditching the comma after Sunday and correcting the spelling of concluded, I think its meaning is clear.

    As to "rules" to alter badly constructed sentences, I'd think of ways of changing simply in terms of whether those changes have the desired effect. As others have mentioned, there are ways of emphasizing one thing or another, or strengthening the point, and so forth. But all that depends upon whatever outcome the writer is going for.
     
  5. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    As style manuals go, Strunk & White is probably one of the best. If you don't have a copy, get a copy. Mine is a few editions back and I can't remember the last time I pulled it off the shelf but it served well and it is one of those books I will not get rid of. Now, as for the sentence:

    For clarity's sake, I read the sentence and had to break it down before my mind could reconstruct.
    "A young man hung around." That's the basic sentence and everything else is embellishments, so to speak. And, as others have already mentioned, "... last Sunday," separates the subject/noun and the predicate/verb. How you construct the rest of the sentence depends on how everything else in the sentence falls together in order of importance.

    For clarity, I would have stipulated at the outset this occurred last Sunday. I also would have set apart the observation/explanation that the speaker believed the person was wanting to talk to him. After that, the rest of the sentence falls together more clearly like so:

    How does that make the statement any clearer than the original? The main thrust of the sentence is, "An unfamiliar young man in my congregation hung around after divine worship concluded."
    The fact that it was Sunday or that the act was with the intent of talking to the speaker is outside of the body of the sentence and, as such, both have been set outside the body of the sentence by commas.
    (Sorry. I used to teach English to obtuse adolescents and I learned to reduce explanations to the lowest common denominator.)
     
  6. zaffy
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    zaffy Contributing Member

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    Dear, Thewordsmith,
    No need for apologies, when it comes to grammar, obtuse is my middle name.
     
  7. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Yeah, the first comma is not needed. However, I think the seemingly to talk to me is awkward.

    In my congregation last Sunday, and unfamiliar man hung around after divine worship concluded, as if waiting to talk to me.

    I think something like this works better.
     

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