Friday, December 19, 2008

The uninhabited clause (2)

In a previous post, I discussed the uninhabited clause, a main clause with a subject that is a physical thing or a concept, as opposed to a person or group of persons. Here is another good example. In a recent Associated Press story, we see these six consecutive sentences:

“Lewiston’s emergence as the city with the nation’s largest percentage of Somalis happened largely by chance.

“Many had been placed in the Atlanta area, where it was assumed a warm climate and a large black population would ease their adjustment to America. But dismay at high crime, drugs and gangs prompted the community to look elsewhere, Mohamud said.

“The word went out that Maine was a safe place to raise a family. Immigrants had resettled in Portland, 40 miles to the south, but there was a shortage of affordable apartments there. Lewiston had more vacancies because of its population losses.”

Here are the subjects of the seven main clauses: emergence, Many, dismay, word, Immigrants, shortage and Lewiston. Of these seven subjects, only the pronoun “Many” and the noun “Immigrants” refer to persons or groups of persons.

In other words, the writer has used uninhabited clauses five times out of seven. Readers have more difficulty reading copy with frequent uninhabited clauses. (To be fair, I acknowledge that the writer used uninhabited clauses less freqently in the rest of the article.)

The Takeaway: Try to put people in your main clauses. In other words, try to use subjects that refer to persons or groups of persons. It’s difficult in technical writing, of course. But in everyday, non-technical writing, do your best to put in people.

The uninhabited clause (1)

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