The Uninhabited Clause* is a clause with a physical or conceptual subject, as opposed to a human subject. For example, “New York” is a physical subject, “assertiveness” is a conceptual subject, and “New Yorkers” is a human subject. There is nothing inherently wrong with using Uninhabited Clauses. But when we use a lot of them, we bore and exhaust our readers. They want to read about people.
Here’s the opening paragraph of a Boston Globe article titled “The broken dialogue on men’s rights,” by Cathy Young:
Never mind the “war on women:” According to growing numbers of bloggers, activists, and authors – some of them women – it’s males in modern Western society who are under siege and whose rights need defending. Is this the next frontier for gender justice, or a woman-hating backlash? Men’s advocacy raises important and worthy issues that often draw unfair ridicule. Unfortunately, it is also prone to toxic rhetoric that subverts its valid points and alienates potential supporters.Analysis
The author uses two human subjects:
you (implied) mindAnd eight non-human subjects:
it isBy so frequently hiding the people, she takes a lively topic – “the war of the sexes” – and makes it sound a little dull. (To be fair, I hasten to add that in later paragraphs she uses human subjects more frequently.)
A livelier version
By putting in more people, she could have made the opening paragraph livelier. For example:
Never mind the “war on women:” More and more bloggers, activists, and authors – including women – are saying that in modern Western society males are the people who are under siege and who need their rights defended. Is this the next frontier for gender justice, or a woman-hating backlash? Men’s rights activists raise important and worthy issues and often draw unfair ridicule. Unfortunately, they sometimes use toxic rhetoric that subverts their valid points and alienates potential supporters.This version contains ten human subjects:
you (implied) mindAnd three non-human subjects:
Bloggers are saying
activists are saying
authors are saying
this isThe rewrite took me 1 minute and 25 seconds.
The Takeaway: Unless you are writing about abstract topics such as metaphysics or mathematics, you should strive to include persons in most of your clauses. Otherwise, you may sound academic and boring.
*My coinage, so far as I know.