The Uninhabited Clause* is a clause that has a non-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 are the first two paragraphs of an article titled “Acquittal – and Denial – at Dartmouth,” by KC Johnson:
“It seems as if periods emerge where sexual assault issues tend to focus on a single university. Even in the aftermath of the lacrosse case, attention remained on Duke – in part because of the civil suits, in part because the university, rather than learning from its mistakes, adopted a new policy that could brand a student a rapist based on ‘perceived power differentials’ that can create ‘an unintentional atmosphere of coercion.’
“Then the focus turned to Yale – in part because of the university’s mishandling of the Patrick Witt case (still no word on any investigation of who breached confidentiality at the school), and then because of the Orwellian definitions of sexual assault (‘economic abuse’ as intimate partner violence) offered in the university’s periodic sexual assault report documents.”Analysis
Only one of the clauses is inhabited:
who breachedThe other ten clauses are uninhabited:
that (antecedent = policy) could brand
that (antecedent = differentials) can create
word is (the context implies the verb is)
that (implied; antecedent = definitions) were (implied) offered
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 risk sounding academic and boring.
*My coinage, so far as I know.