Monday, February 23, 2015
Here’s another example of the overuse of the Uninhabited Clause.* Below (in green) is the first paragraph of an article in Slate. The writer uses eight uninhabited clauses and only three inhabited clauses. I have boldfaced the subject and verb in each clause. In blue, I have interspersed my comments:
The great city of St. Louis has a major problem with gun violence.
Non-human subject: city
Even as homicide rates have continued
Non-human subject: rates
to decline elsewhere in the country, they have surged
Non-human subject: they (i.e., rates)
in St. Louis, which last year saw a 33 percent rise in killing, to 159 in a city of 318,000.
Non-human subject: which (i.e., St. Louis)
(Note: this does not include the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson,
Non-human subject: this (the antecedent is ambiguous)
which is in St. Louis County, a separate jurisdiction with 1 million people.)
Non-human subject: which (i.e., Ferguson)
Criminologists point to all the usual reasons for the violence: a thriving drug trade, high unemployment among young men, and so on.
Human subject: Criminologists
But a New York Times article on Tuesday noted
Non-human subject: article
that St. Louis police are contending with a factor that
Human subject: police
their counterparts in many other high-crime cities are not (contending with): exceedingly lax gun laws.
Human subject: counterparts
The Times reports:
Non-human subject: Times
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.