Monday, February 23, 2015

The Uninhabited Clause (24)

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.

See disclaimer.

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