Author Topic: Some simple grammar devices for greater cohesion and clarity  (Read 16157 times)

Joe Carillo

  • Administrator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 4653
  • Karma: +206/-2
    • View Profile
    • Email
As the third in a series of pointers for crafting more readable and compelling compositions, I am posting in this week’s edition of the Forum the essay below, “Using repeated action and sequence words,” that I wrote for my weekly English-usage column in The Manila Times in early 2004. The discussion focuses on simple but powerful grammar devices in English for giving greater cohesion and clarity to writing and speaking. As I’m sure many of us already know, what these devices do is to represent or point back to ideas, elements, events, or situations presented or described earlier in the composition—thus sparing the reader or listener from the tedium of going through the same set of words and phrases all over again. The happy result is, of course, more concise and more lucid expositions.

Find out now if, in fact, you haven’t been using the whole repertoire of these repeated action and sequence words all these years. If so, it’s not too late to make them give punch and sparkle to your written and spoken English. (July 22, 2012)

Using repeated action and sequence words

For a much better handle on English usage, let’s go further back this time to the basics of English composition. Let’s review the uses of the so-called repeated action words and sequence words, those simple but powerful grammar devices for giving greater cohesion and clarity to writing.

Repeated action reference words. These words become standard equipment very early among English-language learners: “so,” “that,” “these,” “those,” “such,” “too,” “does,” “do,” and “did,” “the same,” “likewise,” “either” and “neither,” and “not.” What they do is to represent or point back to ideas, elements, events, or situations presented or described earlier in the composition. We must always keep in mind, though, that these reference words shouldn’t be used by themselves alone; they should be judiciously combined with important words or phrases previously used in the sentence or paragraph.

Let’s now review how these repeated action reference words work:

“So.” A statement might look like this in its full-blown form: “Everybody is learning how to use the personal computer. You should also be learning how to use the personal computer yourself.” By using “so” as a repeated action reference word, that repetitious statement can be made more concise and forceful: “Everybody is learning how to use the personal computer; so should you.”

“That.” Take a look at this overwrought statement: “He has been in turns a farmer, bus driver, newspaperman, communication specialist, and entrepreneur. The shaping of his unique world view by having been all of these things is what he considers the story of his life.” See how the reference word “that” makes short shrift of the repetitious statement and gives the sentence more drama: “The shaping of his unique world view by having been in turns a farmer, bus driver, newspaperman, communication specialist, and entrepreneur—that he considers as the story of his life.”

“These” and “those.” These two reference words efficiently emphasize enumerative sequences: “Coffee, toast, orange marmalade, and fried eggs—these are the only things I take for breakfast.” “A villa in Palermo, a castle in Austria, a resort house in Capri, a townhouse in Athens—all those the marauding government official had to give up when he was convicted of plunder.”

“It.” This familiar, all-purpose pronoun can be used as a reference word for inanimate things or concepts previously mentioned in a composition: “He ran for public office thrice and lost each time; it was the worst humiliation of his life.”

“Such.” This word is a highly emphatic recapitulating device: “She bought five books by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, three by Isabel Allende, and one by Pablo Coelho all at once—such was her fascination with Latin-American literature.”

“Too.” An excellent word for avoiding a repetition of similar attributes: “The woman’s vagabond lover was convicted of the grisly crime; the woman, too, got convicted.”

“Does,” “do,” “did.” These repeated action reference words eliminate the need to restate previously mentioned actions: “The groom loves riding horses; so does his bride.” “Not a few people want an intelligent president; so do we.” “She left right after midnight; so did I.”

“The same” and “likewise.” These two work in practically the same way: “We ordered six cases of champagne yesterday; we want double of the same today.” “Our team worked overtime on New Year’s Eve; their team did likewise.”

“Either” and “neither.” These words efficiently recapitulate the acceptance or rejection of two previously mentioned choices: “Between the astral blue or apple-red sedan, either will do.” “Hong Kong or Singapore at this time of year? I want neither.”

“Not.” Negation of a statement can be done very efficiently by this repeated action reference word: “Most think that going to Baguio City at this time of year is great; not me.”

Sequence words. As we all know, “the former” and “the latter” are the two most common reference words for concisely showing the order of two previously mentioned elements, situations, and events. Both words imply a certain relation between those elements, situations, or events: “Christmas Day and New Year’s Day came and went, the former with a burst of piety and generosity, the latter with a bang and expectations of better things to come.” The reference word “former,” of course, refers to “Christmas Day,” and the reference word “latter,” to “New Year’s Day.”

We can see that repeated action reference words and sequence words not only tie up sentences and paragraphs neatly together, but also help emphasize the ideas being put forth in the composition. For beginning writers, this is as good a start as any towards concise, emphatic writing.
----------------
From the weekly column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in The Manila Times, January 9, 2004 issue © 2004 by The Manila Times. All rights reserved. This essay subsequently appeared as Chapter 55 of the author’s book Give Your English the Winning Edge © 2004 by Jose A. Carillo. All rights reserved.
« Last Edit: September 03, 2018, 09:13:17 AM by Joe Carillo »

Mwita Chacha

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 137
  • Karma: +0/-0
    • View Profile
    • Email
Re: Some simple grammar devices for greater cohesion and clarity
« Reply #1 on: July 22, 2012, 01:37:02 PM »
This is quite an invaluable information for people like me who are ambitious to become good writers in English language. Surely, I have to start putting them into practice repeated action and sequence words so as to distinguish my prose from that of others.

Cherlang

  • Initiate
  • *
  • Posts: 2
  • Karma: +0/-0
    • View Profile
    • Email
Re: Some simple grammar devices for greater cohesion and clarity
« Reply #2 on: July 29, 2012, 12:26:03 AM »
In your example for "Not," you wrote, "Most think that going to Baguio City this time of year is great; not me."

During my first year of teaching over 40 years ago, a very proper older teacher corrected me on something similar saying my response should have been "Not I." Would you set me straight on why "Not me" in your example is correct, please?  Thanks.
Grammar Interventionist/ Student Teacher Supervisor for Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas

Joe Carillo

  • Administrator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 4653
  • Karma: +206/-2
    • View Profile
    • Email
Re: Some simple grammar devices for greater cohesion and clarity
« Reply #3 on: July 30, 2012, 11:50:26 AM »
Yes, “me” rather than “I” is my well-considered choice for the personal pronoun in the following illustrative sentence in that essay of mine:

“Most think that going to Baguio City this time of year is great; not me.”

I’m very much aware that the choice of “me” in such constructions has remained debatable over the years, but I must say that I’m very comfortable with it. I believe that despite the objections of prescriptivist grammarians who insist that English should use the nominative “I” following the formal Latin pattern for such constructions, it is more acceptable and better-sounding to use the objective pronoun “me” in less formal writing and speech.

This puts me in the same school of grammar thought as that of Patricia T. O’Conner of Woe Is I! fame and her fellow grammar blogger Stewart Kellerman. Here’s what they say on the subject in their November 29, 2007 posting in their “Grammarphobia” website:

Quote
A slothful usage?

Q: I am concerned about the assertions on your Grammar Myths page that the objective case is acceptable in informal English for sentences like “It is me” or “Who’s the package for?” Is intellectual laziness so dominant that those of us able to follow a simple rule will be required to abandon the nominative case, while those who cannot or will not write and speak properly will be rewarded for their sloth?

A: Like it or not, those two pronoun usages, once strongly resisted, are slipping into standard English. In conversation and informal writing, it’s OK to use “me” after forms of the verb “be,” and “who” instead of “whom” at the beginning of a sentence. I’m not the arbiter of what’s acceptable and what’s not – I’m just reporting what linguists, lexicographers, and usage experts are saying these days.

In the case of “It is me” vs. “It is I,” grammarians have been arguing for one side or the other since at least the early 1700s. What apparently set them off was Sir Richard Steele’s use of “It is not me” in the Spectator in 1712.

For some years, two camps battled over the issue until the “It is I” faction won around the late 18th century (possibly influenced by the Latin pattern of using the nominative). So the “It is I” nominative pattern has been considered the norm in English grammar for most of the last 200 years, although both constructions have been (and still are) common among the actual users of the language.

In our day, the objective is in the ascendant and is now considered an acceptable informal usage, according to the entries for “me” in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.), Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.), and other references. The nominative pattern (“It is I”) is generally used in formal English, but the objective (“It is me”) is universally and legitimately used in less formal writing and speech.

It’s hard to imagine a robbery victim, even William F. Buckley Jr., spying his assailants and shouting to the police: “It is they! It is they!” And it’s hard to imagine a startled District Attorney, on being informed that Mr. Buckley was robbed, saying, “Whom?” (Actually, Noah Webster himself suggested that “whom” would one day fall out of use.)

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage has a theory about all this: “The strongest force operating in favor of ‘it is me’ is probably that of word position: the pronoun after ‘is’ is in the usual position for a direct object, and the objective case feels right in that position. It is probably just as simple as that – we find the strength of word order at work on initial ‘whom’ also, turning it frequently into ‘who,’ even when it is an object in its clause – but early grammarians knew nothing of the power of word order in English, and they had to find other explanations.”

I hope this makes “it is me” and similar constructions seem less slothful.

Ms. O’Conner and Mr. Stewart Kellerman defend the usage of “me” in such cases very well, I think, but to remove any further doubts about the wisdom of their position, here’s the online Oxford Dictionaries for what I would think could be taken as the last word on the matter:

Quote
Personal pronoun

Each of the pronouns in English (I, you, he, she, it, we, they, me, him, her, us, and them) comprising a set that shows contrasts of person, gender, number, and case.

The correct use of personal pronouns is one of the most debated areas of English usage. I, we, they, he, and she are subjective personal pronouns, which means they are used as the subject of the sentence, often coming before the verb (she lives in Paris; we are leaving). Me, us, them, him, and her, on the other hand, are objective personal pronouns, which means that they are used as the object of a verb or preposition (John hates me; his father left him; I did it for her). This explains why it is not correct to say John and me went to the shops: the personal pronoun is in subject position, so it must be I not me. Using the pronoun alone makes the incorrect use obvious: me went to the shops is clearly not acceptable. This analysis also explains why it is not correct to say he came with you and I: the personal pronoun is governed by a preposition (with) and is therefore objective, so it must be me not I. Again, a simple test for correctness is to use the pronoun alone: he came with I is clearly not acceptable…

Where a personal pronoun is used alone without the context of a verb or a preposition, however, the traditional analysis starts to break down. Traditionalists sometimes argue, for example, that she’s younger than me and I’ve not been here as long as her are incorrect and that the correct forms are she’s younger than I and I’ve not been here as long as she. This is based on the assumption that than and as are conjunctions and so the personal pronoun is still subjective even though there is no verb (in full form it would be she’s younger than I am). Yet for most native speakers the supposed “correct” form does not sound natural at all and is almost never used in speech. It would perhaps be more accurate to say that, in modern English, those personal pronouns listed above as being objective are used neutrally—i.e. they are used in all cases where the pronoun is not explicitly subjective. From this it follows that, despite the objections of prescriptive grammarians (whose arguments are based on Latin rather than English), it is standard accepted English to use any of the following: Who is it? It’s me!; she’s taller than him; I didn’t do as well as her.

I hope this adequately sets the “me” usage straight for you.
« Last Edit: August 01, 2012, 07:11:10 AM by Joe Carillo »

Vmadison

  • Initiate
  • *
  • Posts: 2
  • Karma: +0/-0
    • View Profile
    • Email
Re: Some simple grammar devices for greater cohesion and clarity
« Reply #4 on: February 11, 2013, 11:18:37 PM »
This is one of the most common mistakes that I commit. :)