Here is an example of a wordy sentence and possible revisions. Notice that the revised
sentences are clearer and more concise. Hint: eliminating forms of the verb to be often
The Stanton house as it exists now in the present day still shows evidence of the
attempt of Cady Stanton to simplify her household duties.
Revision: The Stanton house still shows evidence of Cady Stanton's attempt to
simplify her household duties.
A sentence fragment occurs when a writer presents a portion of a sentence as if it were a
complete sentence. The fragment in the following example are italicized.
Hamlet sees his father's ghost frequently. Which almost makes him insane.
Revision: Hamlet's frequent sightings of his father's ghost almost make him
The passive voice is often misleading and wordy. When a writer uses passive voice
verbs, the reader is unable to determine who or what is the source of the action. Using
active voice makes a sentence clearer and livelier, because the sentence states the source
of the action. In the examples below, the passive constructions in the original sentences
are italicized. Note that the active voice verbs cuts down on wordiness.
The process of modernization in any society is seen as a positive change.
Revision: Most people see the modernization of a society as a positive change.
Placing subjects close to their verbs reduces subject-verb agreement errors. If the subject
of a sentence is singular, the verb must be singular; if the subject is plural, the verb must
be plural. Subjects and verbs are italicized in the following sentence.
Each of the female characters, as well as the male characters they interact with, seem
to have difficulty with the transition from traditional to modern values.
Revision: Each of the female characters, as well as the male characters they
interact with, seems to have difficulty with the transition from traditional to
Unclear Pronoun Reference
Always make clear to whom or to what pronouns refer. In addition, be sure that
pronouns and their antecedents agree in number and gender. The unclear pronouns are
italicized in the following example.
To keep the birds from eating seeds, soak them in blue food coloring.
Revision: Soak the seeds in blue food coloring to keep the birds from eating
Dangling or Misplaced Modifiers
Dangling or misplaced modifiers refer to the wrong word in the sentence. To revise such
constructions, use the word to which the modifier refers as a subject of the main clause
(example 1), or move the modifier closer to the word it modifies (examples 2 and 3).
The problem modifiers in the following sentences are italicized.
After reading the original study, the article remains unconvincing.
Revision: After reading the original study, I remain unconvinced.
Subordination allows a writer to combine ideas to demonstrate the relationship of one
idea to another. When using subordination, place the key idea of the sentence in the
independent clause and the less important idea in the subordinate clause. Notice how the
construction of complex sentences with subordination can eliminate short, choppy
sentences. The subordinate clauses are italicized in the revisions.
The novel is very powerful. It concerns the rights of women in the twentieth century.
Revision: The novel, which concerns the rights of women in the twentieth
century, is very powerful.
Parallel elements share the same grammatical form. The use of parallel structure creates
a symmetrical, graceful construction that is pleasing to the reader. The parallel structures
are italicized in the following revisions.
Three reasons why steel companies keep losing money are that their plants are
inefficient, high labor costs, and foreign competition is increasing.
Revision: Three reasons why steel companies keep losing money are inefficient
plants, high labor costs, and increasing foreign competition.
Comma, Semicolon, and Colon Usage Errors
Students frequently misuse commas, semicolons, and colons. A thorough discussion of
these and other errors can be found in any handbook of writing, including the Writing
Center handout “Punctuation Patterns,” the Hamilton College Style Sheet, and many other
handbooks available on-line and at the Writing Center. If you are uncertain about when
to use these marks of punctuation--or any other aspect of sentence construction--check
with your professor or a writing tutor.
Now, do it.