All About Absolute Phrases

Last week here at Writing Center Underground, we learned about independent and dependent clauses, and the 4 sentence types – Simple, Compound, Complex, and Compound-Complex. Now that we know about clauses and sentence types, we’ll look at absolute phrases.

An absolute phrase combines a noun and a participle with accompanying modifiers or objects. Noun + Participle + Optional Modifier(s) and/or Object(s)

Absolute phrases modify entire sentences, not just one word. They are optional in sentences and can be removed without damaging the grammatical integrity of the sentence, and are always set off with commas (and sometimes dashes).

 Example:

Her arms folded across her chest, Professor Smith warned the class not to text in class.

In the sentence above, the absolute phrase is at the beginning of the sentence – Her arms folded across her chest.

The clause, Professor Smith warned the class not to text in class, is an independent clause, which means it can stand alone as a sentence. The absolute phrase (a dependent clause) is modifying this entire clause.

Building Sentences with Absolutes

Absolute phrases can be arranged in different positions in a sentence. In the example above, the absolute could be placed after the independent clause:

Professor Smith warned the class not to text in class, her arms folded across her chest.

Absolute phrases can also be placed in the middle of a sentence, between the subject and verb:

Professor Smith, her arms folded across her chest, warned the class not to text in class.

Note that the absolute phrase is set off in the sentence with a pair of commas.

Revising with Absolute Phrases

Incorporating absolute phrases into your writing works to break up short, choppy sentences. The example below has combined two sentences by omitting “were” in the second sentence, turning it into an absolute phrase:

The hikers made their way down the wooded trail.

Their boots were caked in mud.

Their boots caked in mud, the hikers made their way down the wooded trail.

In the example below, three sentences are combined:

I went snorkeling in Mexico.

The water was warm.

The sun was bright.

The water warm and sun bright, I snorkeled all afternoon.

In the above example, The water warm and sun bright modifies the independent clause, I went snorkeling in Mexico.

As you can see, absolute phrases are a great way to incorporate variety into your writing. They are especially useful in narrative writing when description is necessary, and when you want to break up short, plodding sentences.

 

 

 

 

 

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Identifying Sentence Types

In English, sentences are classified into four basic structures: Simple, Compound, Complex, and Compound-Complex. Learning the nuances of each of these structures will help add variety to your writing.

These four basic sentence structures are based on the use of dependent and independent clauses in a sentence, so first, we need to understand how these clauses work.

Dependent Clause:

A dependent clause is not a complete sentence, and does not express a complete thought. A dependent clause can, however, contain a subject and a verb, but it cannot stand alone as a sentence, as in the examples below:

When the semester was over.

Because she stayed up all night.

When they went to the movies.

As you can see, these sentences do not represent a complete thought; they are dependent on other words to complete the sentence.

Independent Clause:

An independent clause can stand alone as a sentence. It expresses a complete thought and needs no other words to complete it. It will always have a subject and a verb, as in the examples below:

The snow fell all day long.

The dog jumped the fence.

The college closed for the summer.

Even very short sentences can be independent clauses or complete sentences, as long as a subject and verb are present:

The snow fell.

The dog jumped.

The college closed.

Consequently, very long sentences (or what appear to be sentences) can still be dependent clauses:

Although the rain fell all morning and into the night as the thunder rolled across the hillside.

While the car sped out of control during the rain-delayed race at Sunset Hills Speedway.

Beginning with the final play of the half when the quarterback was carted off the field after he was tackled.

Each of the previous sentences, even though quite long, are dependent clauses and need other words to form a complete sentence.

Now that we understand clauses, let’s look at our four sentence structures.

Simple Sentence

A simple sentence contains one independent clause and no dependent clause.

S  V
I eat blueberry muffins.

S    V
My uncle sold his old Ford pickup.

S                   V
School has been cancelled due to the snow storm.


Compound Sentence

A compound sentence contains two or more independent clauses, but no dependent clauses. The clauses are joined by a conjunction (or coordinating conjunction).

S     V                                       S      V
He cooked dinner, and she cleaned up.

“He cooked dinner” is a complete thought or sentence, with a subject and verb. “She cleaned up” is also a complete sentence with a subject and verb. The coordinating conjunction, “and” joins the two independent clauses together to form a compound sentence. Below are other examples of compound sentences.

The screaming children frightened the pelicans, and they flew away.

Winter is almost over, and spring isn’t far behind.

Joe quit his job, but he found a new one.


Complex Sentence

Complex sentences are a bit more – complex. These sentence types have one independent clause (I) and at least one dependent clause (D). The dependent clauses are italicized:

D                                                                       I
After John couldn’t find a job, he realized he should go back to school.

D                                                     I
While away on vacation, the neighbor’s house was burglarized.

D                                                                     I
Since Lisa was absent from class, she had to make up the exam on Monday.


Compound-Complex Sentence

A compound-complex sentence has multiple independent clauses and at least one dependent clause. The dependent clause is introduced by either a subordinate conjunction (such as while, although, or because) or a relative pronoun (such as who
or which).

Below, the independent clauses are underlined, and the dependent clauses are in red.

Catch-22 is widely regarded as Joseph Heller’s best novel, and because Heller served in World War II, which the novel satirizes, the zany but savage wit of the novel packs an extra punch. (example from Purdue Owl)

Because I am a writing tutor, some people expect me to write perfectly without fail, but that is unrealistic.

Although I love reading, I don’t like romance novels, although some can be entertaining.

When a dependent clause begins a sentence, a comma will follow at the end of the clause, before the independent clause. Also, a comma should be placed after an independent clause if followed by a dependent clause, as in the third example.

For English language learners and beginning writers, it is important to learn how to formulate simple sentence structures first, and then begin to incorporate more complex structures to add variety to your writing.

The ability to identify and understand different types of clauses and sentence categories will not only help you punctuate sentences properly, but will also improve your writing style.

Identifying Phrases and Clauses

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Learning the basic rules of sentence construction will help you identify the parts of a sentence that make up the whole. This will help you to avoid punctuation errors like comma splices, as well as give you the knowledge to create more complicated sentence structures, which will improve the style of your writing.

Phrases

A phrase is a group of words that form a single unit in a sentence, but do not include a subject, or a verb, or both. Since a phrase does not have a subject and/or verb, it does not form a complete idea or thought. Since a phrase does not contain a subject or verb, it cannot stand alone as a sentence, and is considered a fragment.

Examples of phrases:

  • closing the door
  • under the tree
  • because of his illness
  • running past the gate

In the previous examples, you’ll see nouns (door, tree, illness, gate) and verbals – or forms of a verb (closing, running) – but the nouns are not functioning as the subject of a sentence, and the verbals have no subject performing the action.

Types of Phrases:

  • Noun: his brand new bike; the stinky old cat
  • Prepositional: over the wall; in the bedroom
  • Verb: will be done; can swim
  • Verbal: There are 3 types of verbal phrases: participial, gerund, and infinitive.
    Participial: The pond, frozen over since early December, is now safe for ice-skating.
    Gerund: Cramming for tests is not a good study strategy.
    Infinitive: My goal is to be a teacher.
    Absolute: I stood on the dock, the lake breeze chilling me to the bone.
    Appositive: The book, a 600-page biography, received great reviews.

Clauses

A clause is a group of words that contain a subject and a predicate. A predicate is a word or phrase that describes the action or state of the subject. Predicates always includes verbs.

Unlike a phrase, a clause can be a complete sentence – if it has a subject and a predicate. This type of clause is called an independent clause, as it can stand alone independently, with no other words or phrases needed to make it a complete sentence.

Examples of independent clauses:

  • Fried green tomatoes are popular in the South.
  • The door remained closed.
  • The car sounded noisy.
  • I stood on the shore.

Unlike an independent clause, a dependent clause cannot stand alone as a sentence, even though it has a subject and a verb. A dependent clause is dependent on an independent clause as part of either the subject or the predicate.

Examples of dependent clauses:

  • while the wind was blowing.
  • which I made by hand.
  • although the room was cold.
  • because the pool was deep.

These examples begin with subordinate conjunctions – while, which, although, because – so do not form a complete thought. When we see subordinate conjunctions at the beginning of sentences, we expect extra information to complete the thought. These dependent clauses require other words to make a complete sentence.

Troubleshooting

Recognizing phrases and clauses will help you to avoid comma splices, fragments and run-on sentences. Look at the sentences below and identify which are complete sentences, and which are incomplete sentences. Can you identify the phrases and clauses?

  1. Driving across town in rush hour traffic.
  2. My head pounding.
  3. I answered the door.
  4. Talking on a cell phone in a restaurant.
  5. Call the babysitter.
  6. Because he wanted to.
  7. I stood silently.
  8. In the darkest corner of the room.
  9. To go to bed after midnight.
  10. Loud singing from the back of the room.

All About Semi-Colons

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DON’T BE AFRAID TO USE A SEMI COLON!

Semi-colons are arguably the most misused punctuation in writing; they can be quite confusing.

Do you know why a semi-colon is used in the first sentence? It is separating two independent clauses, or complete sentences. A semi-colon creates a full stop in a sentence, unlike a comma, which is used as a pause.

When it comes to using semi colons in writing, most errors are made when the writer fails to understand the difference between an independent and dependent clause. The name of each clause offers clues to their uses. Once you understand clauses, semi colons are a snap.

Let’s review:

INDEPENDENT CLAUSES         

Independent clauses, or main clauses, can stand alone as a sentence. They will always include a subject and a verb:

The window is open.

 James plays the guitar.

 The dog barked. 

I went to the gym.

Even a short three-word sentence can be an independent clause if it contains a subject and verb, as the examples do above. Don’t be fooled by the length of a sentence, but consider, is it a complete thought?

DEPENDENT CLAUSES

Dependent clauses cannot stand alone as a sentence. They are dependent on other words to complete a sentence.

When James plays the guitar.

If the window is open.

Beginning with the files.  

These examples are dependent clauses. They are not complete thoughts and need more information in the sentence for them to make sense.

When James plays the guitar, it reminds me of Jimi Hendrix.

If the window is open, flies will get in.

It’s time to organize the office, beginning with the files.  

Now each of those dependent clauses makes sense, as we added independent clauses to complete the thought.

Below the dependent clause is italicized:

Because the window is open, the room feels cold.

I’d love to go to dinner, although I’m not dressed appropriately.

When you fix the tire, we’ll ride our bikes around the block.


USING SEMI-COLONS WITH INDEPENDENT CLAUSES

Semi-colons are used to separate two independent clauses when the ideas of the two clauses are closely related.

Don’t drink and drive; you could lose your license.

The dog escaped from his pen; I hope I find him soon.

Dinner was a great success; everything turned out perfect.

In the above examples, the second independent clause is closely related to the first part of the sentence, so keeping them “linked” with a semi colon makes sense.

You cannot separate two independent clauses with a comma, or you would create a comma splice, which is incorrect punctuation and will always be marked as an error. However, you could use a period, creating two sentences.

Wrong: Dinner was a great success, everything turned out perfect.

Correct: Dinner was a great success. Everything turned out perfect.

Correct: Don’t drink and drive. You could lose your license.

Correct:  Don’t drink and drive because you could lose your license.


How to Determine When to Use a Period or Semi Colon

If both a period and a semi colon would be correct punctuation, how do you know which to use in different situations?

As stated earlier, the rule for a semi colon is you can use it if the second clause is closely related to the first clause. In many cases, using a period may sound okay, and not really affect the flow of the sentence. However, if you had several short sentences and you used periods to separate each one, the sentences become choppy and tedious to read. Read the paragraph below and see how it sounds with all periods:

Dinner was a great success. Everything turned out perfect. The steaks were tender. Mine almost melted in my mouth. I wish Mom could have come. She wasn’t feeling well. I hope it’s nothing serious.

Notice that it reads a bit like a galloping horse, plodding. This becomes quite boring to read after a while. Partly this is due to the repetitive subject-verb-object construction, but some of it could be alleviated with the use of a semi colon or two. See if you can tell a difference:

Dinner was a great success; everything turned out perfect. The steaks were tender. Mine almost melted in my mouth. I wish Mom could have come; she wasn’t feeling well. I hope it’s nothing serious.

Did you notice you took less of a pause when you got to the semi colons in the second example?

USING SEMI-COLONS FOR ITEMS IN A SERIES

Most often, commas are used to separate items in a series. Sometimes though, the items themselves contain commas, so using a semi-colon to separate the items makes the sentence clearer and easier to read.

I bought shiny, ripe apples; small, sweet, juicy grapes; and firm, Anjou pears.

I have been to Montana, Wyoming, and Oregon in the North; Texas, Arkansas, and Mississippi in the South; and New York, Connecticut, and Maine in the North East.

The newest additions to the cast are Josey Wales, who will play Will Davis; Deborah Farr, who will play his wife; and Tom Duffy, Farr’s young love interest.

Using semi-colons to separate the items above prevents confusion that might come from an abundance of commas.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Take care not to use a semi-colon too often. Any punctuation, if used too often, can become distracting. Sometimes it is simply a matter of judgement when and where to use semi colons. If you do incorporate them into your writing, use them sparingly and make sure you are using them correctly.

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 EXERCISE

A semicolon belongs in each of the following sentences. Determine where the semicolon belongs. Then select the word that comes just before the semicolon.

 

  1. It is raining outside I will bring my umbrella with me.

raining

outside

umbrella

 

——————————————————————————–

  1. There is a lot of financial aid around you just have to know where to look for it.

lot

aid

around
_______________________________________________

 

  1. It’s such a beautiful day I will walk in Memorial Park.

beautiful

day

walk

——————————————————————————–

  1. We will play tennis tomorrow then we will go out for dinner.

play

tennis

tomorrow

 

——————————————————————————–

  1. She had very high grades in high school she applied to Harvard University.

grades

school

applied

 

[Some examples and exercises from The St. Martins’ Handbook and OWL Online Writing Lab.]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brackets and Braces and Parentheses – Oh My! (How & When to Use)

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Have you ever wondering what all those symbols are for on your keyboard? If you are sitting in front of a desktop computer, you are most likely looking at what’s known as a Qwerty keyboard, which is simply a standard English keyboard that has the standard layout of letters, numbers, and punctuation, including braces, brackets, and parenthesis.

Generally, braces, brackets, and parenthesis are used to set off additional or optional information in sentences. The writer may need to add words to clarify meaning, make the sentence read more clearly, or make a comment or correction to quoted material. For informal writing, you might have seen them used interchangeably. However, in more formal writing, such as academic writing, each symbol has a specific usage for specific situations, in specific fields of research.

Brackets  

There are two types of brackets you might use in an academic paper: Square [ ] and Angle < >

Square [ ]

In academic writing, square brackets have many uses. When the writer feels the need to add clarifying information, to provide context, or to correct printed mistakes, square brackets are used to indicate the change in the original text.

In the example below, square brackets are used to add context or clarify meaning:

Mary Constance, in an essay on extraterrestrials, states, “Some people [who have UFO experiences] may have very clear, vivid memories of their captivity” (98).

In this quote, “Some people” is taken out of context, so the additional information, “who have UFO experiences” is added for clarification so that the read knows exactly who some people are.

Square brackets are also commonly used by writers who feel the need to italicize certain words for emphasis:

Researchers at the Institute of Technology walked out of the presentation, saying they were extremely [emphasis added] disturbed by the images.

The brackets above indicate to the reader that the italics that are emphasizing “extremely” have been added by the writer, and not the original author.

When quoting sources, it’s actually not uncommon to find an error in the original material. However, the writer cannot simply correct the error, but must transcribe it exactly as is with the error, inserting the word “sic,” a Latin term meaning “thus” or “so,” enclosed in square brackets. The use of sic indicates the error is not the writer’s, but from the original text:

Dr. Casey says of his research, “I strongly believe that animal-to-human tansplantation [sic] is widely underutilized in the US.”

Sic immediately follows the misspelled word above.

Angle < >

In MLA, a URL or web address is no longer required on the Works Cited, but if requested by the instructor or if it’s needed to locate the original source, you’ll need to include it in your citation. If you need to include one on your Works Cited, place it in angle brackets. Because a URL may contain letters, numbers, and punctuation, placing it in angle brackets makes it much easier for the reader to ascertain where the URL begins and ends:

Walker, Janice R. “Columbia Online Style: MLA-Style Citations of Electronic Sources.” 1.2, Nov. 1997. 10. Dec. 1997 <http://www.cas.usf.edu/english/walker/mla.html&gt;.

Braces { }

You’ll find braces, also known as curly brackets, on the same key as square brackets on your computer. In formal writing, braces have limited use in MLA and APA writing. You might have seen braces used in music or poetry, or even on an SAT or GRE exam. They are used to set off items in a set to show they are a unit, as in the example below:

Equal Choices: {red, blue, green}

Numbers: E= {3, 6, 9, 12, 15}

Music: [ {c, e, g} {e, g, c2} {g, c2, e2} ]

Note that in the music example, there are 3 sets of items, so the braces separate each set. Then the entire 3 sets are enclosed in square brackets, which serves to “hold” the 3 sets of items that are in braces.

Braces are also used in mathematics, logic, and linguistics to set off groups of numbers, letters, or items in a set. Braces are often used in computer programming to show what should be contained within the same lines.

Parenthesis ( )

Most everyone knows what parentheses are and has used them at some point in their writing. Of the three, parentheses are the most commonly used punctuation in formal and informal writing. Parentheses are most commonly used to enclose an explanation or afterthought which relates to the main message of the sentence. The use of parentheses is often a judgment call. If you feel incorporating an explanation might interrupt the flow of the sentence, place the information inside parentheses.

Jason B. has been ticketed three times for drunk driving, though he still holds a driver’s license (all three tickets were in school zones).

Starlight Bakery chain (in both North America and Canada) have reported a 220% increase requests for gluten-free products since 2010.

Use a comma between coordinate adjectives (adjectives that are equal and reversible).

In creative writing, parentheses are used as a literary device that separates words that the narrator might feel are secret, like an aside or internal thought:

Jessie (truant and a runaway) turned sixteen in the youth center.

Monique (was that her name?) never looked up from the ticket counter.

Parentheses are the only punctuation used for in-text citations and Works Cited pages:

Brown says that no textbooks were discarded after the regulations were put in place (78).

Parentheses also are used to indicate the plural of a noun, as in the following example:

If anyone has any information about the person(s) who committed this crime, please call the sheriff’s office.

In the following section of the exam, circle the grammatical error(s) in each of the sentences.

(examples from http://www.writingsimplified.com/2009/04/how-and-when-to-use-parentheses.html).

Acronyms are enclosed in parenthesis as well:

The mission of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is to stop drunk driving.


When Both Brackets and Parentheses are Needed

In MLA, square brackets surrounded by parentheses indicate the level of subordination, as in the example below:

The sect known as the Jansenists (after Cornelius Jansen [1585-1638]) faced opposition from both the king and the pope.

 

In many instances of informal writing (and even formal writing), you might find that curly brackets and parenthesis are used interchangeably. When writing in academic situations, however, be sure and follow the guidelines for the citation style you are using, be it MLA, APA, AP, Chicago, or others. Each style has its own preferences, but some make no determination of how each kind of punctuation should be used. In that case, use whichever works best for your situation.

Write-Speak: Correcting Faulty Sentence Constructions

 

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When I was an undergrad writing major, I was told “Write like you talk.” If I were writing a work of fiction that needed realistic dialogue, writing like I talked worked great. But in all other forms of writing, if I were to write like I talked, it would look something like this:

“It’s like where you go. . . I mean. . . it’s when you turn left. . . like. . . up in the house when the corner turns . . .”

Or

“I can’t believe my Royals. . . Like. . .Oh my gosh! They were all going crazy. . . like, when they won. . . I was where I couldn’t talk, I was so excited!”

If you listened to just about any casual conversation, you would hear patterns of inconsistency (and really bad grammar!). Many, if not most, of our spoken sentences would be fragments or incomplete sentence structures. We talk it bits and pieces, and mix sentence constructions without even knowing it. Many of us intersperse our spoken sentences with numerous “filler” words, such as “like” in the examples above. So you can see how difficult it becomes to maintain consistency in our writing. Recognizing these patterns of inconsistencies is the first step to editing these incomplete structures.

Inconsistent Subjects & Predicates

Identifying the subject and predicate can be the first step toward identifying sentence inconsistencies. In the examples below, the subject and predicate don’t fit together grammatically or just don’t make sense:

EX.
From all his hard work helped Karl graduate.

When you read the sentence, you might “hear” something is wrong, but might not be able to identify the problem. The sentence begins with the prepositional phrase, From all his hard work, which acts as the subject of the verb. This is not a grammatically correct construction.

Revised:

All his hard work helped Karl graduate.

That sounds better.
______________________________________________

Look at the following problem example, where you’ll see an issue with inconsistent subject/predicate:

EX.

A characteristic that I admire is a person who is generous.

The subject of the sentence is “characteristic.” The verb is “admire.” But “a person” is not a characteristic, so this statement isn’t logical.

Revised:

A characteristic that I admire is generosity a person who is generous.

“Generosity” is a characteristic that can be admired in a person.

 

See if you can catch the faulty predication in the following example:

EX.

A compromise between the mountains and the beach would be an ideal place to vacation.

If you said that the subject of the sentence – “compromise” – cannot be an “ideal place,” you would be correct. It isn’t logical.

Revised:

A place combining features of the mountains and the beach would be an ideal place to vacation.

OR

The ideal place to vacation would be a location combining features of the mountains and the beach.

___________________________________________________

Keep Consistent Grammatical Patterns

Mixed Structures

One of the most common inconsistencies is what is referred to as a mixed construction. In mixed constructions, the grammatical pattern used in the first part of a sentence is not carried through in other parts of the sentence, creating an illogical sentence. The speaker of the sentence sets out to say one thing and switches to something else, resulting in confusion:

EX.

The fact that I get up at 5:00 a.m., a wake-up time that explains why I’m always tired in the evening.

The subject of the sentence, The fact, is followed by a dependent clause, that I get up at 5:00 a.m.; a predicate (verb or verb phrase) is needed to complete the independent clause. However, the sentence is mixed with another dependent clause, a wake-up time that explains why I’m always tired in the evening, which creates a fragment.

Revised:

The fact that I get up at 5:00 a.m., explains a wake-up time that why I’m always tired in the evening.

OR

The fact that I get up at 5:00 a.m., a wake-up time that explains why I’m always tired in the evening.

Another mixed sentence can occur with is when and is where, as in the following examples:

An examination is when you are tested.

An examination is where you are tested.

Think about what the subject actually is in this sentence. Examination is a test. Examination is not a time or place. When should only be used when referring to time. Use where only when referring to a place.

Revised:

An examination is a test of what you know.
___________________________________________________________

The ability to identify subjects and predicates is helpful in avoiding faulty sentence constructions, but sometimes we just know something doesn’t sound right when we read it. Carefully reading through your sentences to see if they are logical is the first step to editing out sentence-level inconsistencies.

Examples from http://wps.ablongman.com and The Everyday Writer: A Brief Reference.

Improving Sentence Style

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Describing good style in writing is one of those things that is hard to explain. Like fashion sense or a winning personality, either you have it or you don’t. But you can learn how to improve your sentence style by following a few easy steps.

Avoid Using Vague Nouns

The words below are examples of vague nouns. Relying on vague nouns often leads to wordy construction, so it’s always best to avoid them if you can:

  • factor
  • aspect
  • area
  • situation
  • consideration
  • case

Examples

Vague: Consumer demand is rising in the area of services.

Precise: Consumers are demanding more services.

Vague: Strong reading skills are an important factor in students’ success in college.

Precise: Students’ success in college depends on their reading skills.

Vague: Photography took on new aspects during the Civil War.

Precise: The Civil War saw the advent of graphic battlefield photography.

As you can see in the examples above, the sentences become wordy and confusing when vague nouns are used. This often can impede rhythm in sentences, which hurts the flow. This means that the reader must slow down to read the sentence, which isn’t necessarily a good thing.

 

Incorporate Absolute Phrases

If you’ve ever felt your essay plodding along in a repetitive “subject/verb/object” order, you probably could use some absolute phrases to enliven your rhythm and sharpen your style.

What exactly is an absolute phrase? An absolute phrase is a group of words that modify an independent clause. Just as an adjective modifies a noun, an absolute phrase modifies an entire clause.

Example:

Her arms folded across her chest, Professor Smith warned the students not to text in class.

In the sentence above, the absolute phrase is at the beginning of the sentence – Her arms folded across her chest.

The clause, Professor Smith warned the students not to text in class, is an independent clause, which means it can stand alone as a sentence. The absolute phrase (a dependent clause) is modifying this entire clause.

Building Sentences with Absolutes

Absolute phrases can be arranged in different positions in a sentence. In the example above, the absolute could be placed after the independent clause:

Professor Smith warned the students not to text in class, her arms folded across her chest.

Absolute phrases can also be placed in the middle of a sentence, between the subject and verb:

(S)                                                                                         (V)
Professor Smith, her arms folded across her chest, warned the students not to text in class.

Note that the absolute phrase is set off in the sentence with a pair of commas.

 

Eliminate Wordiness

Do you ever get your essays back from instructors with such comments as, “tighten,” “condense,” or “wordy”? What this means is that you are trying to communicate your point with more words than necessary. For example, note the difference in

“It is the opinion of our professor that we have failed to meet his expectations.”

and

“We have failed to meet our professor’s expectations.”

The second sentence is tighter, uses fewer words, and is stronger and more direct. Just remember, if you can communicate your point in fewer words, do it. Less is more.

Consider the following redundancies in italics:

Ex. 1:

It is absolutely essential that all students meet with their advisor on a regular basis.

If something isessential,” can it be any more essential withabsolutelyin front of it? Probably not.

Ex. 2:

The advance preview of Transformers scored big at the box office.

You might have seen this one in film reviews, or even on E TV. If a movie is a preview, doesn’t that mean it is in advance of the release?

Ex. 3:

In my personal opinion, everyone could benefit from eating more chocolate.

Everyone, at one time or another, has at least said this, if not written it. So what is wrong with this example? If it is your opinion, isn’t it personal?

Ex. 4:

The final outcome of the Literature exam was better than I expected.

The outcome of something is always final, right?

These are all examples of redundant words that create inflated sentences. Carefully edit your final drafts to make sure you’re not redundant.

Avoid Dangling Modifiers

A modifier is a word (or group of words) that qualifies or adds to the meaning of other parts of the sentence. A dangling modifier is created when the modifier is joined to the wrong words in the sentence.

To correct, make the “doer” of the action the sentence’s subject, as in the example below:

Wrong: Coming over the hill, the barn was seen. Who saw the barn?
Correct: Coming over the hill, we saw the barn.

Wrong: Having arrived late for practice, a written excuse was needed.

Who arrived late? This sentence says that the written excuse arrived late. The possible revision might look like this:

Correct: Having arrived late for practice, the team captain needed a written excuse.

The main clause now names the person (the captain) who did the action in the modifying phrase (arrived late).

 

Choosing the best words to express your ideas in the best possible way sounds easy, but often is more difficult than we think. Improving your writing style may take some time and effort, but by following a few simple rules, your writing will become more readable and your style will be the envy of your peers!

 

(Sources: Purdue Owl, Essentials of English Grammar, writing.wisc.edu/Handbook.)