Bedlam when the verb shows up very late in long sentences

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It’s bound to happen sometime to any writer, whether professional or not, when he or she unwittingly strings together far too many words to form the subject of a sentence, and then doesn’t bother to check how excruciatingly tough to read the resulting sentence becomes.
Take a look and read—preferably aloud—this lead sentence of a recent opinion column in a leading Metro Manila daily:

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“The initial euphoria generated within the LGBT community by the preliminary document released in connection with the two-week synod of over 200 bishops from around the world to discuss issues facing 21st century Catholic families was short-lived.”

The subject of that sentence takes all of 35 words to form just a faintly discernible idea—“the initial euphoria generated within the LGBT community by the preliminary document released in connection with the two-week synod of over 200 bishops from around the world to discuss issues facing 21st century Catholic families”—and by then the reader is already too flustered by information overload to fathom what that subject is all about.

Indeed, when the verb and predicate—“was” and “short-lived”—finally show up, the reader must backtrack through a semantic maze of 32 words to logically connect them to their subject, the noun “euphoria.” In the process, the reader loses precious reading time and momentum and likely also the desire to read on.

Is there a way to spare readers from this very unpleasant and frustrating experience?

Yes, there’s a very simple writing procedure to prevent it from happening—make the head noun of a long-winded subject as near as possible to the operative verb. In the sentence in question, the head noun of that subject is “euphoria,” the verb is “was,” and the subject complement is the adjective “short-lived.” The goal is to bring these three grammatical elements beside one another or, if that’s not possible, at least within handshake distance.

I think our best shot is to seize that sentence by its tail and whip both the verb “was” and the subject complement “short-lived” to the very front of the sentence, as follows:
“A short-lived euphoria was generated within the LGBT community by the preliminary document released in connection with the two-week synod of over 200 bishops from around the world to discuss issues facing 21st century Catholic families.”

In this reconstruction, the clause formed by the first eight words of the sentence—“a short-lived euphoria was generated within the LGBT community”—already gives the reader a clear gist of the statement that’s unfolding. The remaining 27 words of the long-winded phrase that follows are now just supporting or clarifying details of that clause.

Another simple way to clarify the original sentence is to use the expletive “it,” as follows:

“It was a short-lived euphoria that was generated within the LGBT community by the preliminary document released in connection with the two-week synod of over 200 bishops from around the world to discuss issues facing 21st century Catholic families.”

Yet another but more radical way is to make “the LGBT community” the subject of the sentence and the doer of the action:

“The LGBT community experienced a short-lived euphoria over the preliminary document released in connection with the two-week synod of over 200 bishops from around the world to discuss issues facing 21st century Catholic families.”
Here, in a very neat but admittedly more complex grammatical operation, the active-voice verb “experience” takes the place of the passive-voice form “was generated.”

My point here is that when it’s unavoidable to have a longwinded noun phrase as subject, the operative verb must be presented as early as possible in the sentence, and the head noun of that subject must be positioned beside or close to it. This can make even very long sentences easy, effortless, and pleasant to read.

Visit Jose Carillo’s English Forum at http://josecarilloforum.com. Visit me on Facebook. Follow me at Twitter.com @J8Carillo.

j8carillo@yahoo.com

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4 Comments

  1. “The initial euphoria generated within the LGBT community by the preliminary document released in connection with the two-week synod of over 200 bishops from around the world to discuss issues facing 21st century Catholic families was short-lived”

    Let me try.
    The initial euphoria on the preliminary document of the synod on 21st century catholic families by over 200 bishops was short-lived.

    • Observer, your 21-word revision is simply great! That 19-word noun phrase for the subject is well within the tolerable limit between normal breathing pauses as suggested by Jerrysal Mangaoang earlier. Of course, we’ll now need to come up with a new sentence to account for the details that you knocked off from the original sentence, but that’s just a secondary concern for now. The important thing is that your very succinct revision has made the point of the mind-twisting original sentence crystal clear.

  2. Jerrysal Mangaoang on

    In constructing a sentence, the timing is such that it should unify with your breathing. Put a period or a colon or semi colon before you lose your breath. 35 words is too long. It should be cut to maybe two or three sentences

    • I agree with you absolutely that a noun phrase of 35 words is much too long to state the subject of a sentence, but I’m not too sure if that subject can be cut into two or three sentences. I’d be much obliged if you or anybody among the readers can show how that might be done. I’m sure it will be very instructive to everybody trying to attain better mastery of English.