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Every writer needs to maintain a high standard of grammar and have a good understanding of key components of writing. Keep yourself sharp by testing your knowledge…

What strikes you about the following passages?

  1. The recreation of Ballarat’s main street at Sovereign Hill was reconstructed according to engravings made in 1858 by Frenchman Francois Cogne and German engraver Hermann Deutsch. The street features over 60 buildings, including a school, hotel, bowling alley and sweets shop.
  1. Butterflies, Birds and Bugs @ Kingfisher Lake: An off-site Art Day of kite-making, nature sculptures and environmental education are all part of this day out at Kingfisher Lake Reserve. The event is open to 6- to 12-year-olds, costs $32.00 and will be held on Wednesday, January 5.

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While I’m sure the writers of the two passages above had only the best intentions, each passage has been complicated unnecessarily.

If you had to take out as few words as possible from the first passage, without altering any of the other words, which would you take out to make it concise?

The first sentence suggests that ‘Ballarat’s main street at Sovereign Hill’ has been reconstructed not once, but twice. That is, if the additional information in this sentence is removed, it reads: ‘The recreation was reconstructed according to engravings.’ It should always be possible to find the meaning of the sentence with no additional information: we don’t need to know, for example, who made the engravings or what was recreated, because the purpose of the sentence is to tell us how ‘the recreation was reconstructed’.

The prefix ‘re’ means ‘again’: reconstruct, recreate, revision… There are three steps implied by this sentence: the original ‘main street’; ‘the recreation of’ the ‘main street’; and the reconstruction of ‘the recreation of’ the ‘main street’.

Sovereign Hill’s main street has been recreated once, and I’m quite sure of that because those commercials for it are the same as they have been for… well, forever. It would be correct to write ‘Ballarat’s main street at Sovereign Hill was recreated according to engravings…’ or even to write ‘The recreation of Ballarat’s main street at Sovereign Hill was constructed according to engravings…’ Let’s not get greedy with re-prefix words. All this is enough to give anyone a re-prefix headache, such are the repercussions of the errors in this passage, so let’s move on and never revisit this lesson.

Passage 2 is very upsetting. When writing or correcting a sentence, it is important to ignore or remove (temporarily) all additional information in order to check the stability of the base on which the additional information is placed. The more words there are, after all, the more difficult it is to check that the intended meaning of the sentence is being brought across.

The writer of this passage is obviously not an engineer… I certainly wouldn’t want the ‘Kingfisher Lake’ marketer working on my house, because this sentence is about to collapse. The skeleton of this sentence is: ‘An Art Day are part of this day.’ This sentence clearly has a fundamental problem.

The reason for this structural problem is that the site manager was too busy thinking about how nice the paint job was to ensure that the walls displaying that paint were going to stay standing. In other words, the writer was only concerned about effective advertising, trying to convince the reader that there couldn’t possibly be anything better to do on Wednesday, January 5. This irresponsible attitude resulted in the mutilated sentence you see before you.

The writer has to accept that trying to trick the reader, in a single sentence, into believing the $32.00 is going to get you ‘An off-site Art Day’ as well as a ‘day out at Kingfisher Lake Reserve’ is too ambitious.

Corrected in the simplest way, the passages would read:

  1. Ballarat’s main street at Sovereign Hill was reconstructed according to engravings made in 1858 by Frenchman Francois Cogne and German Hermann Deutsch. The street features over 60 buildings, including a school, hotel, bowling alley and sweets shop.
  2. Butterflies, Birds and Bugs @ Kingfisher Lake: Kite-making, nature sculptures and environmental education are all part of this day out at Kingfisher Lake Reserve. The event is open to 6- to 12-year-olds, costs $32.00 and will be held on Wednesday 5 January.

 

Source of featured passages: various commercial and non-commercial publications.

The original version of this article was published as ‘Frustrations of an English Pedant’ in The Australian Writer issue 368 (June–August 2010).

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