The Sentence

[18] Teachers having classes sufficiently advanced may find

it advisable to pass hastily over this chapter, or may

omit it entirely.

=145. Requisites

The same laws of accuracy and interest hold for the

sentence as for the story as a whole. But in the sentence they are more

rigid,--due in the main to the fact that the sentence is briefer and

more readily analyzable. And while one sympathizes with the overworked

reporter who served notice upon critical college professors that "when

the hands of the clock are near on to press time, and I have a million

things to write in a few minutes, I don't give a whoop if I do end a few

sentences with prepositions," and concluded by saying, "If I had as much

time as the average college professor has, I probably could write good

grammar, too";--while one sympathizes with the time-driven newspaper man

who never has sufficient leisure to polish a story as he would like, the

fact still remains that the reader cannot tell from looking at a story,

nor should he be allowed to tell, how much rushed the reporter was. The

only thing the reader is interested in is the story, whether it is good

or not; and if he does not regard it as worth while, if the sentences

are faulty, ungrammatical, weak, he will read another story or another


=146. Grammar

The first point to regard in seeking accuracy in the

sentence is good grammar. This may seem a trivial injunction to offer a

coming star reporter on a great metropolitan daily; but the city

editor's assistants have to correct more grammatical errors in cub copy

than any other kind of mistake except spelling and punctuation. The main

violations of grammar may be classified conveniently under four heads:

faulty reference, incorrect verb forms, failures in cooerdinating and

subordinating different parts of a sentence, and poor ellipsis.

=147. Pronouns Referring to Ideas

Probably the most prolific cause of

bad grammar and of obscurity of meaning in news writing may be found in

the use of unclear pronouns. One or more instances may be found in

almost every paper a reader examines. A reporter should assure himself

that every pronoun he uses refers to a particular word in the sentence

and that it agrees with that word in gender and number. The use of a

pronoun to refer to a general idea not expressed in a particular word is

one of the commonest causes of ambiguity and obscurity in newspaper

work. In the following sentence note what a ludicrous turn is given the

sentence by the use of which referring to an idea:

A card from C. A. Laird, son of Harry Laird, informs

the Democrat that his father is slightly improved

and that they now have hopes of his recovery,

although he suffers much pain from his fractured

jaw, which will be good news to his many Lock Haven


=148. Agreement of Pronouns in Number

A second prime cause of

incorrect reference is found in a writer's failure to make a reference

word agree in number with the noun to which it refers. Such faulty

reference occurs most frequently after collective nouns, such as mob,

crowd, council, jury, assembly; after distributive pronouns,

such as everyone, anybody, nobody; and after two or more singular

and plural nouns, where the reporter forgets momentarily to which he is

referring. In the following sentences note that each of the italicized

pronouns violates one or more of these principles, thereby polluting the

clearness of the meaning:

The mob was already surrounding the attorney's home,

but they moved so slowly that we got in ahead.

We have heard more than one express themselves

that next year Merrillan should have the biggest

celebration of the century.

Everyone who had any interest in the boat was

inquiring about their friends and relatives.

A peculiar thing about each one was that they

chose a husband with a given name that rhymed much

the same with their own. Mrs. Baker was Josephine

Ramp and secured Joe as her husband; Arnie Hallauer

and Annie Ramp, Gust Lumblad and Gusta Ramp, and

Eugene Carver and Ella Ramp. The latter is a

widow. The given name of each one commences with the

same letter in each instance.

=149. Ambiguous Antecedents

Then there is a use of the pronoun with

an unclear antecedent buried somewhere in the sentence, so that the

pronoun seems to refer to an intervening word. Such a misuse really is a

matter of clearness rather than of grammar, and should come under the

next section of this chapter, but it will be discussed here for the sake

of including all misuses of the pronoun at once. The ambiguous use of

pronouns is the most common error of faulty reference. The following are

typical illustrations:

The Rev. Mr. Tomlinson states that he wants a

steady, religious young man to look after his garden

and care for his cow who has a good voice and is

accustomed to singing in the choir.

Atkinson telephoned that he was at Zeibski's corners

in his machine and had his wife with him. She had

died on him and he wanted the garage company to come

out and pull her in.

=150. Split Infinitive

Next to faulty reference in frequency comes

the use of incorrect verb forms. Of these probably the most common error

among cub reporters is the employment of the split infinitive,--to

quickly run instead of to run quickly. The split infinitive is not

necessarily an error. There are times when one's precise meaning can be

expressed only by the use of an adverb between to and its infinitive.

But as a rule one should avoid the construction. Certainly there was no

excuse for the following in a Chicago paper:

President Yuan Shi Kai declared he was willing to

permit Professor Frank Johnson Goodnow of Brooklyn,

legal adviser to the Chinese government, to in

August accept the presidency of Johns Hopkins


=151. Infinitive and Participle with Verbs

The use of the infinitive

and the participle with the past tense of verbs is also a cause of

frequent error. Our English rule regarding these parts of the verb is

mainly a matter of usage, accuracy in which may be attained only by

habits of correct speech. But if the reporter will bear in mind that the

infinitive and the participle have no finite tense of their own, that

they always express time relative to the time of the main verb, he will

have taken a real precaution toward preventing confusion. For example,

the newspaper man who wrote,

Detective McGuire had intended to have arrested him

when he began blowing the safe,

did not say what he meant, because the past infinitive here makes the

writer say that Detective McGuire had intended to have the yeggman

already under arrest when he began blowing the safe. What the writer

meant to say was:

Detective McGuire had intended to arrest him when he

began blowing the safe.

Likewise the reporter was inaccurate who wrote:

Going into the basement, they found the cocaine

stored beneath a heap of rags.

He was not accurate, unless he meant that they found the cocaine while

on the way to the basement. The cause of his inaccuracy lies in the fact

that the time expressed by the participle going varies from that of

the main verb. What he should have said was,

Having gone into the basement, ...

or better,

After going into the basement, they found the

cocaine stored beneath a heap of rags.

=152. Dangling Participles

Another detail for careful attention in

the use of the participle is the necessity of having a definite noun or

pronoun in the sentence for the participle to modify. It is wrong to


Having arrived at the county jail, the door was

forced open,

because the sentence seems to say that the door did the arriving. The

sentence should be written,

Having arrived at the county jail, the mob forced

open the door.

=153. Agreement of Verbs

One should watch one's verbs carefully, too,

to see that they agree in number with their subjects. One is sometimes

tempted to make the verb agree with the predicate, as in the following:

The weakest section of the course are the ninth,

tenth, and eleventh holes.

But English usage requires agreement of the verb with the subject. If

the subject is a collective noun, one may regard it as either singular

or plural. But when the writer has made his choice, he must maintain a

consistent point of view. One may say,

The mob were now gathering in the northeast corner

of the yard and yelling themselves hoarse,


The mob was now gathering in the northeast corner of

the yard and yelling itself hoarse.

But the two points of view may not be mixed in the same sentence or the

same paragraph. That the following sentence is wrong should be evident

at a glance:

The Kellog-Haines Singing Party has been on the

lyceum and chautauqua platform for eight years and

have toured together the entire United States.

Confusion is often caused also by qualifying phrases intervening between

subjects and their verbs. Thus:

The number of the strikers and of the members of the

employment associations do not agree with the report

made by the commission.

And sometimes one finds a plural verb wrongly used after the correlative

terms either ... or and neither ... nor, as in the following:

Neither the mother of the children nor the aunt were

held responsible for the accident.

Finally, one often finds reporters consistently using a singular verb

after the expletive there. In fifty per cent of the cases the writers

are wrong. Thus:

The briefest glance at the yard and premises would

have shown that there was more than one in the


Here was should be were.

=154. Cooerdination and Subordination

The third error in grammatical

construction, failure to cooerdinate or subordinate sentences and parts

of sentences properly, cannot be treated with so much sureness as the

two preceding faults; yet certain definite instruction may be given.

And, but, for, or, and nor are called cooerdinating

conjunctions; that is, they are used to connect words, phrases, and

clauses of equal rank. If one uses and to connect a noun with a verb,

or a past participle with a present participle, or a verb in the

indicative mood with one in the subjunctive, he perverts the conjunction

and produces a consequent effect of awkwardness or lack of clearness in

the sentence. Look at the following:

The sister residing in Albany, and who is said to

have struck one of the visiting sisters, followed

them into the sick room.

In this sentence and is used to connect the participle residing with

the pronoun who, and the consequent awkwardness results. This is the

much condemned and who construction. Likewise, in the next sentence:

Five hundred persons saw two boys washed from the

end of Winter's pier and drowning in twenty feet of

water at noon to-day.

And is here used to connect the past participle washed with the

present participle drowning, and the sentence is thereby rendered


=155. Clauses Unequal in Thought

An equally great inaccuracy is the

attempt to connect with a cooerdinate conjunction clauses equivalent in

grammatical construction, but unequal in thought value. Other things

being equal, the ideas of greatest value should be put into independent

clauses, the ideas of least value into dependent clauses or phrases.

Other things being equal, be it understood, for by a too strict

observance of this rule one may easily make the sentence ludicrous. Take

the following as an illustration:

We were to raid the hall precisely at midnight, and

we set our watches to the second.

Here the thought-value of the two clauses is not equal, no matter how

the writer may attempt to make it seem so by expressing the ideas in

clauses grammatically equal. The second clause contains the main idea;

so the first should be subservient. Thus:

As we were to raid the hall precisely at midnight,

we set our watches to the second.

In the corrected form the sentence is given greater force by having the

reader's attention directed specifically to the thought of prime

importance, the setting of the watches. And so with the following

sentences. Note that the second in each case is made more forceful by

centering the attention on what is most important in thought.

The saloons were not allowed after January 1 to keep

open on Sunday, and half of them gave up their


As the saloons were not allowed after January 1 to

keep open on Sunday, half of them gave up their


* * * * *

He fell from the sixth story and was able to walk

away without assistance.

Though he fell from the sixth story, he was able to

walk away without assistance.

=156. Ellipsis

Ellipsis is the omission of a word or phrase necessary

to the meaning of a sentence. An ellipsis is poor when the words omitted

cannot readily be understood from the context. Pope's line,

To err is human; to forgive, divine.

is an illustration of good ellipsis because the word is can readily be

substituted from the context. The following ellipses, however, are not


Louis Flanagan is helping his brother Silas cut wood

and numerous other things.

He shadowed Laux longer than O'Rourke.

Standing on each side of the door, a fat and tall

man looked suspiciously at them.

Ellipsis is often desirable for the sake of brevity, but one must be

sure never to omit a word or phrase unless precisely that word or phrase

may be readily supplied from the context.

=157. Clearness in the Sentence

After correct grammar, the next

points to seek in writing the sentence are clearness and force, which

together give a sentence its interest. Of the two, clearness is the more

important. A reporter should never write a sentence that must be read

twice to be understood. As has been said once or twice already, but may

be repeated for emphasis, news stories to-day are read rapidly, and

rapid reading is possible only when sentences yield their ideas with

small effort on the part of the reader. Consider the following:

The Assembly on Thursday refused to pass the Grell

Bill, permitting the sale of intoxicating liquors,

after the close of the polls on election days, over

the governor's veto.

This sentence is clear if one will stop to read it twice; but there is

the trouble: one must read it twice--a task few will perform.

=158. Grammatically Connected Phrases

The lack of entire clearness in

the sentence just quoted is due to a difficulty over which the best

writers often stumble,--failure to keep grammatically connected words,

phrases, and clauses as close together as possible. In the sentence

quoted, for instance, if the phrase over the governor's veto were

placed immediately after pass, the whole sentence would be clear at

once to the reader. The same fault exists in the following:

The witness said she had a furnished bedroom for a

gentleman 22 feet long by 11 feet wide.

=159. Correlative Conjunctions

The correlative conjunctions, either

... or, neither ... nor, whether ... or, and not only ... but

also, are also particularly liable to trip a writer. Each should come

immediately before the word or phrase it modifies. For example:

Either the prisoner will be hanged or sentenced to

life imprisonment.

This sentence obviously is wrong. Either here should come immediately

before hanged, making the sentence read:

The prisoner will be either hanged or sentenced to

life imprisonment.

=160. "Only" and "Alone."=--Only and alone belong in the same class

of modifiers that demand close watching. Only comes immediately before

the word or phrase it modifies, alone immediately after. One should

avoid using only when alone may be used instead, and should not

place either of the two words between emphatic words or phrases. The

following illustrates an inaccurate placing of only:

The evidence seemed to show that a man could only

obtain advancement in the Hall by submitting wholly

to the dictates of the leaders.

Only here should come immediately before the phrase by submitting.

=161. Parenthetic Expressions

The use of long parenthetic expressions

within a sentence is also a frequent cause of lack of clearness. In

general, sentences within parentheses should be avoided in news

articles. Two short terse sentences are clearer--hence far more

effective--than one long one containing a doubtfully clear parenthetic

phrase or clause. The prime fault with the following sentence, for

instance, is the inclusion of the two parenthetic clauses, necessitating

a close reading to get the meaning:

Even if the allies shall be able to force the

Dardanelles, and present indications are that they

will, the wheat crop in Russia will not be up to the

average from that country on account of the

withdrawal of so many millions of men for purely

military purposes, either in the fields of battle or

in the factories getting munitions of war ready.

Put into two sentences, the illustration becomes:

Even if the allies shall be able to fulfil their

present expectations of forcing the Dardanelles, the

Russian wheat will not be up to the average. Too

many millions of men have been withdrawn from the

field to the trenches and the munition factories to

enable the country to produce a full crop.

=162. Shifted Subject

A shifted subject within a sentence is also

usually a hindrance to clearness. Indeed, one can aid clearness in

successive sentences by retaining as far as possible the same subject.

Certainly one should not shift subjects within the sentence without good

reason. The two following sentences exhibit the weakness of the shifted


The British ambassador to Norway has offered $25,000

reward for his capture, and he bears a special

passport from the Kaiser.

Witter was standing near the curb, but the death-car

passed without his seeing it.

Improved, these sentences become:

The British ambassador to Norway has offered $25,000

reward for the capture of Benson, who bears a

special passport from the Kaiser.

Witter was standing near the curb, but failed to see

the death-car pass.

=163. Coherence

Clearness frequently is destroyed or greatly lessened

through lack of proper coherence. Writers often forget that every

sentence has a double purpose: to convey a meaning itself and to make

clearer the meaning of preceding and succeeding sentences. The reporter

should watch closely to see not only that the phrases of his sentences

follow each other in natural sequence, but also that the relation of

those phrases to adjacent ones in the same or other sentences is clearly

shown. Here is a notice made ludicrous because the reporter used a

connective indicating a wrong relation between two clauses:

Mrs. Alpheus White is on the sick list this week.

Dr. Anderson has been with her, but we hope she may

soon recover.

The connective that the writer should have used, of course, was and,

or else none at all. Substitute the and or merely omit the but and

the coherence is perfect.

=164. Coherence and Unity

Many sentences that appear to lack unity

are really wanting in proper coherence. For instance,

Dr. Alvers was called as soon as the accident was

discovered, and it is feared now she will not


is a sentence lacking in unity, but one that may be unified properly if

the coherence is made good. Thus:

Dr. Alvers was called as soon as the accident was

discovered, and though he gave all the aid that

medical science could render, it is feared now she

will not recover.

=165. Sentence Emphasis

Sentence emphasis is gained in five ways: by

form, position, proportion, repetition, and delicacy of expression.

Sentence form--putting into an independent clause what is most

important--has already been discussed under clearness. The use of

position for emphasis is the placing at the beginning or end of the

sentence the ideas that are most important and the enclosure within of

the less important thoughts. The following sentence illustrates a

writer's failure to avail himself of position for emphasis:

This afternoon reports that she was still missing

from home were being circulated.

But this afternoon and circulated are not the important concepts.

Reports and still missing from home are the emphatic ideas and

should be put first and last respectively. Thus:

Reports were being circulated this afternoon that

she was still missing from home.

So with the following:

This morning fifty convicts of the Kansas State

penitentiary were placed in solitary confinement,

accused of being leaders in a mutiny yesterday in

the coal mines operated by the penitentiary.

This morning and mines operated by the penitentiary are not,

however, the important ideas. A better arrangement of the sentence


Accused of being leaders in a mutiny yesterday in

the penitentiary coal mines, fifty convicts of the

Kansas State penitentiary were placed this morning

in solitary confinement.

Similarly, a phrase or clause transferred from its normal position in

the sentence will attract attention to itself. Note the increased

emphasis upon the matter was purely political in the following

sentence by transference of it from its normal position at the end:

Simpson, who was in the uniform of a lieutenant when

arrested at New Orleans, said the matter was purely


That the matter was purely political was the

statement made by Simpson, who was in the uniform of

a lieutenant when arrested at New Orleans.

=166. Proportion for Emphasis

The emphasis of a sentence in a news

story varies in inverse proportion to its length. Emphasis is gained by

brevity. A prolix style tires the reader; and newspaper space is

valuable. The reporter, therefore, must make his sentences short and

pointed. He must condense, must reduce predication to a minimum. As few

verbs as possible and all verbs active is a slogan in the news room. It

is an error from a newspaper standpoint to include in a sentence any

word that may be omitted without altering or obscuring the sense. One

of the first requisites for success in journalism is ability to present

facts with a minimum of words. Note the added emphasis given the

following sentences by mere reduction in the number of words:

It is well to understand that a high temperature of

heat, boiling or more, destroys the germs of


It is well understood that a high temperature,

boiling or more, destroys germs.

* * * * *

A pioneer living west of Solon blew his head off

to-day with a shotgun. Death followed the deed


A pioneer living west of Solon killed himself

instantly to-day by blowing his head off with a


* * * * *

Miss Helen Goodrich, who is an aviatrix of note, was

arrested in Bremen this morning charged with


Miss Helen Goodrich, an aviatrix of note, was

arrested in Bremen this morning charged with


Note that in the last illustration, in particular, the condensation

consists in reducing predication, in merely removing a verb and a

pronoun from the sentence.

=167. Repetition

The worth of repetition as a means of obtaining

coherence has been discussed in a preceding chapter. Its value as an

effective means of gaining emphasis is also noteworthy. Consider the

effect of the repetition of the word blithe in the following two


A blithe young man met a blithe young woman at State

and Adams Streets Friday. Michael Hurley, a blithe

plain-clothes policeman, met them both.

Great care must be exercised, however, in repeating a word for emphasis.

The usage may easily be a handicap rather than a help. More often than

not, repetition of the same word or phrase is the result of laziness or

paucity of vocabulary, and destroys the force of the sentence. An

instance of too frequent use of the same word--the adjective

beautiful--appears in the following:

The bride was elaborately gowned in a beautiful

sky-blue messaline dress, with silk over lace, and

carried a beautiful bouquet of gladiolis, besides

having a beautiful bouquet of flowers at the waist.

The groom wore the usual blue worsted suit, with a

beautiful buttonhole bouquet, while the bridesmaid

was beautifully gowned in a white French serge

trimmed with a light blue silk girdle and a blue

silk tango cord at the throat, and also had a

beautiful bouquet at the waist. The best man wore a

rich dark gray suit and also had a beautiful

buttonhole bouquet. The room was beautifully

decorated with green foliage and roses, formed into

a beautiful arch, under which the couple stood

during the ceremony, which was performed by Rev.

Wells of this city.

=168. Delicacy of Expression

Delicacy of expression is that quality

in news writing which distinguishes the star reporter from the cub. It

may be learned, but never taught. It is this elusive element in writing

and the inability of instructors to impart it that make many journalists

say news writing cannot be taught. Delicacy of expression is not

effeminacy. It is originality; it is cleverness; it is nimbleness of wit

and beauty of phrase; it is grace; it is simplicity; it is restraint; it

is tact. It is all these, and more. It is that intuition in a star man

which forbids his beginning the same kind of story day after day with a

fixed, hackneyed type of sentence, which makes him avoid triteness of

expression. It is that something in him which compels him to avoid

affectation, to love beauty and grace, born of simplicity,

unadornedness. It is that inborn sense of good taste that restrains the

writer from indelicate, personal allusions so offensive to men and

women of refinement. All this and more is delicacy of expression, and

blest is the journalist who has it. The reporter who wrote the following

had not yet learned the art:


At 7:30 the sounds of the wedding march scintillated

through the Havens house like tired waves laving the

shores of a mighty lake. Seldom if ever has such a

scene been witnessed in this place. The smell of

spring flowers was everywhere coming to all

nostrils. Presently there was a slight disturbance

at the right hand entrance, and then the bride

entered on the arm of her father, William Havens,

the well-known merchant. Simultaneous at the

opposite door was another disturbance, and the

bridegroom entered attended by Henry Merrill of Des

Moines. Then the two parties proceeded down the

middle aisles, meeting under a beautiful marriage

bell where the two hearts were beautifully made as

one, which was followed by congratulations all along

the aisles.


Mr. Joe Craig and Miss Cora Schell, both of Mena,

were quietly married at the Hotel Main, Durant,

Okla., Monday, and are boarding at this hotel. Mr.

Craig is well known as a skilful bricklayer, honest

and industrious. The bride is well known in this

city and proved her worth by the years she served

the Lochridge Dry Goods Company as cashier. She is a

member of the Woodmen Circle and carries a large

insurance. We regret that she must leave, but like

Rebekah of old, she leaves home, family, and friends

to travel the journey of life with her "Isaac" (Joe)

in a distant land. We feel that the expression of

all her friends is that the best this world affords

will be theirs to the end of their journey and that

a new life awaits them in another and higher sphere.

=169. Essentials of the Sentence

If a reporter can write

grammatically correct sentences,--if he can cooerdinate and subordinate

accurately the different parts; if he can give all the pronouns definite

antecedents; if he can keep his verbs consistent, having them agree in

person and number with their subjects; if he can make effective use of

ellipsis,--his sentences will possess the first essentials of a good

sentence,--accuracy. If he can make his sentences clear and

forceful,--if he can keep grammatically connected words, phrases, and

clauses close together; if he can eliminate lengthy parenthetic

expressions; if he can avoid unnecessary shifts of subjects within

sentences; if he can make readily clear the relation of every phrase in

a sentence to every other phrase in it and adjoining sentences; if he

can put important ideas at the beginning and the end of the sentence; if

he can make his sentences short and concise; if he can acquire delicacy

of expression,--his sentences will possess the second requisite of a

good sentence,--interest. Accuracy and interest, these are the elements

that make a sentence good. And the greater of these is accuracy.

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