Thursday, October 17, 2013

Avoid a long separation between a subject and verb

Don’t overburden your reader by including a long separation between a sentence's subject and verb. So cautions GopenGeorge Gopen, a professor emeritus of rhetoric at Duke University. In the summer 2013 issue of Litigation, Gopen explains that readers expect a sentence’s actor and its action to be close together. A short intervening word like however will not be intrusive, but readers will stumble at a long interruption, and they may even miss its import.  How long is too long?  One example that Gopen finds acceptable is three words long, and I think even four or five words can work in some contexts. But if you have more words than that between a subject and verb, consider recasting the sentence.

Gopen was the 2011 winner of the Legal Writing Institute’s Golden Pen Award.


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