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Advice Practice
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Sentences
  Making longer sentences
    Clauses
    Phrases

  Placing the parts of a sentence

  How using short or longer   sentences affects your work
    Short sentences
    Longer sentences

Verbs
  Placing and using verbs
  How using personal or   impersonal affects your work

Development Level Checklist


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Development Level Advice

Verbs - Placing and using verbs

Your meaning and how clear your work is can be affected by where you place a verb or part of a verb, and by how many verbs you use.

Placing the main verb

The nearer the main verb is to its subject, the easier the sentence is to understand. If there are many words between them the reader may be confused.

Example
*Modern science fiction films, some of which have strange creatures or large crowd scenes, others of which have strange machines or planets exploding, and all of which are very expensive to make, often use computer graphics for their special effects.

The subject and verb are underlined. The sentence is confusing because the main verb is so far from its subject.

Here is a clearer version
Computer graphics are often used for special effects in modern science fiction films, some of which have strange creatures or large crowd scenes, others of which have strange machines or planets exploding, and all of which are very expensive to make.

The following looks at three main issues.

Placing the verb near the subject

The nearer the verb to the subject the clearer your meaning.

Example
*1940s Hollywood films which come into the category of 'film noire', that is they are filmed in black and white with shadowy effects and often have a detective story with a 'tough guy' hero and a beautiful, wise-cracking heroine, were often made by Europeans who were fleeing the war in Europe.

The subject and main verb are bold. The sentence is confusing, because the main verb is so far from its subject.

The following is clearer.

1940s Hollywood films which come into the category of 'film noire' were often made by Europeans who were fleeing the war in Europe. These films are filmed in black and white with shadowy effects, and often have a detective story with a 'tough guy' hero and a beautiful, wise-cracking heroine.

Avoiding splitting up parts of a verb

It can cause confusion if you put words between parts of a verb.

  • Placing words between to and the verb in an infinitive can confuse the reader.
Example
This is clear. The infinitive is highlighted.
Many students would like to have a good job when they graduate, because they see this as rewarding them for all their hard work.

This is less clear. The infinitive (highlighted) has been split up.
*Many students would like to, because they see this as rewarding them for all their hard work, have a good job when they graduate.

  • Putting other words between the parts of a verb can confuse the reader e.g. where you have an add-on like be or have

Example
This is clear.
When we have had many assignments in a few weeks, we have had to work hard.

This is more confused.
*When we have in a few weeks had many assignments, we have had to work hard.

The number of verbs

Sentences with a higher ratio of verbs to nouns tend to be easier to read.

Example
In the examples the verbs are underlined and nouns are in bold.

The first sentence is easier to read because it has more verbs.
When students and tutors have an opportunity to talk to each other frequently, there are several results, these include greater clarity about the course and greater sympathy between them.

*The several results of opportunities for frequent conversations between students and tutors include greater clarity about the course and greater sympathy between them.

Note. In the above example, the first sentence is clearer but it is longer. You need to get the right balance between work being concise and it being readable - see Being concise in the Development Level of Use of Words.

© Learning & Teaching Institute, Sheffield Hallam University 2004