Your Words are Relative

One challenge I’ve seen writers struggle with is keeping related words together. You may be thinking, Huh? But when I explain, you’ll understand.

Think back to English grammar and you’ll recall that adjectives modify nouns. Here’s an example of what not to do by keeping adjectives away from what they modify. “The woman rode on the float in the parade as joyful as could be.” Now, floats and parades can be joyful, but it’s better so make sure the reader understands it was the woman who was joyful. A better choice would be “The joyful woman rode on the float in the parade.”

You might recall that adverbs modify adjectives, verbs, and other adverbs. An adverb should be close to the word it’s modifying. Here’s an example of what not do do. “Susan noticed an embedded woodtick that was clearly in the dog’s ear.” A better choice would be “Susan  noticed a woodtick clearly embedded in the dog’s ear.”

Then we have the relationship of the pronoun to the noun (antecedent). Readers expect pronouns to relate the nearest antecedent. So if you’re writing about a young girl exploring grandma’s attic, you’ll want to make sure your pronoun refers to the correct female. For example, let’s say the young girl is Mary and, of course, grandma is Grandma.  You wouldn’t write “Mary knew Grandma kept special things in the attic and she couldn’t wait to once again explore the dark space.” Well, what antecedent (noun) does she (pronoun) refer to? Convention says Grandma because that’s the closest noun to the prounoun. But I suspect the writer intends the answer to be Mary. The sentence is more clear if written,  “Mary knew she couldn’t wait to once again explore the attic, the dark space where Grandma kept special things.”

It just takes a little tweaking make sure your reader understands your intent. Your words are relative–all you have to do is make sure they get along and they’ll be better understood.

Happy writing!

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1 Response to “Your Words are Relative”


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