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Tuesday Thought: Stark attachments 1

March 27, 2012

One thing that distinguishes professional writing from the common is the variety of sentence structures. Most writers cling to five or six basic types that they’ve used since high school or college. Professional writers use many more, perhaps 40 or 50. Among those are what we (at ClearWriter) call stark attachments–phrases attached as appositives or similar forms at the front of a sentence, in the middle, or at the back.

Start by looking for two sentences or independent clauses with the same subject.

Here is a starkly attached leading part from this week’€™s New Yorker, in Michael Specter’s piece on carbon emissions, ‘Big Foot.’

Compelled by economic necessity as much as by ecological awareness, many corporations now seem to compete as vigorously to display their environmental credentials as they do to sell their products.

The common version would have been:

Many corporations now seem to compete as vigorously to display their environmental credentials as they do to sell their products. They are compelled by economic necessity as much as by ecological awareness.

Note the pattern of two sentences with the same subject: Many corporations and they.

The stark attachment could also have been an inner part, after the subject:

Many corporations, compelled by economic necessity as much as by ecological awareness, now seem to compete as vigorously to display their environmental credentials as they do to sell their products.

Or it could have been a trailing part:

Many corporations now seem to compete as vigorously to display their environmental credentials as they do to sell their products, compelled by economic necessity as much as by ecological awareness.

Where you place a stark attachment usually depends on the emphasis you wish to give it. The earlier, the more emphatic.

Here’€™s another sentence from the same piece:

Thomas takes a utilitarian approach to the problem, attempting to convince corporations, pension funds, and other investors that the price of continuing to ignore the impact of greenhouse-gas emissions will soon greatly exceed the cost of reducing them.

Dictating the placement here is logic: the second clause elaborates on the first.

The common version would have been:

Thomas takes a utilitarian approach to the problem. He attempts to convince corporations, pension funds, and other investors that the price of continuing to ignore the impact of greenhouse-gas emissions will soon greatly exceed the cost of reducing them.

Again, note the pattern: two sentences with the same subject, always a candidate for folding part of one sentence into the front, middle, or back of the other.

Here’s another example:

I asked if they paid attention to labels. ‘Of course,’ the man said. He looked a bit insulted.

And here is how Specter attached the second sentence to the back of the one preceding it:

I asked if they paid attention to labels. ‘Of course,’ the man said, looking a bit insulted.

Trailing parts often start with -ing words (gerunds, participles).

Other candidates for stark attachments are sentences with two or more verbs, with a who or which clause, or with a long prepositional phrase–€”each to be covered in coming posts.

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