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English sentences are clearest, most forceful, and easiest to understand if they are simple and direct. If instead sentences are complicated and indirect, the reader is slowed down and even confused. Five techniques that help keep sentences simple and direct are

  • Expressing the core of the message in the subject, verb, and completer

  • Avoiding noun clusters

  • Writing short sentences

  • Using clear pronouns

  • Putting parallel ideas in parallel form

We will examine these five techniques, and also five other techniques, in this chapter.


A sentence is most likely to be simple and direct if the subject, verb, and completer convey the core of the message. To ensure that they do, make the topic the subject of the sentence and put the action of the sentence in the verb. (The topic is what the sentence is talking about. The action is what the topic is doing or what is being done to it.)

Make the Topic the Subject of the Sentence

Example 2.1

The children with arteriovenous shunts had the shunts opened, heparin injected, and the arterial and venous sides of the shunt clamped.

In this sentence, the subject and verb are children had. But the topic of this sentence is not children, and the message is not about children having something (as it would be, for example, in the sentence, "The children had diabetes mellitus"). This sentence has three topics—shunts, heparin, and the sides of the shunt—and the message of the sentence is about what happened to them. Therefore, these terms should be the subjects of the sentence.


In the children who had arteriovenous shunts, the shunts were opened, heparin was injected, and the arterial and venous sides of the shunt were clamped.

In this revision, the topics are the subjects of the sentence, and the subjects and verbs convey the message of the sentence.

Put the Action in the Verb

Verbs express action in English. If the action of a sentence is expressed by the main verb, the sentence is natural and direct and easy to understand. If, instead, the action is expressed in a noun, the sentence is oblique, tangled, and more difficult to understand.

Many nouns that express action are made by adding a noun ending to a verb, as in the list below. In addition, the verbs "increase" and "decrease" are used as nouns.

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Noun Endings Used to Make Nouns from Verbs
Ending Verb Noun
-tion prolong, inhibit form, decompose prolongation, inhibition formation, decomposition
-ment measure, assess measurement, assessment
-ence occur, exist occurrence, existence
-al remove removal

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