An Unacceptably Long Sentence

Consider the following overloaded sentence from a newspaper. Professional  journalists, no matter how hurried, really should do better than this: it would have taken only a minute or two more to unravel the various ideas within the story and assign them to separate sentences or at least independent clauses.
?? Ernest Saunders, the former Guinness chairman and chief executive, has been given leave to apply for a High Court judicial review of his being refused legal aid to appeal to the House of Lords against the Court of Appeal’s refusal to stay the action brought against him by Guinness pending the outcome of his criminal trial.
-The Independent
And here are a few nursery rhymes, ‘stylishly’ rewritten as a single sentence in each case. The original versions, with their several short sentences or easily distinguishable and absorbable clauses.
Little Bo-peep, having lost her sheep and not knowing where to find them, on being advised to leave them alone and assured that they would come home dragging their tails behind them, fell in to a deep sleep, during which she dreamt she heard them bleating and from which she awoke only to find it a joke, for they were still a-fleeting, upon which she took up her little crook and, determined to find them, found them indeed, though it made her heart bleed, for they’d left their tails behind them.
There was a crooked man who walked a crooked mile, in the course of which he found a crooked sixpence upon a crooked stile, later buying a crooked cat which caught a crooked mouse, enabling them all to live together in a crooked little house.
Goosey goosey gander,
Whither shall I wander
But upstairs and downstairs
And in my lady’s chamber
Where I met an old man
Who wouldn’t say his prayers
And whom I took by the left leg

And threw down the stairs.

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Effective Repetition

Repeating a word or phrase can have positive advantages, alongside the negative virtue of averting confusion. It  can serve to emphasise ideas and drive a point home, and to link two separate ideas by signposting their similarity or contrast. And it can produce a number of rhetorical effects as well –Such as  humour, persuasiveness, or a sense of nostalgia. Many sentences derive their force from skilful repetition of a key word, such as special in the following example:
The special effects are stunning, but they are the only thing special about the film.
In the following  extract, from an article on the fate of soccer in the U.S., the writer uses repetition very effectively to convey his amused frustration and mock-urgency-note  specifically the repetition  of
Well-mannered and the chant-like refrain of we need…
The American players, for example, were describedin the press  as well-mannered.
How can you get the ink necessary for success in sports by being well-mannered?
We need heated arguments on the field between participants and officials, like in baseball…
We need blood, like in hockey…
We need bruising collisions, like in [American] football, and a proper amount of concussions per game.
-Ira Berkow  (U.S.), The New York Times
Finally, two passages –one from fiction, one from non-fiction-in which the writer chooses each time to repeat a person’s  name rather than always using the expected pronouns he and him.
Mr Kelada was chatty. He talked of New York and of San Francisco… Mr Kelada was familiar. I do not wish to put on airs, but I cannot help feeling that it is seemly in a total stranger to put mister before my name when the addresses me. Mr Kelada, doubtless  to set me at my ease, used no such formality.
I did not like Mr Kelada,
-Somerset Maugham, ‘Mr Know-All’
In April 1982, Greek-born Dimitris  Sgouros  walked on to the platform of Carnegie Hall, New York and made his American debut playing Rachmaninoff’s awesome 3rd piano Concerto,a massive work which stands at the peak of the romantic virtuoso tradition.
Sgouros totally dominated its technical  demands . Sgouros was twelve years old.
-Robin Ray, ‘Infant Prodigies’,
Theatre programme note.

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Conclusion

“We have a language that is full of ambiguities; we have a way of expressing ourselves that is often complex and allusive, poetic and modulated; all our thoughts can be rendered with absolute clarity if we bother to put the right dots and squiggles between the words in the right places. Proper punctuation is both the sign and the cause of clear thinking. If it goes, the degree of intellectual improverishment we face is unimaginable”.

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How to use the dash ?

The dash has only one major use:

  • To use in pairs to separate a strong interruption from the rest of the sentence (a strong interruption, as opposed to a weak interruption, is one which forcefully disrupts the flow of the sentence and, as such, it usually contains a verb rather simply being a phrase) [All nations desire econmic growth – some even achieve it – but it is easier said than done.]

Note: Only one dash is used if the strong interruption comes at the beginning or the end of the sentence. [We earnestly desire peace for all nations of the world – and we will work hard for it.]
There are several minor uses of the dash:

  • To add emphasis or drama [He said that he would go – and he did.]
  • To indicate a range of numbers [900-1000]
  • To link two connected words [the Sydney-Melbourne train]
  • To indicate an abrupt break in thought.
    Example: The truth is–and you probably know it–we can’t do without you.
  • Use a dash to mean namely, in other words, or that is before an explanation.
    Example: It was a close call–if he had been in a worse mood, I don’t think I’d still be here.

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How to use square brackets ?

There are two uses of square brackets (which, confusingly, Americans call simply brackets):

  • to set off an interruption within a direct quotation [Churchill said of the Battle of Britain: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few [the Royal Air Force pilots]”.]
  • to set off material which is extraneous to the main text, such as the examples of the usage of punctuation in this essay or comments in a draft document which are not intended to be in the final version

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How to use brackets ?

There is one major use of brackets (or round brackets, as they are often called, or parentheses, as they are called in America)

  • to use in pairs to set off a strong or weak interruption, as with a pair of dashes or a pair of bracketed commas [I knew she loved me (I was not wrong) which is why I proposed.]

Note: Round brackets are normally used instead of dashes or bracketed commas where the interruption is something of an aside from, or a supplement to, the main sentence.
There is a minor use of brackets:

  • to enclose an acronym after the acronym has been spelt out [European Union (EU)]

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How to use quotation marks ?

There is only one use of quotation marks (or quotes, speech marks, or inverted commas, as they are often called):

  • To enclose a direct quotation [Hamlet’s most famous speech begins: “To be or not to be”.]

Note 1: Strictly speaking, the only punctuation marks that should go inside the quotation marks are those that are part of the quotation itself. [He screamed out “Help me!” and so I went to his aid.]
Note 2: International practice varies on whether quotation marks should be double or single (I use double) but, when one has a quotation within a quotation, one uses the other type of quotation marks (in my case, single) [He told me: “Your use of the phrase ‘in this day and age’ is hackneyed”.]
Note 3: There is a version of quotation marks known informally as scare quotes and these are used when the writer wishes to signify that the quoted word or words are odd or inappropriate or the writer wishes to express irony or even sarcasm. [Daniel was assured that he would be ‘safe’ in the lion’s den.]
Note 4: One final use of quotation marks is when one is talking about a word or phrase when one normally uses single quotation marks. [Someone I know overuses the word ‘actually’.]
Other use of quotation mark are as follows:

  1. Put periods and commas inside quotes.
  2. Put colons and semicolons outside quotes.
  3. Vary placement of exclamation and question marks according to meaning.

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How to use the dash ?

The dash has only one major use:

  • To use in pairs to separate a strong interruption from the rest of the sentence (a strong interruption, as opposed to a weak interruption, is one which forcefully disrupts the flow of the sentence and, as such, it usually contains a verb rather simply being a phrase) [All nations desire econmic growth – some even achieve it – but it is easier said than done.]

Note: Only one dash is used if the strong interruption comes at the beginning or the end of the sentence. [We earnestly desire peace for all nations of the world – and we will work hard for it.]
There are several minor uses of the dash:

  • To add emphasis or drama [He said that he would go – and he did.]
  • To indicate a range of numbers [900-1000]
  • To link two connected words [the Sydney-Melbourne train]
  • To indicate an abrupt break in thought.
    Example: The truth is–and you probably know it–we can’t do without you.
  • Use a dash to mean namely, in other words, or that is before an explanation.
    Example: It was a close call–if he had been in a worse mood, I don’t think I’d still be here.

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How to use the hyphen ?

There are two main uses of the hyphen:

  • In writing compound words that would be ambiguous, hard to read or excessively long [no-smoking sign and black-cab driver]
  • To indicate that a long word has been broken off at the end of a line (however, this should be avoided if possible)
  • A minor use of the hyphen is:

    To avoid what is called letter collision {de-ice or shell-like] Other uses of hyphen are as follows:

    1. Use a hyphen to divide a word at the end of a line.

    Example: If you are not sure where to hyphen- ate a word, look it up in the dictionary.

    2. Hyphenate a compound adjective when it precedes the word it modifies.

    Examples: fast-moving train, long-distance runner.

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    How to use the apostrophe ?

    The apostrophe is the most misused punctuation mark in the English language by far, but this should not be the case since there are only two major uses of the apostrophe:

  • To indicate a contraction which is a form of word in which one or more letters are omitted
  • [it’s instead of it is or aren’t instead of are not]

  • To indicate possession
  • [Roger’s web site]

    Note 1: The first use of the apostrophe should usually be avoided in formal writing.

    Note 2: The second use of the apostrophe involves placing the apostrophe at the end of the word when the word is plural and ends in ‘s’ [workers’ rights].

    Other uses of apostrophe are:

    1. To form the possessive case of a singular noun, add an apostrophe and an s. Examples: Bob’s car; One’s home. If the addition of an “s” produces an awkward sound, add only the apostrophe. Usually, this is when there is already a double “s” sound. Examples: Moses’; for old times’ sake; for goodness’ sake.

    2. To form the possessive case of a plural noun, add an apostrophe after the s. Example: girls’ teams. If the plural form of the word does not end in s, add an apostrophe and an s. Example: women’s team.

    3. Use an apostrophe to show where letters have been omitted in a contraction. Examples: can’t = cannot; it’s = it is.

    Note 3: There are three very common misuses of the apostrophe.

  • The most frequent misuse is in writing plural forms, especially in signs and notices, but it is totally wrong to write pizza’s or CD’s or even in English English 1990’s (this is the usage in American English).
  • The second misuse, which is almost as common, is it’s instead of its to indicate possession [It’s wrong to hit its head].
  • The final misuse involves confusion between ‘who’s’ which is an abbreviation of ‘who is’ [the man who’s coming to visit] and ‘whose’ which shows possession [the man whose house is over there].

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