So yeah, my sentence structure and grammar. Fun, right?

Once again, if you missed the last post, you might want to check it out to ramp up for this. And here’s the example of how I speak if you missed that.

Good to go?

All right…

Sentence starters

When I’m writing, I plan out – at least a little bit – how I want to start each sentence. When I’m speaking, though, I’m always running from thought to thought. So my sentences, as a result, often begin with a connector.

  • And
  • But
  • Because
  • Or
  • So

This was a big shift for me back when I first noticed this. See, before that in school, I had learned I wasn’t supposed to start with those words. So even after I noticed the way I spoke, I didn’t immediately add it to my writing.

One day, though, I guess I was reading something when I noticed that the author was doing it all the time. I thought, Well, if he can do it – and I’m a big fan – then I can do. And that was the last I worried about it.

Beginning with what’s important

This is still a balancing act for me. When I speak, I jump right into the most important part of the sentence first. That’s how I think… probably you too.

Strunk and White in The Elements Of Style, which I highly recommend for writers, said that the most important word in a sentence is the last word. That’s the word we remember.

Consider these two examples:

  • We talked about love as we walked down the road to the house.
  • As we walked down the road to the house, we talked about love.

The first is probably how I’d actually say it in person. The second, though, emphasizes the conversation topic: love. You can almost feel the second sentence teasing you into a followup paragraph on past relationships, while in the first sentence, love gets lost.

Of course, it depends on context. I might not want to focus on the conversation topic. But assuming I do, the second example seems like the better choice even though that’s not how I talk.

So all that to say, I try to avoid lengthy, dependent clauses at the beginning of my sentences, but I also love forcing the important word to the end of the sentence. This is a case where I often side more with classic writing tricks than how I speak.

Sentence length

If you go back through the transcription of me speaking, you’ll notice that the average sentence is much too long. That gets annoying in writing, so I generally cut them up in print.

That’s how I end up with sentences like this. Because I want the feeling of oral pauses. Even though the sentence isn’t over yet. Although in this case, it’s clearly forced.

“What that means is that…”

On the flip side of sentence length, the side where I start creating longer sentences, is this sentence structure. It comes in a number of varieties:

  • What I mean by that is…
  • Problem is…
  • One of the great things about this is…

Those are just a few examples. In most cases, I could cut out that fluff in the beginning and jump right into whatever I’m trying to say:

  • (What I mean by that is,) I don’t like peanut butter.
  • (Problem is,) I feel lousy.
  • (One of the great things about this is that) it helps my writing match how I speak.

When I’m speaking, these preambles can really ramble, sometimes wondering off into sentences by themselves.

My general rule when I’m writing is to include some if they’re short enough, like if I can say them in one breath. <<Like that example (instead of, “As a general rule when I’m writing, I try to include…”).

Ending with prepositions

Some examples I use all the time:

  • On
  • About
  • From
  • Like
  • Over
  • Up
  • For
  • Into
  • By
  • At
  • Along
  • With

Evidently, we’re not supposed to end sentences with prepositions. I’m like whatever with that.

The most obvious place to do this is at the end of questions.

  • What did you do that for?
  • Who are you going with?
  • Would you like me to come along?

You probably say this stuff all the time but might not even realize it’s technically wrong.

Technically, smechnically. It sounds way more conversational than the “With whom are you going?” garbage.

Even when it’s not a question…

  • That’s what I needed to talk about.
  • I wonder what she looks like.
  • Wow, he doesn’t even know what he’s getting into.

Ending with “right?”

You’ve noticed that I sometimes end with “right,” right? <<Cheap, not funny joke. 🙂

I do this way, way too much when I speak, so I have to do it at least a couple times when I write.

Just like the previous thing about ending with prepositions, ending with right hurts the strength of a sentence. So I try to be careful using it. Some people would probably say I over do it. It’s a style thing, I guess. (“I guess” is another example.)

“Whom” is not in my vocabulary

I get that I’m supposed to use it, that it’s supposed to signal an indirect object. But I don’t care. I never say it (except when I’m poking fun at it), so why write it?

  • This is the man whom Sally loves. <<Correct.
  • This is the man (who) Sally loves. <<Me. Either replace it with “who” or dump it altogether.

My theory is that…

  1. In most situations where I should use whom, I shouldn’t use the phrase at all. “To whom it may concern”? “With whom are you going?” Come on – speak and write like a person, not a morgue.
  2. For the two or three situations where I should use whom and still like the phrase, most people won’t notice that who isn’t correct… but they might notice if I broke out some archaic word like whom.

In other words, I’ve dumped whom altogether because I want to sound informal. I don’t want walls.

In fact, that approach guides most of my writing.

So yeah, check back with the example of how I speak and see how much of this is in there. Tomorrow, I’ll talk about punctuation.