Monday, July 13, 2015

The First Should Be Last and the Last Should be Somewhere In the Middle

When you write, you ought to be aware of the fact that some parts of your sentence, line, paragraph, and essay or article or email or whatever the entire document may be are more important than others.

Studies show that people better remember the end of a sentence, line, etc. than they do any other part. The beginning of the sentence, etc. is remembered second best. And the middle of the sentence, etc. is remembered least well.

This has implications for your writing. Of course, your standard sentence is structured such that the subject comes first, then the verb, then the object (at least, in English sentences are so structured). Sentences structured this way imply that the object is most important, followed, by the subject, followed by the action engaged in by the subject. Yet, there are ways in which we can vary our sentences. Also, take the sentence I just wrote. The fact that it begins with "yet" suggests that the comparison is important. In addition, I ended it with the word "sentences," suggesting that that is the most important part of the sentence. I could have written it "Yet, we can vary our sentences in many ways." In this sentence, "ways" is suggested to be the most important; specifically, "in many ways," as "ways" is part of a prepositional phrase. In the second sentence, the variation is emphasized, while in the first sentence, the topic "sentence" is emphasized. Which is more important? It depends on what you want to emphasize. What the subject/topic of your paragraph or paper may be.

Probably prepositions are not the most interesting or important words in your sentence. It is for this reason more than any that you should not end your sentences in prepositions. What should you end sentences with? With what you should end sentences? Which is more important? "With" or "sentences"? Which reflects the general topic of this post?

Do you want to emphasize action? Do you want people to act? There are probably ways you can rearrange your sentences so that your verbs find themselves at the end, where they can show that they are doing their work. Some languages, like German, make emphasizing the action easier because the end is where their verbs appear. English, of course, typically places verbs in the middle, suggesting action is not very important. To place it at the beginning or the end will emphasize the importance of verbs.

Given the way English is structured, you would think that adjectives -- the qualities things have -- are quite important, since we typically place our adjectives before our nouns. French, Spanish, and many other languages put most of their adjectives after the nouns, emphasizing the importance of the nouns over the qualities. So important are qualities that the immediate way one thinks of rearranging sentences to place adjectives after nouns results in the following:

The small, brick house . . .
The house was small and brick.

That revision actually makes the adjectives more importance, since they come at the end of the sentence! But consider this revision:

The small, brick house was nestled in the woods.
The house -- small and brick -- was nestled in the woods.

Here we emphasize "house," but at the expense of the fluidity of the sentence. We have to break it up, make it choppier.

The long and short of it is that whatever you most want to emphasize, you need to place it in either the first position, making it the first thing your reader reads, or in the last position, making it the final thing they read. Because whatever you end with is what they are most likely to remember.

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