Keep the Verb Close to the Subject

Which sentence sounds better?

1. “The module will pass, from Google to Facebook, personal data about health, income, and eligibility.”

2. “The module will take personal data from Google about health, income, and eligibility and pass it to Facebook.”

If you said #1, you’re correct. But can you identify why?

I’ll leave it to Richard Lauchman, author of Plain Style: Techniques for Simple, Concise, Emphatic Business Writing, to explain:

“Reveal the verb early. The reader hungers for the verb. She holds her breath until the verb arrives, because until it arrives she has no sense of what the overall expression is about. Try not to separate the verb from the subject; put those words as close together as you can.”

1 comment:

  1. As the writer who took Example 1 and rewrote it as Example 2 (see what I've done there?), I respectfully submit that Example 2 is better. Here's why.
    When Lauchman writes "reveal the verb early," he means "After you name the subject, don't leave your readers holding their breath for the main verb. In both examples, the noun is immediately followed by a main verb: "module will pass" in example 1, "module will take" in example 2.
    But--you object--Example 2 has a second main verb: "pass." Yes, that's true. But our readers aren't anxiously anticipating the second verb; they're not even aware a second main verb it's coming. And when it makes its appearance, it doesn't throw the reader into upheaval.
    What you've overlooked is that there's a companion rule that states, "Don't separate a grammatical object from the prepositional phrase that it introduces." And example 1 breaks that rule, separating "personal data" from "to the web interface" by nine words.
    Finally, in wording Example 2 as I did, I was unabashedly aiming to write the way we speak: in the common idiom.
    Which works better:
    "Shove this job"?
    or"
    "Take this job and shove it"?

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