Some of the hard part of writing

rogersgeorge on March 24th, 2010

A large portion of the advice on this humble site has been fairly straightforward, examples of the use and misuse of easy-to-understand rules that can be followed more or less mechanically. Sometimes, though, you have to actually think about what you’re writing. No rule but the meaning.

So here’s the rule: Be sure you say what you mean.

I have a couple examples of how to get this wrong. These are all examples of real writing, gleaned from various sources, online and off.

The impressive lobby features doric columns leading to an elegant wooden staircase of fine oak joinery which is almost unique in Ireland.

Let’s look at the issue of “almost” unique. Unique means one of a kind. You can’t be almost one of a kind—you are or you aren’t.

We have another problem with this sentence. Exactly what does Ireland have so few of? Columns that lead to elegant staircases? The staircases themselves? The oak joinery? Or perhaps a combination of these? Adjective clauses such as this one (“which is almost unique…”), which has a choice of candidates to modify, can be tricky if you want to be unambiguous.

How would you recast the sentence? Tell us in the comments.

Another example of the need to think when you write next time.

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