Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Our friend the pronoun

You have to admit, the pronoun is a handy part of speech:

A nurse who had finished her shift at Presbyterian Hospital was stabbed early Wednesday morning during an apparent robbery near the Charlotte hospital, authorities say.


See? Without having to repeat the noun, you can tell me exactly who the relative clause is talking about. And if you belong to the subset of the population that's still a bit freaked out at the idea of boy nurses and lady doctors, you don't have to take any of your cultural prejudices public; you'd be just as clear if you had said "a doctor who had finished her shift" or "a nurse who had finished his shift."

Great stuff, that grammar.* So great that you wonder where the pronouns went in the third graf:

Authorities say the nurse was attacked by a man who stabbed the nurse while grabbing the woman’s purse and tote bag.

The nurse was attacked by a man who stabbed the nurse while robbing the woman? Excuse us while we review the cast of characters.

An ongoing theme of the Monster Editing Research Project is it doesn't take a lot to make a story more attractive to the audience -- but it does take something. About a minute's worth of work could have taken the headscratchers out of this story and left time to take a deep breath and look over it all again. I can't tell you that hiring a few extra editors to work out the kinks in paragraphs like this one will drive your stock price back to where it was. I can tell you, with a fairly high degree of confidence, what a general audience thinks. Your audience would rather have the editors.

* "The Charlotte hospital" doesn't add much to the lede; a smoother edit would have put it in the second graf (not shown): "in a parking lot across from the hospital, on Third Street in Charlotte."

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5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

So that's why you've been so quiet lately...

9:42 PM, June 27, 2012  
Anonymous accommodation denmark said...

We should thank whoever discovered the pronoun or else names when use will be redundant. It ain't nice to have pronoun?

8:06 AM, June 29, 2012  
Anonymous raYb said...

I dunno about this. The pro nouns are great in their place. But where does the accomplished amateur noun fit in?

9:02 PM, June 30, 2012  
Blogger fev said...

It slips into the low second round and then gets traded to Detroit!

Thanks, I'll be here all week. Don't forget your server!

4:27 PM, July 01, 2012  
Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

Indeed. The pronoun is so expected that if you don't put it in, the reading goes wildly astray. (And if you repeat proper nouns, you begin to sound, well, stupid: Jones was attacked by a man who stabbed Jones while grabbing Jones's* purse.) Not using the pronoun virtually forces your reader to assume another person is involved.

* I (gladly) follow CMOS on this: Jones's, not Jones'. Sue me.

5:51 PM, July 08, 2012  

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