Confusing or Awkward Sentence Structure

This issue is similar to that of run-on sentences and sentence fragments, but confusing or awkward sentence structure isn’t always incorrect or unsound grammatically. Confusing sentences are often long, but they don’t have to be. They may just have weird word choices, odd or missing punctuation, or a combination of the two. Often repetitive and wordy sentences can be confusing, even if they’re relatively short.

Here are two examples of this common writing weakness:

The positive rhetoric position of this poem is to achieve the mentality of how women ought to value their beauty. This sentence suffers from odd word choices and subject/predicate confusion.

    • The phrase “positive rhetoric position” doesn’t mean anything obvious. Although rhetoric can be positive and an author can have a rhetorical position, the two concepts don’t mesh well and thus this phrase is confusing.
    • The subject, “position,” doesn’t quite match the predicate “is to achieve.” It’s possible the writer meant that the position taken in the poem is designed to achieve something, but it’s not clear.
    • The writer says that the position is achieving “the mentality of how women ought to value their beauty,” but a position cannot achieve any mentality, since it has no consciousness.
    • It’s not clear what the author means by “mentality of how women ought to value their beauty.” Does the writer mean the mentality that says women must care about their presentation? The exact opposite? It’s too vague to draw a conclusion.

This poem attempts to persuade the reader to think that a dream deferred or postponed undergoes such a change that it resembles a chemical change, a usually irreversible chemical reaction involving the rearrangement of the atoms of one or more substances and a change in their chemical properties or composition, resulting in the formation of at least one new substance. Do you remember what the writer was talking about at the beginning of this sentence? Me neither, because the majority of it is this completely unnecessary metaphor. This sentence is “correct,” but awkward, not just because it’s long, but because it’s discussing two almost unrelated topics. The metaphor could stay, but would need to be in a separate sentence, shortened and with a reminder at the end of what’s being compared to a chemical change. But since this metaphor doesn’t really make the concept described more clear, I’d recommend getting rid of it altogether.

You can have long, complex sentences in your writing, but it takes practice to be able to help your reader follow your train of thought in these types of sentences. Read things that contain complex sentences, and when creating your own, make sure that punctuation and word choices help your reader to follow. Make sure, as well, that your sentence is not describing two very different concepts or ideas. You don’t want your reader to have to follow two trains of thought at once.

Most confusing sentence structures can be caught by reading your essay aloud. Reading aloud can also help you see how to break up long sentences or increase clarity through word choice and/or punctuation. Ask yourself, “what am I trying to communicate here?” and reword the sentence as clearly as possible. If you aren’t sure, try the sentence on a friend or family member and see if they understand what you mean without you giving extra commentary or explanation.

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Written by Courtney Stoker