Assuming you know how to find it, kill the introductory phrase
February 26, 2013
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When writing for a highly diverse audience, it is difficult to hold everyone’s interest. That being said, it’s safe to add that introductory phrases, no matter how well-crafted, just get in the way. In the event that all introductory word groups were forbidden from formal writing, clarity and brevity would be much more easily maintained .
In formal writing, arguments and ideas should be concise and direct. Therefore, cluttering a body of text with unnecessary introductions, which seem to just eat up space, is irritating for the reader. Not only do they get in the readers’ way, but they also imply that the writer lacks strong mastery of language enough to vary sentence structures without throwing “fillers” at the beginning of the sentence rather than the end.
Ironically, most people who devalue their written works by over-using introductions do not necessarily realize they do this! This is not because they are unaware of what they write, but it is because they do not know what an introductory phrase is.
To clear this up, here are the distinctions. A clause requires two things, a subject and a predicate – including a verb – in order to be complete. A phrase, however, is merely a grouping or pairing of words that contributes to the sentence without being a completed subject-predicate thought. An introductory phrase is a few words at the opening of sentence which are separate from the rest of the thought.
Commas are key, as they are oftentimes the identifying mark of an introductory sentence component. Without commas, sentences lump together with these klunky introductions and become even sloppier.
As if this isn’t annoying enough, now consider how easy it is to use these phrases in a way that is so incorrect that you actually appear to be less intelligent than you look – assuming you’re reading this with an obscure, confused expression on your face, of course.
Opening a sentence with expressions like “as a grammar-nazi,” tends to leave a lot of room for some context issues. For example, “As a grammar-nazi, introductory phrases tend to get on my nerves.” Though seemingly correct, and possibly faux-sophisticated, the key here is that the introductory phrase is accidentally modifying “clauses” rather than the subject of the sentence, which should be me, the grammar-nazi.
To be correct, the sentence would read, “As a grammar-nazi, I tend to become irritated with introductory clauses.” One of many potential errors related to introductory phrases, a misplaced modifier implies a severe lack of grammatical understanding.
Yes, it’s true that introductory phrases are technically correct. No, it is not true that they add sophistication to your writing. Obviously, there is too much room for error and the average population of writers do not know how and when to use these things effectively.
At the end of the day – a classic example of all of the above – effective writing relies on content, not grammatical distortion.
Paige Pelonis is a sophomore journalism and international studies major and the assistant opinions editor for the Daily 49er.