Eliminating dead construction

Bear with me on this grammar topic, but it’s one that is crucial to improving writing.

One of the biggest pet peeves I have is dead construction.  These sentences are wordy and don’t communicate well.

Dead construction is a passive sentence structure (meaning the subject is not performing the action).  These are sentences that start with phrases like “It is” or “There are” where “it” and “there” have no word they are substituting.

I’m not sure that’s a great explanation, so let’s look at an example.

Dead construction: There are six boys in the room.

Where is “there?”  What noun is it replacing?  We have no answer to either question, and that’s the problem.  The simple fix for this sentence, which makes it active, stronger and more concise is as follows:  Six boys are in the room.

See what I’m saying?  Dead construction is all around us.  I encounter it frequently and it drives me crazy.  Of course, sometimes using dead construction can’t be avoided.  I maybe use it for something two or three times a year in all the writing that I do, but I work hard to avoid it.  Along with being a stronger sentence, fixing dead construction also results in shorter sentences.

Check out some examples of dead construction and how to fix them.

Dead construction: There will be a meeting at 6 p.m. (seven words)

Fixed: A meeting will be at 6 p.m. (six words)

Dead construction: It was a stormy night last night. (seven words)

Fixed: Last night was stormy. (four words)

Next time you are writing or editing, pay attention for this sentence structure.  Dead construction is one of those things that people often don’t know how to identify beyond just knowing it doesn’t sound quite right.

Happy writing!

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