I’ll be posting a new lesson every day (Monday-Friday), to help people who are stuck at home because of the coronavirus situation. These mini-lessons will give you a useful daily routine, and might just keep you sane. Stay safe.
Is the sentence below good or bad writing?
‘I’ll never inform you where the magic lamp is!’
Answer: it’s awful. What makes it so bad? Well, ‘inform’ is a longer, Latin-based word (with the Latin prefix in-, and the suffix -tion when we form the noun) while the other words in the sentence are mainly from shorter, Anglo-Saxon. Latinate words, when used in English, tend to be long and formal in tone, while Anglo-Saxon-based words tend to be short, informal and emotional.
Why has the writer used the long, polysyllabic ‘inform’ instead of the short, monosyllabic ‘tell’, then? Well, a lot of kids are told by their teachers: ‘Try to use longer words. They sound more literary.’ There’s your problem.
The tone of the sentence is ‘pitchy’ (like bad singing), with differing levels of formality competing with each other. If you think about mini-lesson no.1 and the issue of ‘shifting narrative perspective’, then you might recognise two different voices or perspectives in the sentence: the voice of the character but also the intrusive voice of the author.
Look at the following passage and try to find the words that are particularly problematic because they represent an unfortunate shift in tone.
‘Given these new complications and the issue of costs increasing in an uncontrolled manner, we would recommend that the management just stop everything.’
If you’re not sure of the answer or would like to check your answer, please do feel free to email me (Adam): adz_d2003 @ yahoo.co.uk – deleting the two spaces either side of the @ sign.
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