The subject and the verb are two of the most important items in a sentence. The subject is typically the first unit of meaning in a sentence and the verb is the second. Together they form the core content of the sentence:
The angry chickadee chased the marauding squirrel from the feeder.
By starting with the unique subject and a specific action, you create a strong and interesting sentence. However, many of us don't write our training and business documents that way. Instead, we distance ourselves and our readers from the content of our sentences by using "false subjects." A false subject is the word there or it serving as a placeholder for the true subject. The nonaction verb to be follows, typically in the form of is, are, was, or were, acting as a placeholder for the true action of the sentence.
And where are the true subject and the true action hidden? The true subject might appear after the verb:
There was an angry chickadee chasing a marauding squirrel from the feeder.
But sometimes the subject might not be included in the sentence at all, as the action becomes passive:
There was a squirrel being chased from the feeder.
The cure for this distancing and uninteresting writing style is to (1) notice a false subject at the beginning of a sentence, (2) identify the true subject or actor (who may not even be mentioned in the sentence), and (3) identify the true verb. Once you have identified all of the important content, reconstruct the sentence with the true subject first, then the true verb. Thus,
There are two different ways that a mailbox can be installed.
First I notice the false subject and nonaction verb: "there are." Then I look for the true subject or actor. The true actor is not even in the sentence. To decide on a true actor, I have to think about who would install a mailbox. I could just say "a person," but a more specific person would be better. Maybe a mail carrier or a building contractor installs the mailbox. Or maybe I am talking directly to the reader "you."
Next I determine the action or true verb. In this case "installed."
Now I put the true actor and the action verb at the front of the sentence:
You can install a mailbox one of two ways.
Try that process on these sentences. Feel free to invent true actors if they are not present in the sentence. Add action verbs as needed. I can't wait to read your improvements. I expect your suggestions will make the text below far more interesting and stronger.
- There are two places you can edit a resource calendar: the Working Time tab of the Resource Information dialog box and the Change Working Time dialog box.
- There is a widespread misperception that search fields are case sensitive.
- It is difficult for voting rights advocates to prove in federal court that packing minority voters into majority-minority districts diminishes their ability to elect candidates of choice.
- There is an average wait time for tables of more than 40 minutes.
- It is sometimes desirable to convert user-defined missing values to nulls.
- There is one simple query that can be issued that allows you to select all records from a table but display only a specified column.
If you love Jennie's articles, you'll love her classes. Join her online and learn about Writing Effective eLearning Voiceover Scripts and eLearning: Writing Step-by-Step Scripts and Training Documents.