Sentence Sense

Have you ever heard this statement: “What sense does that make?” This question has the same relationship to other types of questions and statements such as “Why in the world would you do that?” and “It doesn’t make much sense to do that?” and lastly, “You did that because . . . why?”

What makes sense to you doesn’t always make sense to everyone else. Just because a person doesn’t understand where you are coming from, what you are talking about, doesn’t mean you are wrong.

However, if you don’t have a firm understanding of what you know, and you haven’t determined the simplest method of expressing what you know, then whatever you say or write will not be as clear to the other person as you think it is to yourself.

Examine the following sample excerpt where the student attempts to use elevated language to describe the ideas the author expresses within the work.

Sample Excerpt

The inequality of nature, whether racial, gender-based, certain beliefs or religious, has held up to personal opinions as well as professional.

Figure 62: Essay Excerpt on Ortega Y. Gasset


1) What is the “inequality of nature?”

2) What is nature?

3) What are nature’s inequalities?

4) Is “race” or “racial” considered to be an inequality?

5) How is “gender-based” an inequality?

6) What do the personal opinions and professional opinions have to do with the inequality of nature?


You have undoubtedly said to a person, “It’s all in my head. I know what I am trying to say. It’s just hard to tell you.” As you speak, you are hoping that whatever is in your head, jumbled up or not, the other person will know you enough to understand. This happens a great deal in writing.  Students have the ideas in their heads. They know what they want to write. They say it aloud to a friend in conversation, but when they begin the task of writing, what’s in their heads doesn’t transition effectively to written form.

Immediately, when confronted with expressing a certain idea in your papers, say it aloud. After this first activity, begin to write. Don’t worry about formality, or if the comma is in the right place. Just write as if you are channeling your thoughts into a journal. After you finish writing that one sentence or paragraph, then reconstruct what you have written into a formal sentence.

Always remember that a grammatical sentence must represent a complete unit. No sentence that has an adverb but is missing a verb to modify it is grammatically correct. The same idea applies to adjectives and nouns.  Before you can add an adjective to a sentence, you must have a noun. When a crucial element is missing from a sentence, one needed to make the sentence function properly, meanings become jumbled together. Such an error causes a reader not to understand the connection between the elements within a sentence.

The sentence of the sample excerpt is not grammatically incorrect.  However, the ideas are so jumbled together that the reader doesn’t know how the elements after the first comma relate to the “inequality of nature.” Make all sentences grammatical by following the basic principles of grammar, which include references to subject-verb agreement and the functions of both nouns and adjectives. In addition, always define terms and demonstrate their connection.

Revision Considerations

Don’t assume that just because you have an understanding in your head about what is going on in the sentence that the reader and your professor will understand also. Take the time to be thorough so your reader doesn’t begin to feel as though he or she is in a maze trying to find the light!

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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