Complex sentences

Adding more detail

Streamlining details by dropping relative pronouns

On the previous page we saw an example of how you could drop a relative pronoun to create a more streamlined sentence:

Like most people, she was terrible at things she didn't like.

Mosquito Advertising: The Blade BriefKate HunterSource

(Remember, the dropped relative pronoun is 'that', as in "terrible at things (that) she didn't like".)

We can push this idea a little further. Compare these two versions of the same sentence.

One uses a relative pronoun, and the other doesn't. Which sounds better?

Either way, money is money is money, and a cramped diner that is haunted by insomniacs is as good as any joint.

Either way, money is money is money, and a cramped diner haunted by insomniacs is as good as any joint.

A Song for QuietCassandra Khaw

The second version, with the ‘-ed’ clause, is 2 words shorter—we lose the relative pronoun and the tense helper ‘is’. Efficiency!

But with increased efficiency comes increased risk of misunderstanding!

For instance, can you see how this next snippet could be read two different ways?

(Hint: the supporting clause has an implied subject—but who is it?)

Boggis had three boiled chickens smothered in dumplings.

The Fantastic Mr FoxRoald DahlSource

Boggis had three boiled chickens smothered in dumplings.

The Fantastic Mr FoxRoald DahlSource

Boggis had three boiled chickens smothered in dumplings.

The Fantastic Mr FoxRoald DahlSource

Who is smothered in dumplings?

It's probably the three boiled chickens.

But because the clause has an implied subject, grammatically speaking it could also be Boggis. 🤷‍♂️  

If we wanted to prevent any possibility of misunderstanding, we could add a relative pronoun (and tense helper) to make the relationship explicit:

  • Boggis had three boiled chickens that were smothered in dumplings.

But then we lose that efficiency. 🤷‍♀️  

Extra credit: Why does it all work this way?

Here are a couple of variations using the "money is money" snippet as a model.

Notice how each uses either an '–ed' or '–ing' clause.

Either way, money is money is money, and a cramped diner haunted by insomniacs is as good as any joint.

A Song for QuietCassandra Khaw

Either way, money is money is money, and a run-down circus tent infested with feral cats is as good as any joint.

Either way, money is money is money, and the creepy abandoned hotel offering me a million dollars for no clear reason is as good as any joint.

Your turn

We've now seen a whole lot of ways that you can use supporting clauses to add more detail to your writing.

Often, readers find supporting clauses more vivid than word groups like adverbs, adjectives, or even prepositional phrases. This is because they describe what is happening more directly in terms of action.

Next up, we're going to see some types of meaning that are unique to supporting clauses. Buckle up!

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