Hammer Grammar Lesson 4: Dead Constructions This week’s grammar review is not complicated. You won’t learn 17 rules. Just one: Don’t use dead constructions. Yet there are few grammar problems more insidious. It is so common that dead constructions slide off our tongues or through the keyboards of our computers without a thought. You probably didn’t notice that this paragraph contains two of them. After this review, you should begin noticing them everywhere, especially in your own writing. Recognizing dead constructions Finding dead constructions is a no-brainer if you are on the alert. Look for sentences that begin with or contain the words “it is” or “there is.” Dead, dead, dead. Dead constructions commit you to a weak verb: “is.” Dead constructions can hide the subjects in the back of sentences. In other words, the dead construction handicaps your writing, adding unnecessary words and weakening two of the most important parts of your sentence: the beginning and the verb. Getting rid of a dead construction puts a more powerful subject at the beginning and gives you the opportunity for an active verb. That verb may even be lurking in your sentence disguised as a noun. Look at the following sentence, for example. It is the intent of managers to hold a large clearance sale at Toys R Us. Kill “It is,” convert “intent” to a verb, and restructure the sentence. Shazam! Toys R Us managers intend to hold a large clearance sale. OK, you won’t win a Pulitzer, but at least you have a clearer, simpler sentence with an active verb and a strong subject. One exception: You may want to use “it is/there is” for emphasis It was the mayor who broke ranks with the Democratic Party. But use that kind of construction sparingly! Make sure you can justify resorting to a sentence form that is, by definition, dead, dead, may it rest in peace. Helpful hint Do a word search for “there” and “it” before you hand in a story. Get rid of every one of them you can, substituting strong nouns and verbs whenever possible. Hammer Grammar Exercise 4: Dead Constructions Your Name: ________________________________________ Rewrite the sentences below to get rid of the dead constructions. Also, fix any errors that we’ve covered in previous Hammer Grammar lessons. 1. There are a few observers who believe Bush will be able to get major legislation passed as a lame-duck president. 2. There have been periodic claims, fed by students, that Kilroy’s would be closed by the police. 3. There was an apparent drug deal gone bad lying behind the violent conflict on South Woodlawn. 4. There is no limit to the potential of this year’s basketball team. 5. It is not necessary to have media experience to work at WIUX. 6. There are local churches that are eager to attract new students to their services. 7. It is more difficult to find a job as a professor now than at any time in the past. 8. There are some dead constructions that can be used to good affect. From class discussions and readings: 9-11. What are the three types of “layers?” Describe them. 12. Which of these is NOT a documentary source? a. An article in USA Today that cites a study on bone loss b. An article in The New England Journal of Medicine about a study on bone loss. c. A study on bone loss downloaded from the Mayo Clinic Web site d. A study on bone loss a doctor gave you during an interview with her about this disease. 13. What is a federal shield law? 14-15. Name two good ways to find sources that are not computer-based.