Grammar question-what to do about wordy sentences?

I had this problem in jr. high and high school. I don’t remember it being mentioned on my papers at the college level, but I didn’t go to a great school for learning English. :rolleyes: Now, I’m trying to compose a letter on Microsoft Word 97 and it keeps telling me that my sentences are too wordy. I have managed to be more concise with all but this sentence:

“Since I have not yet met everyone in Anytown, there could be more that I do not know.”

Does this need to be broken into two separate sentences? It seems to me that it would not have the same impact that way. Anyone care to give me a grammar lesson?

I wouldn’t worry too much about what Microsoft Word’s grammar checker says about your sentences, if it’s calling the sentence you have in your OP too wordy.

I would be interested to know what it would say if you fed it a couple of pages from Henry James or Marcel Proust! Maybe I’ll try that myself.

The sentence is fine.

The problem lies in accepting grammatical advice from a microsoft product.

In my experience, MSWord doesn’t like “that” clauses and registers them as all manner of things from “wordiness” to “don’t you mean to say ‘which’ instead of ‘that’?” :stuck_out_tongue: It also doesn’t like things such as split infinitives or perfectives.

Try this sentence: “I have not met everyone in Anytown yet, so there could be more I do not know.” Or: “As I still have not met everyone in Anytown, there could be more [something] than I know.”

To reiterate Arnold Winkelried’s point, though, don’t worry about the grammar checker too much. It’s a little overzealous and very short-sighted. Your sentence sounds okay to begin with. :slight_smile:

This looks like a perfectly good sentence to me. I don’t teach English, and I’ve never studied it (which will probably show), but the only thing that stands out that an expert might suggest correcting is that the subject of the second (independent) clause isn’t specific. Instead of “…there could be more that I do not know.”, it’s considered clearer English to say something like “I could have omitted something.” Specifically naming the subject is considered to be more clear and straightforward than using terms like “there is”, “it may be”, “it could be”, and the like.

Like I said, I’m not an expert, so someone is probably posting a better response right…about…now.

Hmmm, . . .

Tech writing and college journalism have left me with an aversion to using “since” as a synonym for “because”, but that’s more of a style quibble.

I’m also trying to figure out the gist of your sentence. Is it . . .

“As I have not met everyone in Anytown yet, there could be more people that I do not know.”


“As I have not met everyone in Anytown yet, there could be more for me to learn.”


“As I have not met everyone in Anytown yet, there could be more people that I do not know.”

If this is the meaning, I think that the sentence is somewhat redundant. If you know that you have not met everyone in the town, then there must be (not could) others whom you do not know.

Perhaps I misunderstand the sentence.

I think if you omit the surplus negatives in your sentence, you will greatly increase its impact. How about:

I haven’t met everyone in Anytown; therefore, I probably have more to learn.

However, as everyone notes, Word’s grammar checker is not to be believed all the time. It would be helpful if it were more specific in its criticism. Machines are no substitute for English professors!

You can customize what the Word grammar checker looks for by changing the settings in the options. That way you can keep the subject-verb agreement check and whatever else works well, and uncheck the “style” options, which is where the wordiness check is.

pugluvr’s comment is spot on. A positive sentence is always stronger than a negative one. Strunk and White empasize this point in The Elements of Style, Put statements in positive form.

In general, though, your sentence is not too wordy for an adult audience. In fact, to split it would destroy the meaning of the sentence and the causal connection you’re trying to make.

What if you don’t want to increase its impact?

If you want to avoid a monotone writing style it is quite appropriate to use variations in voice and statements cast in the negative. Adding colour in this way enhances readabilty as long as it is not overused.