Here are five versions of the same sentence, but with the phrase at its expense positioned differently in each one:
1. At its expense, the Publisher shall send 20 review copies of the Work to individuals named by the Author.
2. The Publisher shall at its expense send 20 review copies of the Work to individuals named by the Author.
3. The Publisher shall send at its expense 20 review copies of the Work to individuals named by the Author.
4. The Publisher shall send 20 review copies of the Work at its expense to individuals named by the Author.
5. The Publisher shall send 20 review copies of the Work to individuals named by the Author at its expense.
6. The Publisher, at its expense, shall send 20 review copies of the Work to individuals named by the Author.
Which do you prefer? Generally, the principle is that it’s best to keep the subject, verb, and object together (see MSCD 17.6). By that standard, the first sentence should be the winner. Is that what you, dear reader, think? Vote below. [Updated! Prompted by A. Wright Burke and Vance Koven, I’ve added a sixth option.]
Of course, the fifth option is a turkey, as it could result in a reader miscue, with the reader thinking, at least for a moment, that the expense referred to would be incurred in naming individuals.
18 thoughts on “Which Sentence Structure Do You Prefer?”
I substituted ‘gleefully’ for ‘at its expense’ and what sounded best was the second choice, ‘shall gleefully send’. So ‘shall at its expense send’ wins my vote. I guess the rule to keep subject, verb, and object together falls to the rule to keep modifiers with the words they modify.
There was no choice ‘The Publisher at its expense shall send’, but it would have been awkward without need. Best to nest the modifier in the verb phrase it modifies. Related: split your infinitives whenever doing so promotes clarity.
I had the same thought, but if you add commas [The Publisher, at its expense, shall send…] it reads fine without awkwardness. Handy things, commas.
I’ve added it as a sixth option. (It might take a few minutes to appear.)
Version 6 gets my vote. It seems best to put the subject first, and not to break up the verb “shall send”. Version 3 then version 1 would be my second and third choices.
Plain Language Tip: If you use numbers for the items in the survey, number the items in the list..
I like #2 because the phrase has a function similar to an adverb — it modifies the action, so placement between the auxiliary verb and the main verb works for me.
Ken, why do you make us think so hard? A modified Option 4 is attractive if you eliminate antecedent confusion by saying ‘The Publisher shall send 20 review copies of the Work, at the Publisher’s expense, to individuals named by the Author’. The change also makes ‘Publisher’ gender-neutral.
If I had my druthers, it would be #2, but set off with commas as in #6. It seems to me that “at its expense” should be subordinate to the action directed by the sentence. It’s essentially an “aside” in terms of the overall instruction provided by the sentence, since you could easily add the Publisher’s requirement to pay in a following sentence without modifying the first sentence in any way.
I admit, however, that in this case, my druthers are making a very fine distinction between how they would prefer it to read, and how #2 reads as you have it.
In pondering your druthers, it occurs to me to wonder whether any of the options absolutely heads off a possible dispute between Author and Publisher over a distinction between (1) the cost of the review copies themselves and (2) the cost of “sending” (shipping) the copies.
Your idea of a second sentence could nail that shut: ‘(1) The Publisher shall send 20 review copies of the Work to individuals named by the Author. (2) The Publisher shall bear the cost of the copies and the shipping’.
Since the only verb in each of the alternatives is “send,” I don’t see that placement of the phrase “at its expense” could ever change the reading of what “send” means. It either includes only the act of shipping or it also includes the act of procuring the printed copies. “Provide” might be a better verb, if one was actually worried about it.
Here, the plus of the first sentence is that it’s simpler, but the minus of the second is that it repeats the subject. I find needless repetition more tiring to read than a longer sentence, so, I’d break the thought into two clauses.
The publisher shall send 20 review copies…, and pay for their production and shipping.
Or if the deal were different:
The author shall, at his expense, produce 20 copies that the publisher shall, at its own, ship to….
Good points all. How about these for the two deals?
(1) ‘The Publisher shall, at its expense, produce and send 20 copies of the book to individuals the Author names’.
(2) ‘The Publisher shall, at its expense, send 20 copies of the book, produced at the Author’s expense, to individuals the Author names’.
You eased the way to concision by coming up with the verb ‘produce’.
Wow, you give fast action.
I’d go for either of those over the compound sentence, as they have what I wanted to keep from Letourneau’s suggestion, which is the fact that “at its expense” is an aside. Whereas the compound sentence makes that bit an addendum.
Which is not to say that the aside is clearer than the addendum, just that its logic is more complete.
No. 2 modified to include the commas of no. 6. That’s what I always use.
The poll results are
nutsto be expected in the Oscars sense of what will win vs. what should win.
I will be bound by the poll results! Not really.
I’ll look at all this after the dust settles.
Ah, bless, but I’m sure the numbers are accurate. And if one sees Nos. 2 & 6 as a coalition, then they’re also trending toward what’s correct.
Although in any situation, try to avoid ending with a prepositional phrase or your participle dangling …