Clarity is paramount when trying to get a point across. Numerous grammatical oversights can confuse a reader and lead to chaos.
You’re probably familiar with the endless supply of online grammar humor pointing out the importance of a well-placed comma. I don’t see the need to live and die by the Oxford comma. But I admit adding a comma to this sentence could prevent a misunderstanding–
“I give all the credit to my parents, the president and Sam.”
Sloppily placed clauses may also cause confusion.
I ate lunch with the pope on the rooftop.
Did I eat lunch on the rooftop with the pope? Or did I eat lunch with the pope, who was on the rooftop?
A rambling sentence with numerous prepositions can also obscure your meaning, forcing a reader to work to make sense of the statement.
“The Elements of Style,” by William Strunk and E. B. White, offers this wisdom on the subject of clarity–
When you become hopelessly mired in a sentence, it is best to start fresh; do not try to fight your way through against the terrible odds of syntax. Usually what is wrong is that the construction has become too involved at some point; the sentence needs to be broken apart and replaced by two or more shorter sentences.
Muddiness is not merely a disturber of prose, it is also a destroyer of life, of hope: death on the highway caused by a badly worded road sign, heartbreak among lovers caused by a misplaced phrase in a well-intentioned letter, anguish of a traveler expecting to be met at a railroad station and not being met because of a slipshod telegram. Think of these tragedies that are rooted in ambiguity, and be clear!
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