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Plain Style by Richard Lauchman

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On Being Emphatic

In any sentence, the order of the words largely determines meaning and emphasis. An imprecise order of words opens the door to unintended meanings and magnificent madness. Which of the following (clear) sentences present the reader with a cannibalistic attorney and carrionconsuming biologists?

It was said that his client was eaten alive by the defense attorney.

The defense attorney remarked that his client was “eaten alive.”

Because they consume carrion as well as kill their own prey, some biologists regard lions as scavengers.

Because lions eat carrion as well as kill their own prey, some biologists regard them as scavengers.

The order of words will foster clarity or foment ambiguity. Note the ambiguity in the sentences ...

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