Rhetorically Speaking

Day 9: Use the rhetorical action as the main verb.

A sentence may have several verbs. However, the verb in the “verb’s place” following the subject is generally the main verb upon which the rest of the sentence hangs. Consider this sentence:

“Julie thinks Tom is silly.”

In this sentence, “thinks” is the main verb following the subject “Julie.”

The main action in a sentence is called the rhetorical action. The rhetorical action is the action that the sentence is about. The main verb and the rhetorical action may not be the same. Generally, when we are trying to identify the rhetorical subject, we first have to identify the rhetorical action.

If the main verb and the rhetorical action are not the same, then the sentence has a problem. In clear writing, they should be the same word. Consider this sentence:

“The long days of summer are when Susan plays in the grass.”

In this poorly written sentence, the main verb is “are,” which follows the grammatical subject “The long days of summer.” However, the main action is not “are.” The rhetorical action, what this sentence is about, is “plays.”

We want the main verb and the rhetorical action to be the same, so “plays” needs to be the main verb. The subject of “plays” is “Susan.” When we use “Susan” as the subject (grammatical and rhetorical), and “plays” as the main verb, we get

“Susan plays in the grass in the long days of summer.”

Now, the grammatical subject and the rhetorical subject are the same, the rhetorical action and the main verb are the same, and the entire sentence is clearer, smoother, and more direct.

Day 17: Use the Subject-Verb-Object sentence structure.

The most powerful sentence structure is the Subject-Verb-Object structure. When readers find sentence components are placed in that order, and close to the beginning of the sentence, they will have less difficulty understanding what you have written.

Based on previous strategies, you will want to use the rhetorical subject and the rhetorical action as your subject and main verb. Consider this sentence.

“On the bench in the park sat the man with the brown hat calmly feeding the pigeons.”

This sentence has the verb “sat” before the subject “man.” When we place items in order, close to the beginning of the sentence, we get

“The man with the brown hat sat on the park bench calmly feeding the pigeons.”

If we think “feed” is the rhetorical action, then the object will be “pigeons.” Using these, we might get

“The man with the brown hat calmly fed the pigeons from the park bench.”

Now we have

Subject: “Man with the brown hat”

Main verb: “fed”

Object: “pigeons”

With these sentence components in order, the sentence is less convoluted and easier to understand.


These strategies are taken from our writing guide, 3oo Days of Better Writing.

Learn to write clearly, correctly, and powerfully. Communicate persuasively. Demonstrate your professionalism. Accomplish your communication goals. You can find out more about 300 Days of Better Writing at PreciseEdit.com.

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