A Little Goes a Long Way with Noun Phrases

Toad against the wallEvery sentence has at least one noun phrase, which includes a noun and a modifier or two. I say one or two, because by using multiple, repetitive, unnecessary modifiers to a noun phrase, you can wind up with ugly, bloated, miserable sentences (see what I did there?). Strong writing features well-constructed noun phrases which are used well.

The thing about noun phrases is that they don’t do things the way that verb phrases do. Your writing is not carried on your noun phrases; if you try to make your noun phrases carry it, then you need to stop. Unless you have a truly interesting and important interesting noun phrase, it doesn’t need to be made longer than the verb phrases. Pronouns and unadorned nouns are typically all you need to use for the majority of your sentences.

Not only should noun phrases be short, but they should also be distributed sparsely throughout your sentences. Although it’s occasionally acceptable to use a brief list in your sentences now and then, you can confuse your reader by stuffing your sentences full of noun phrases one right after the other. If you have problems with stacking your noun phrases on top of each other, you might also have a problem with sentences that are too long in general. Practice writing shorter sentences, and try to give each noun phrase the attention it deserves.

Noun phrases are an important structural element of every sentence, and a good writer knows how to use them effectively. By using short noun phrases and distributing them sparsely throughout your sentences, you can tighten up your prose and make it much clearer. This helps keep your readers interested, and it helps you tell your story more effectively.