Better RFP Responses & Management
A Man Walks into a Bar: Riff #11

A Man Walks into a Bar: Riff #11

Three intransitive verbs walk into a bar.
They sit. They converse. They depart.

What??! Grammar again? Say it isn’t so.

OK: “It isn’t so.” Well, only half so.

This riff is only incidentally a gentle reminder that you can’t liaise a regulator, collaborate the client, communicate the boss. And it’s only in speech or emails that we accept “copy the team” for “send a copy to the team.” So cut it out.

This riff is primarily about the beauty of short sentences — Things like “They sit. They converse. They depart.” — because longer ones are harder to follow and it’s easy to makes grammatical mistakes or to lose the train in them or even miss words and have odd jumps and orphan phrases and clauses and when creating run-on sentences and boy it’s so hard for evaluators to understand exactly what you’re saying and give you marks. And that’s true even when the sentences are long but coherent.

So. Keep your subject and verb together. Ditch the flowery adjectives and adverbs. And buddy, keep it short.

Sit. Type. Shut up. Win.



  1. Jim Taylor


    Well, no, that’s not enough.

    It’s a fact, sentences have been growing shorter. From around 80 words in Chaucer’s time, to 40 or so in Shakespeare’s, to 30 or so in Dickens’, to under 20 in ours. How short can sentences go? Who knows. I see more one-word sentences now, for emphasis. I imagine that a no-word sentence is impossible, but if John Cage can write no-note symphonies, anything’s possible.

    I suggest that the basic rule is “Subject, verb, object.” Everything else is window decoration. (For intransitive versos, “Subject, verb.”)

    Jim T

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Jim T – 🙂 I suspect that our time-is-money mentality is contributing to the shortening. That, and the ease with which we now click away from a longer, harder-to-follow piece. But it’s funny that you mention subject-verb-object. Much of the work I do as an editor of business writing is shuffling phrases around so that those three can be together. It’s amazing how much easier that is to understand.

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