Subordination by Reduction

We have examining the ways of using subordination, whether through dependent clauses (adverb, adjective, noun) or through verbals (infinitives, gerunds, or present and past participles). These are all examples of reduction, reducing the number of words without losing our meaning.





Phrase (verbal, appositive, prepositional)


Word (adjective, adverb)

We use subordination to express relationships between our ideas, combining sentences of unequal importance. For instance, to combine two independent clause to make a complex sentence, we put the less important idea in the subordinate clause.

In these examples of dependent clauses (marked in bold), the more important point in put in the main clause (no bold).

Because we took a short cut, we saved five miles. (adverb clause)

We have a plan that would improve the bus service. (adjective clause)

Verbals, as we saw in the previous post, are other devices of subordination, in which we create a subordinate element by substituting a simpler word group for a longer and more complicated word group. We reduced clauses to phrases built on present and past participles, gerunds, and infinitives. Both the adverb clause and the adjective clause in the sentences above can be reduced to verbal phrases (in this case prepositional phrases with gerunds as the object of a preposition):

By taking a short cut, we saved five miles. (gerund, object of by)

We have a plan for improving the bus service. (gerund, object of for)

These word groups are simpler than clauses because they have been reduced to fewer words, including omitting the subjects and verbs (predicates).

Here are examples of reduction of adjective clauses to participial phrases:

The house was built on a hill that overlooked a lake.

The house was built on a hill overlooking a lake. (present participial phrase)

We bought some corn that was picked this morning.

We bought some corn picked this morning. (past participial phrase)

Adjective clauses can also be reduced to infinitive phrases:

You need more facts that will prove your argument.

You need more facts to prove your argument. (infinitive)

Adverb clauses may also be reduced to present participial and infinitive phrases:

Because I wanted experience, I fixed the radio myself.

Wanting experience, I fixed the radio myself. (participial phrase)

He adjusted the carburetor so that it would use less gas.

He adjusted the carburetor to use less gas. (infinitve phrase)

As we saw in the post on adverb clauses, the elliptical adverb clause is a classic example of their potential for reduction. (As we saw in the post on the mechanical mark the ellipsis, the word elliptical means “having words omitted.”) With elliptical adverb clauses, the subject and part of the verb are omitted. These missing words are understood:

When finished, this building will be the tallest in the city.
When [it is] finished, this building will be the tallest in the city.

Because fewer words are used (the clause is reduced), writing can become more streamlined. However, the danger when forming elliptical clauses is to be careful about dangling word groups, something we discussed in the post on hanging sentences. In order to avoid a dangling word group, it’s important that the main clause answer who or what of the elliptical clause.

Other Types of Reduction

We can further reduce word groups to streamline sentences. For instance, prepositional phrases can sometimes be replaced by a single adjective or adverb:

You can buy a film at the store on the corner.

You can buy a film at the corner store. (adjective)

The cashier looked at the check in a suspicious way.

The cashier looked at the check suspiciously. (adverb)

Even an adjective clause can sometimes be reduced to a single adjective:

The plane carries a raft that is made of rubber.

The plane carries a rubber raft.

Here a single adjective rubber replaces a 5-word adjective clause.

Reduction by Appositives

Appositives are grammatical elements that are often used by most of us, but not always easily articulated. An appositive is a word, phrase, or clause that supports another word, phrase, or clause by describing or modifying the other word, phrase, or clause.

Joseph Priestly, an English minister, discovered oxygen.

(As you can see in the example above, the noun or pronoun (minister) often has its own modifiers (an English).

This grammatical function is most often performed by nouns and noun phrases, but can also be performed by noun clauses as we saw in the post on noun clauses. (Though nouns, appositives are often likened to adjectives because they provide more details about nouns or pronouns, some say appositives offer an “equivalent” to the noun or pronoun.)

Here is an example of a reduction by appositive:

The problem that economics is getting worse seems to be quite serious. (noun clause)

The problem, a depression, seems to be quite serious. (noun)

Appositives are an instance of sentence parts that are not essential and can be removed without changing the meaning:

The problem (that economics is getting worse) seems to be quite serious.

The problem, (a depression,) seems to be quite serious.

Joseph Blumenthal, in English 3200, claims that appositives are useful for “avoiding an ‘I-forgot-to-tell-you’ type of sentence that explains something you have just named in the previous sentence.” Consider these two sentences:

Ms. Lee urged us to win.

She is our new coach.

The second sentence explains Ms. Lee in the first sentence. When we make the second sentence into an appositive, we not only streamline the writing, but we also put the explanation of Ms. Lee where it belongs—directly after the noun it explains.

Ms. Lee, our new coach, urged us to win.

When you write a sentence explaining something you have just written, it can create weak writing. Often these sentences contain the verb is, are, was, or were, followed by a noun. In such cases, change the weak sentence to an appositive phrase and fit it into the previous sentence.

To avoid wordiness, it’s a good practice to, express your ideas in the simplest word group you can without sacrificing clearness. By understanding the various types of subordinate word groups, you not only save words, but also give more interesting variety to your sentences.

(Resource for examples: English 3200)

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