Owning Bits

Style Exercise 2: Actors and Actions

Conducted: Tuesday, 9 September 2003

Summary: In this exercise, you will have the opportunity to rewrite a number of sentences so as to make the subject the primary actor and the verb the primary action.

Purpose: To give you practice with the first step in Williams's strategy for rewriting prose clearly.

Citation: Most of these sentences were taken from the narrative section of

Williams, Joseph M. (2003). Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace, Seventh Edition. New York, Longman.


1. For each of the following sentences, underline the primary actors and circle the actions. (Note that I don't want you to focus on subjects and verbs; rather on the real actors and actions.)

2. Swap your paper with a designated partner. Check the answers on the paper you received and see if they match your own. Discuss any discrepancies. If you can't agree, raise the issue with the larger group.

3. Rewrite each sentence. Be prepared to present your rewrite.

A. The cause of our schools' failure at teaching basic skills is not understanding the influence of cultural background on learning.


B. Once upon a time, as a walk through the woods was taking place on the part of Little Red Riding Hood, the Wolf's jump out from behind a tree occurred, causing her fright.


C. The Federalists' argument in regard to the destabilization of government by popular democracy was based on their belief in the tendency of factions to further their self-interest at the expense of the common good.


D. Our lack of data prevented evaluation of UN actions in targeting funds to areas most in need of assistance.


E. Smoking during pregnancy may cause fetal injury.


F. The loss of market share to Japan by domestic automakers resulted in the disappearance of hundreds of thousands of jobs.


G. The health care industry's inability to exert cost controls could lead to the public's decision that congressional action is needed.




Monday, 8 September 2003 [Samuel A. Rebelsky]


Disclaimer: I usually create these pages on the fly, which means that I rarely proofread them and they may contain bad grammar and incorrect details. It also means that I tend to update them regularly (see the history for more details). Feel free to contact me with any suggestions for changes.

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Samuel A. Rebelsky, rebelsky@grinnell.edu