Some re-assembly required

I saw this sentence on an Internet discussion site this week: “I’ve commented in opposition to those comments as an expert in the field they were on before.”

Whew. I had to wrestle that sentence to the ground before I could understand it. Once I did, I could see that the information was all there, but jumbled up like a toy that you tried to put together late on Christmas Eve without reading the instructions.

We can fix this without making you diagram sentences or dig up the names of all the parts of speech. The most important information in the sentence is that the person has commented. When? Before. But look where “commented” and “before” are: At opposite ends of the sentence. Let’s make them sit together and see what happens: “I’ve commented before in opposition to those comments as an expert in the field they were on.”

OK, that’s better. Not great, but better. Let’s keep going. Can we chop out any words without changing the meaning? Yes, we can make do without the three words now sitting at the end. So then we have: “I’ve commented before in opposition to those comments as an expert in the field.”

The writer’s expertise seems significant to the discussion. Let’s see if it helps any to put that fact up front: “As an expert in the field, I’ve commented before in opposition to those comments.” It’s still not quite elegant, but it’s a lot easier to grasp. It’s tempting to go further with, “As an expert in the field, I’ve commented before in opposition.” Or even, “As an expert in the field, I’ve opposed those comments.” But I can see that the writer wants to do more than cite earlier opposition. There’s an attempt here to illustrate the tit-for-tat nature of commenters disagreeing with each other. So let’s leave well enough alone.

When you find yourself in the heat of an online discussion, nobody should expect you to crank out grammatical perfection on the fly. Even so, you don’t want something so rough that leave your readers scratching their heads. So take a minute or two to review what you wrote before you hit “post.” If you have a point worth making, it’s worth making clearly.

 

 


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