Best words, best order

My editing-Twitter colleague @SheckyX gave me the idea for this post earlier this week, when he responded to a tweet of mine. It was a link to an old post here, actually. He commented to me that aside from worries about putting prepositions at the end of sentences, writers might do well to consider other aspects of prepositional placement. For example, moving “on” makes a big difference between “she turned on him” and “she turned him on.”

Consider also the difference, however fine, between “a sign that said in Russian NO ADMITTANCE” and “a sign in Russian that said NO ADMITTANCE.” I say “however fine,” because I sense a difference between those that others might not. (Maybe I’m unbalanced.) To me, the first one can imply there are other languages on the sign, but in Russian it said that phrase. Maybe in Mandarin it said KEEP OUT and in German it said NO TRESPASSING. The second one is less ambiguous to me. The sign’s in Russian, period.

Then there’s the wording “would like to have known that” versus “would have liked to know that.” Again, the difference is subtle. I would like to have known the winning Powerball numbers (I wish that I had known them) so I could have guaranteed I’d win. Elton John would have liked to know Marilyn Monroe (he would have enjoyed knowing her), but he was just a kid.

I’m sure there are other examples. If you have one, by all means leave a comment. This could prove very interesting.

2 thoughts on “Best words, best order

  1. About the sign in Russian: Another way of saying something in another language is accidental. ‘Sale’ is ‘dirt’ or ‘filth’ in French. Hence:

    “M’sieur Gerard was affronted by large red signs which said, in French, ‘FILTH’. They were on the windows of a shop specialising in his native delicacies.”


    1. Poor Gerard! That’s a great point, Travis, and one that didn’t come to mind when I read the wording in question. When I’m editing, I go with the first thing that occurs; I don’t take the time to pull the entire thing apart. I figure what I think of first is likely to be what the average reader will think of, too, so that’s the angle I work with.

      You’re absolutely correct, of course.


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