A Problem with “And”

What’s wrong with this sentence? (There are no grammar or usage mistakes.)

The steep path was iced over that morning, and Janet clung to Blake as they headed down the slope.

* * * * * *

The problem is the word and, which makes it sound as if the two parts of the sentence are unrelated: the path was dangerous/Janet clung to Jake.

The sentence needs to show that there’s a cause/effect relationship:

Because the steep path was iced over that morning, Janet clung to Blake as they headed down the slope.  BETTER

Professional writers are always on the lookout for ways to make sentences stronger, and one useful strategy is to consider revising sentences with and. Please note that I’m not saying you should avoid and! I’m suggesting that when and finds its way into a sentence, you should always ask if it’s masking a deeper relationship.

Be especially wary when and is joining two sentences. Overuse of and to join sentences often results in weak writing:

The train was late, and we missed the first five minutes of the show.  WEAK

Because the train was late, we missed the first five minutes of the show.  BETTER

And can be problematic even in shorter sentences:

Daisy is stubborn and difficult to work with.

Daisy isn’t really stubborn AND difficult: Her stubbornness causes the difficulties. Here’s a better version:

Daisy’s stubbornness makes her difficult to work with.

* * * * * *

Today I’m going to add a bonus (or a gripe, depending on your point of view!). I’ve been reading articles about writing at Medium.com, probably the hottest place online for publishing short pieces. And what I’ve discovered is that few of those authors (remember, the articles I’ve been reading are about writing!) seem to know the difference between its and it’s…or, if they know the difference, they don’t care.

I (ahem) know the difference. Here’s a sentence I wrote for this post a few minutes ago:

I’m suggesting that when and finds its way into a sentence, you should always ask if it’s masking a deeper relationship.

Did you notice that I used both spellings: its and its?

When I wrote finds its way, I omitted the apostrophe. It’s like finds his way. (You don’t use an apostrophe in his, do you?)

Please, please. If you call yourself a writer, make it your business to learn the difference between it’s (it is) and its (a possessive word, like his).

 

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2 thoughts on “A Problem with “And”

  1. Ellen Holder

    This post is extremely helpful. I was not even aware of this issue. I have recently had a paper critiqued, however, and a beta reader pointed out that I join a lot of sentences together with “and”, which sometimes weakens my writing. I didn’t know what she was talking about. Now I do. This information will make my writing skills stronger as I apply these principals. Thanks!

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