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SO MUCH WRITING ADVICE includes the following: Write S-V-O sentences for greater impact. Here’s one of my favorite S-V-O sentences (subject-verb-object):

Our lack of pertinent data prevented determination of committee action effectiveness in fund targeting to areas of greatest assistance need.

Wow. That’s a prize-winner for sure. And it IS an S-V-O sentence. (S=lack; V=prevented; O=determination). So what’s going wrong?

It’s not enough to say write S-V-O sentences because even those can go wildly awry. What IS important is writing sentences with a strong sentence core.

Here’s another version of that S-V-O sentence, this time written with strong cores in every clause.

Because we lacked pertinent information, we couldn’t determine if the committee had targeted funds to areas that needed assistance the most.

Not as much fun, I know…but way more clear. So what is the sentence core and how does it work its revisionary magic?

I’m pretty well convinced that all humans wait for key bits of information when they hear/read a sentence…in any language ever known to human kind.

We need to discover the ACTOR, the true ACTION, and the RECEIVER of that action, if any. But we don’t survey the whole sentence with our radar, searching all the words in the sentence for these valuable/necessary bits of fundamental logic. Well, not at first.

We have strong expectations that those bits of information will be legally parked in their designated parking spots. And when I say strong expectations, I’m talking about the way we expect day to follow night, exhales to follow inhales, thank yous to follow pleases.

The ACTOR (the noun responsible for the action) is supposed to park in the S (grammatical subject).

The true ACTION (what’s really happening) is supposed to park in the V (main verb of the clause).

The RECEIVER (the noun that receives the action, if any) is supposed to park in the O (direct object).

The first version of the S-V-O sentence above does not have a strong core in its clause. The revised S-V-O sentence does have strong cores in all its clauses.

Keep all this in mind when you write, when you revise, and when you teach unsuspecting would-be writers how to write good.

P.S. No, not all sentences have an action verb (transitive or intransitive verb). Sometimes the verb just links the subject to an adjective/noun/adverb that completes the thought. In such sentences, there’s no ACTOR. I get it.

Your are smart.

You are the champ.

You are in the volcano.

P.P.S. I know English moves from left to right these days. I know English syntax usually puts subjects/actors first, then verbs, then objects. Other languages put those bits in different order. In French, for example, the direct object/receiver usually comes before the verb: Je t'aime. And from my college Latin class, I seem to recall sentences where verbs came at the very end: Vir sapientiam dat.

But the concept of the sentence core does not depend on syntax. As a native speaker, you know where the S-V-O are supposed to be parked in your native tongue. You look to those slots for the key bits of info: S=actor V=true action O=receiver.

What about Japanese, Chinese, and Korean? What about Hebrew and Arabic? I don’t know those languages. But I’ve been told they also follow the sentence core principle. If you know differently, please let me know.