The principal idea of a sentence should be expressed in an independent clause, and subordinate ideas should be expressed in subordinate clauses.
When you can’t tell which of several ideas in a sentence is most important, there probably is a problem of subordination. In order to give proper emphasis to important ideas, place the key idea of the sentence in the independent clause and the less important idea in the subordinate clause. Words such as while, because, although, which, whereas, and after are all effective subordinators.
The novel is very powerful. It concerns the rights of women in the twentieth century.
Here, the second sentence leads to the first, rather than the other way around. Better: Because the novel concerns the rights of women in the twentieth century, it is very powerful.
Austen was a great novelist, and she died in 1817.
This is an illogical coordination; Austen’s talent as a writer has nothing to do with her death. Better: The great novelist Austen died in 1817; or, Austen, who died in 1817, was a great novelist.
The instructor returned the essays that had corrections that were inadequately made.
A sequence of dependent clauses in which each succeeding clause is dependent upon the one before it is always awkward.
Better: The instructor returned the inadequately corrected essays.
The capital of Michigan is Lansing, with the most important city being Detroit.
This sentence contains a trailing with phrase. The word with does not indicate any logical relationship.
Better: Although the capital of Michigan is Lansing, the more important city is Detroit.
While Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky, he lived most of his life in Illinois.
This is absurd — he couldn't have lived most of his life in one place while he was being born in another. The absurdity results from the writer’s using the word while without paying attention to its meaning.
Better: Although Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky, he lived most of his life in Illinois.
While Ben and Mary danced the tango, Bob watched them unhappily from the side of the ballroom, wishing he had not hung up on the telemarketer from the dance studio.
Here the word while is used correctly, to indicate two or more events happening at the same time.
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Nesbitt-Johnston Writing Center
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