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University of Chicago Writing Program

Sentence of the Week Archive

Are you the sort of person who's addicted to challenging sentences? Do you crave them first thing in the morning? Dream about them at night? Swear that your next will be your last, only to find yourself loitering in a dark alley outside the library? Do you wonder how you'll endure the tedious hours until another Sentence of the Week comes your way?

If so, rejoice. People who feel just like you do have asked for an archive of our old Sentences of the Week. Well, sentence fiends, the wait is over: we've decided to enable you.

We've got two ways for you to get that lurid thrill of confronting complex syntax. You can binge on this page, which preserves a judicious selection of previous Sentences of the Week. For more regular indulgence of your habit, you can subscribe to our RSS feed, and be the first person on your block to know that a new Sentence of the Week is available.

DISCLAIMER: No language was harmed during the analysis of these sentences, or at least not for long.

Communicative hair

Head teacher Nigel Pott said the school had been trying to resolve the issue of Chloe's hair since before Christmas. Despite liaising with Chloe and her parents, her hair had stayed a pink colour, Mr. Pott said.

This week's passage reports a complex dispute among at least three parties: a young woman, her teachers, and her parents. Unfortunately, the second sentence unexpectedly adds another participant: hair, which appears to be negotiating on its own behalf. How can we restore Chloe's hair to its normal condition of bashful silence?

In this week's post, we revise the passage's second sentence by:

  • fixing the errant modifier,
  • suggesting alternative subjects, and
  • explaining how to make the original subject work.

View a step-by-step explanation of what we changed and why.

Who should get a mammogram?

The proportion of biopsies that occur because of these false-positive results that are retrospectively deemed unnecessary (that is, the woman did not have cancer) is about 7%; therefore, many more women will undergo unnecessary biopsies under annual screening than biennial screening.

The authors of this week's sentence face a real rhetorical challenge. They're trying to recommend a change in a common medical practice (annual mammograms for women over forty), and they're making this recommendation to an extremely large and diverse audience. How can they do a better job of making their case?

In this week's post, we revise the sentence by:

  • moving up the verb,
  • untangling the chain of "that" modifiers, and
  • speculating on what "seven per cent" really means.

View a step-by-step explanation of what we changed and why.

Which children? Which parents?

Neglect of children due to either economic constraint or willful torture without a direct or indirect benefit to the offender formulated by increased attention and notoriety is also not considered typical MBP behavior.

This week's sentence is meant to do some important work: let doctors know when a parent should be diagnosed with a controversial syndrome called MBP (Munchausen By Proxy, for the curious). The writer here faces a challenge common to experts. She's juggling a lot of complex information, and she's writing for readers who need the information to do their jobs. Unfortunately, the resulting sentence is so difficult that many readers might give up in despair. How might it be fixed?

In this week's post, we revise the sentence by:

  • moving the verb closer to the front,
  • sorting out logical categories, and
  • restoring human characters to the story.

View a step-by-step explanation of what we changed and why.

The perils of melamine

A cheap industrial chemical at the heart of a massive food recall in China following its detection in infant milk powder, the UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA) announced that sweets containing melamine at levels of 11.25mg/kg, 152mg/kg and 80 mg/kg respectively had been detected on the shelves.

When faced with the sentence above, most readers will give up somewhere in the middle. What went wrong?

In this week's post, we revise the sentence by:

  • fixing a misplaced modifier
  • reducing the gap between the subject and the verb.

View a step-by-step explanation of what we changed and why.

Where was your degree born?

Born and raised in New York State, my first degree was in Chemistry at Williams College.

If you've ever committed an embarrassing grammatical faux pas in public, you're not alone. What went wrong with today's sentence, and how can we fix it?

In this week's post, we revise the sentence by suggesting two ways to fix the misplaced modifier.

View a step-by-step explanation of what we changed and why.

Whistle while you work

Incorporating the affective/motivational properties in music perception into the work process could provide affective change in computer programming work.

This week's author has a great suggestion that could improve the lives of a tired, disgruntled, undervalued group of people. But if this sentence seems to you more bewildering than enlightening, you're not alone. What is it trying to say?

In this week's post, we revise the sentence by:

  • rustling up a few human characters
  • speculating on the meaning of "affective change."

View a step-by-step explanation of what we changed and why.

Those pesky verbs

Reforming American Studies in ways that only reinterprets the U.S. in ways that synchronizes with its renovated hegemony is not a compelling project.

Ouch! This week's writer has an interesting idea, but the convoluted sentence structure strangles both the idea and the grammar. How can we fix the problem?

In this week's post, we revise the sentence by:

  • making the subjects and verbs agree,
  • eliminating some repetition,
  • moving the verb up front, and
  • suggesting alternative word choices for different audiences.

View a step-by-step explanation of what we changed and why.

Do you have a candidate for sentence of the week?

If so, submit it to writing-program@uchicago.edu. Sentences must be from published, professional prose (sorry, no poetry). You must include a complete citation with your entry. If we use a sentence, we will thank you publicly (if you wish) or privately (if that's what you'd prefer), and we will also reward you with gratitude, kind thoughts, and good karma. If a sentence is good, we will reveal the name of the author on the site; if a sentence is bad, we will gracefully conceal the author's identity, telling only a few dozen of our closest friends and relations, as well as anyone else who asks nicely. All others are encouraged to try googling the sentence, which usually returns an answer faster than we do.

Bad sentences written by University of Chicago faculty, staff, or students are not eligible, since we assume that such persons write bad sentences only while under the influence of some occult force. Apart from this trivial and unimportant restriction, we welcome sentences, bad and good, by any author whatever.