by Jennie Ruby
In my most recent online writing class, I noticed that when deleting unnecessary words from a sample sentence, some students wanted to keep the word the before every item in a list, and some wanted to take it out. Here is the original wordy sentence:
You must order the lumber, as well as the nails, additionally to include the concrete and the sealant, at the very beginning of the planning stages of the project.
Here is the revised version, a simple list:
You must order the lumber, the nails, the concrete and the sealant at the beginning of the project.
Do we need the word the before every item? Grammatically, the choices are to repeat the word the before every item or use it in front of just the first item. Here is how the sentence looks without the repeated the.
You must order the lumber, nails, concrete and sealant at the beginning of the project.
The grammar is correct, but to me, the sentence now sounds too rushed or clipped. It has less of the feel of enumerating multiple items to be ordered. Now it sounds like lumber, nails, concrete and sealant are all one big thing to be ordered as a unit.
At this point, I think the sentence would sound better if we left off even the first instance of the:
You must order lumber, nails, concrete and sealant at the beginning of the project.
This version of the sentence sounds really smooth, but now the implication is that you are ordering general supplies, whereas including the word the meant that you were ordering the specific lumber, etc., needed for the project.
So here we have tried out three different ways to present this list and examined the slight differences in meaning, tone or emphasis. The one thing we cannot do with this list is include the word the randomly for some of the items and not others. You cannot use the on the first, third, and last items, for example, while omitting it from the second item. This rule is called parallelism-items in a list must be parallel in structure. But exactly how you make them parallel is a choice based on meaning, tone and emphasis.
Are you an eLearning developer who has been tasked with creating an effective voiceover script? If so, consider attending my Writing Effective eLearning Voiceover Scripts class. I also teach the Writing Training Documents and eLearning Scripts class.
About the Author: Jennie Ruby is a veteran IconLogic trainer and author with titles such as "Editing with Word 2003 and Acrobat 7" and "Editing with MS Word 2007" to her credit. She is a publishing professional with more than 20 years of experience in writing, editing and desktop publishing.