Embrace the Power of an Occasional Incomplete Sentence


Oh, the power of an occasional incomplete sentence.

It can change your entire presentation. The feel of it. The flavor. The effect.

For example, you may have noticed yourself pausing an extra second – maybe even two – after each of the four incomplete sentences above. That’s because they're designed to make you pause.

As countless other Innovative Editing blog posts have already said, working with the written word is a tricky maze to maneuver. Words in regular writing don’t have tones or personalities, hesitations or emotions, expressions or body language to help them along.

That’s why there’s a whole wide world of difference between the spoken word and the written word, with the written word being at a major disadvantage.

To some degree, incomplete sentences help level out the playing field. They can’t entirely make up for the one-dimensional nature of mere black on white, of course. It would take a lot more than a little bad grammar to pull that off.

But they can add a little spark of color nonetheless. Consider the following examples:

  1. “Forget you!” vs. “I’m going to forget you!”

  2. “Life. It certainly is an interesting experience.” vs. “Life is certainly an interesting experience.”

  3. “There are no better investments out there than a strong ETF. Not a single one.” vs. “There are no better investments out there than a strong ETF. There isn’t a single one.”

With that first dueling pair, there’s really no worthwhile comparison to be made. Not because the sentences are so similar, but because they’re so different it’s almost foolish to point it out.

Nonetheless, let’s go the foolish route for a moment to make sure everything’s entirely clear.

“Forget you!” carries immediate passion. It’s angsty. Angry. Full of utter frustration and hopelessness that the relationship being referenced will never work out.

It automatically calls to mind two people up in each other’s faces, if not in an immediate physical sense, then definitely on an emotional level.

“I’m going to forget you!” on the other hand is either entirely awkward or the kind of line one shouts as an offending party fades into the distance. It reeks of desperation: a call to convince not the person being shouted at, but the shouter himself.

The difference, admittedly, is a bit more subtle with the second example. “Life is certainly an interesting experience,” definitely does carry an attitude all by itself. It’s just a question of what attitude, with the answer being entirely dependent on which word gets special emphasis over the others.

Should it be:

  • Life is certainly an interesting experience.

  • Life is certainly an interesting experience.

  • Life is certainly an interesting experience.

  • Life is certainly an interesting experience.

  • Life is certainly an interesting experience.

Each different way carries a different attitude and therefore a different meaning, even if a slight one.

Yet there’s no question about where the emphasis is supposed to go when an incomplete sentence is thrown into the mix. With, “Life. It certainly is an interesting experience,” readers automatically know that, after they take in that first word, they’re supposed to pause. And they’re supposed to feel weighted down when they do.

How many complete sentences can pull that off so well?

Then there’s the last example involving the exchange-traded funds, or ETFs.

“There are no better investments out there than a strong ETF. Not a single one.” vs. “There are no better investments out there than a strong ETF. There isn’t a single one.”

This one showcases not a difference in meaning so much as a difference in flow.

Despite how the second set of sentences are complete, they just don’t transition nearly as well. They’re stilted, drawing more attention to their syllables than to the message those syllables are supposed to be promoting: that you really, really want to invest in strong ETFs.

So if you’re trying to promote those ETFs – or so many other subjects – accept no substitutes. Make an occasional incomplete sentence work for you more powerfully than good grammar ever could.

#incompletesentence #occasionalincompletesentence

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