Messing around with syntax. Because we can.

Anne-Marie Chisnall | March 8, 2015

The more speedily and concisely people communicate, the more we see changes in language.

I’ve just read an interesting post on Medium by Clive Thompson about new forms of writing.

He analyses some of the linguistic trends we’re seeing more and more on the internet, calling them ‘betentacled linguistic lifeforms’.

In particular, he considers the use of subordinate clauses without their usual partnering main clause.

These new linguistic lifeforms are interesting to study because, as Thompson puts it:

What’s happening now is different. Now we’re messing around with syntax  —  the structure of sentences, the order in which the various parts go and how they relate to one another … We’re mucking around with what makes a sentence a sentence.

Many of us probably couldn’t explain what a subordinate clause is, but we’ve all seen them in sentences like this:

Emma missed the meeting because she got caught in a traffic jam.

The clause ‘because she got caught in a traffic jam’ is the subordinate clause because it can’t stand alone. The main clause is ‘Emma missed the meeting’.

The subordinate clause that we’re seeing in netspeak stands alone even though it technically shouldn’t be without a main clause. Here’s an example:

When you realise that important meeting started 20 minutes ago.

It’s not exactly plain language because you’re leaving the reader to fill in the gaps. But this technique (in the right place) helps you to connect with your reader and will often raise a smile. Thompson gives four main reasons for this linguistic fashion of the moment and its variants.

Read the Medium article here
Find out more about subordinate clauses
Get access to videos and microlearning at Write Online

Insights, tips, and professional development opportunities.