Grandma's Tales

May 13, 2007

Grammar – 30 P(l)ain English

Filed under: Language — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 8:53 am

I think these sentences are from Plain I’m not sure but I’ll find out in a bit. These are in line with my arguments under “What’s wrong with simple English?” I had argued that people use words and phrases that few can understand for two reasons: (1) to confuse the listener/reader. (2) To show off their ability to throw around multi-syllabic words. Let me add a third.  Intellectual laziness. You don’t want to think and come up with fresh phrases and sentences and so you reuse cliched, flogged constructions. I suspect those who use cliches often don’t understand what they (the phrases) mean. Read these “Before & After” sentences.

Here are some examples of long-winded official writing with our (the website)  alternatives.


High-quality learning environments are a necessary precondition for facilitation and enhancement of the ongoing learning process.


Children need good schools if they are to learn properly.


If there are any points on which you require explanation or further particulars we shall be glad to furnish such additional details as may be required by telephone. [This sentence suffers form a “misplaced modifier”. Details are not required by telephone. They are required by callers.]


If you have any questions, please ring.


It is important that you shall read the notes, advice and information detailed opposite then complete the form overleaf (all sections) prior to its immediate return to the Council by way of the envelope provided.


Please read the notes opposite before you fill in the form. Then send it back to us as soon as possible in the envelope provided.


Your enquiry about the use of the entrance area at the library for the purpose of displaying posters and leaflets about Welfare and Supplementary Benefit rights, gives rise to the question of the provenance and authoritativeness of the material to be displayed. [Phew!] Posters and leaflets issued by the Central Office of Information, the Department of Health and Social Security and other authoritative bodies are usually displayed in libraries, but items of a disputatious or polemic kind, whilst not necessarily excluded, are considered individually.


Thank you for your letter asking for permission to put up posters in the library. Before we can give you an answer we will need to see a copy of the posters to make sure they won’t offend anyone.

See the need to go in for simple, direct sentences? You should, if you want a lot of people to follow what you write.


  1. let me add a fourth:
    to create, among the sense among the readers that they think what they are reading but actually don’t understand a thing., but still read it so that the readers feel that they are a part of the so called intellectuals, (or geeks, which is fast becoming a popular sub culture)

    Comment by lagrocken — May 13, 2007 @ 8:03 pm | Reply

  2. Thanks lagrocken (does this word mean anything?):-). Readers who don’t reject words and phrases that obfuscate the meaning are just fooling themselves, aren’t they?

    Comment by Geeta Padmanabhan — May 13, 2007 @ 10:02 pm | Reply

  3. Mrs P, I broadly agree with your point. And also Lagrocken’s, insofaras various trades use a sort of short-hand that is often incomprehensible to others not in their trade. So extra care is needed in communication with non-specialists.

    Sometimes however the lack of understanding of the context leads to unwarranted criticism. The Plain English campaign in the UK presented its annual award to Donald Rumsfeld for the following statement.

    “Former United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for comments in a press briefing. “Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

    This had caused much mirth at the time. Rumsfeld has a hawkish reputation in policy circles and is nobody’s fool. He was merely articulating how risks are classified in policy literature and practice, in terms of both whether the risk factor is known per se and whether the risk factor is known to those assessing risks in a particular context. The said ‘unknown unknowns’ are the ones whose probability cannot be ascertained since we do not know them as risk factors we should look out for.

    I do not know of any simpler way to classify these. Do you have any suggestions?

    Comment by Shefaly — May 14, 2007 @ 11:13 am | Reply

  4. Of course one of the best examples of lingual obfuscation is Sokal’s hoax which caused many a red face. This link is useful:

    Comment by Shefaly — May 14, 2007 @ 11:15 am | Reply

  5. i don’t know if(i can’t tell weather is weather or the other one which i keep forgetting,it has happened since my memory goes,certain words just don’t stick) i am the 1st type or 2nd one…..

    i form kinda weird sentences sometimes….specially in my poems…it would be longer than the world’s largest saree…(all of them in my take look if you have time and comment…)..but sometimes i go for the tooo simple to think sentence(whatever that means)…in which have the basic stuff are not there…

    frankly a year before…i would be the simple english guy…suddenly started loving the language and now i can’t even think in tamil!!

    i solemnly swear i don’t know what i have written…my mind keeps pointing out that you are a teacher and tells me not to fool around!

    Comment by vishesh — May 14, 2007 @ 3:15 pm | Reply

  6. Hi Shefaly, thanks for the link. I have just this simple question about your comment on Rumy’s words. If what he said was so clear to everyone, why do you have to go into this explanation? As a politician and a policy maker for the nation he has a responsibility to articulate his thoughts in words that will reach the maximum number of people, right? I am not amused at all. I am alarmed! Animal Farm, Animal Farm!

    Hi Visesh, thanks for stopping by. Please feel free to air your thoughts. We all make mistakes. What we need is the willingness to correct ourselves and take it as a learning opportunity. Once you discover the joy of learning, everything falls in place. Life, then, is a breeze.

    Comment by Geeta Padmanabhan — May 14, 2007 @ 10:31 pm | Reply

  7. Mrs P: As far as I know, no critics of his choice of words have ever come up with anything better. 🙂

    I think it is easy to criticise, but without better suggestions, it is not much use, is it? What do you think?

    Comment by Shefaly — May 14, 2007 @ 11:46 pm | Reply

  8. No, all sentences should be written in this fashion. If people aren’t competent enough to comprehend the meaning, then they don’t really deserve a simpler version.

    Comment by Navaneethan Santhanam — July 17, 2007 @ 11:08 pm | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: