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How to Write in Plain English (plainenglish.co.uk)
724 points by zackhsi 11 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 313 comments

Writing clearly is like playing Tetris. Sentences should be presented with clauses that drop down and slot together efficiently. At the earliest available opportunity you drop in a block that completes the line and points are won/made.

This can also make for rather dull writing and I appreciate the irony in this paragraph:

> However, at first you may still find yourself writing the odd long sentence, especially when trying to explain a complicated point. But most long sentences can be broken up in some way.

Here we see the Tetris player drop a sequence of blocks leaving a 3x1 gap down the left edge. Where are they going with this? More blocks stack up on the middle and right, there are “bubbles” in the pile that are covered by squares and there’s still that annoying gap on the left holding them back from clearing. Time passes. The screen is now getting dangerously full.

Then they drop in a pair of 4x1 blocks that completes rows 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6. The bubbles on rows 4 and 7 become exposed making a T shaped hole. The next block to fall is a T shape. The screen clears, the sentence’s cognitive buffer is flushed, and we move on to the next point.

Don't make your readers hold parts of the sentence in their head. Reorder or split sentences until it can be avoided. In other words, use a really small buffer.

"You must fill form 331 unless you are over 60 years old, in which case you must fill form 445."

"You must fill form 331. If you are over 60 years old, you must fill 445 instead."

"If you are over 60 years old, you must fill form 445. Otherwise, you must fill form 331."

You might have noticed that the last version is an if-else statement.

Overflowing that buffer really does feel like a stack overflow, too. Your whole mental state just suddenly disappears in a puff of smoke.

This resplendent sentence in the Vulkan spec did it to me the other day:

The layout of subresources of images on other logical devices that are bound to VkDeviceMemory objects associated with the same underlying memory resources as external memory objects on the lost device becomes VK_IMAGE_LAYOUT_UNDEFINED.

I got about half way through and suddenly discovered I didn't know where I was, what year it was or my name.

Trying to rewrite that sentence so it's comprehensible is an interesting exercise. How about this?

(I don't know anything about Vulkan, and there is some ambiguity in the quoted sentence, so I've given a few different versions with different meanings. Note that the ambiguity is not necessarily a flaw in the quoted sentence -- it may be perfectly unambiguous, albeit very unclear, to anyone with any knowledge of Vulkan.)

If a device is lost, the subresources of some images on other logical devices may have their layout become VK_IMAGE_LAYOUT_UNDEFINED. This happens if the VkDeviceMemory object to which the image is bound is associated with the same underlying memory resources as an external memory object on the lost device.

... or, if an image isn't necessarily bound to exactly one VkDeviceMemory object, ...

If a device is lost, the subresources of some images on other logical devices may have their layouts become VK_IMAGE_LAYOUT_UNDEFINED. This happens if the image is bound to a VkDeviceMemory object which is associated with the same underlying memory resources as an external memory object on the lost device.

... or, if it's the other logical device bound to a VkDeviceMemory object rather than the image:

If a device is lost, the subresources of images on other logical devices may have their layouts become VK_IMAGE_LAYOUT_UNDEFINED. This happens if the other device is bound to a VkDeviceMemory object which is associated with the same underlying memory resources as an external memory object on the lost device.

Or maybe a slightly different structure. "If a device is lost, and some VkDeviceMemory object is associated with hte same underlying memory resources as an external memory object on that lost device, then all subresources of any image bound to that VkDeviceMemory object have their layout set to VK_IMAGE_LAYOUT_UNDEFINED."

But I can't help thinking that this really wants a diagram. Nodes for the logical devices, the images, the VkDeviceMemory object, the "underlying memory resources", the external memory object. Labelled arrows for relationships like "bound to", "has as underlying memory resource", "is a subresource of", etc.

And it seems as if this business of "having your layout set to VK_IMAGE_LAYOUT_UNDEFINED" deserves a name. (Naming things is a powerful general technique for reducing cognitive stack overflows.)

"Under some circumstances, the memory resources associated with an image may be invalidated, in which case all subresources of the image will have layout VK_IMAGE_LAYOUT_INVALIDATED and [explain here the consequences of that]. In this case, the image is said to be layout-invalidated. " ... And then later, when talking about lost devices, you say "If a device is lost, images on other logical devices may be layout-invalidated. This happens when the image is bound to a VkDeviceMemory object, and that object is associated with the same underlying memory resources as an external memory object on the lost device."

Most of the time if someone speaks to me in a non-casual context, my brain is constantly navigating the pathing process you describe. Although language is often not ambiguous, most people do not make their meaning as explicit as necessary to avoid confusion.

This is how I felt while reading philosophy essays. I'm not even sure half of those are even saying anything.

A lot of philosophy essays are written as part of the writer being in the process of trying to figure things out for themselves, without quite having gotten there yet.

It really shows, just like docs written by someone who hasn't actually understood what they're writing about yet.

This is why second drafts exist

We had this joke.

A meeting of faculty heads is taking place. The topic - funding. The chairman says: "Hey, physicists, why are you so expensive? You need all those gadgets and materials to perform your experiments. Look at the mathematicians. All they need to produce a research paper are a box of paper, a box of pencils, and a trash can." "We don't even need trash cans, sir." announces the dean of Philosophy.

I guess they have an equivalent repository with roughly the same impact factor.

The janitor concurs.

“Hallelujah”-Coen, Leonard.

*Cohen (or כֹּהֵן if you're feeling particularly pedantic.) :-)

Thank you :)

That's a lot of qualified noun phrases. This should just be an s-expression. It's already one, honestly, but without the right parenthesis.

(becomes (qualified (layout of subresources of images on other logical devices) (bound . (same-memory-resources (VkDeviceMemory objects) (external memory objects on the lost device)))) VK_IMAGE_LAYOUT_UNDEFINED)

Will natural-language tools eventually help us turn these puddles of nouns into reasonable sentences?

We have a small number of "slots" of short term memory. I wonder how smart we'd be if we had twice as many slots.

I don’t think we’d see the difference if everybody had roughly the same number. Ive seen people who have a few more slots than average and it appears quite inpressive, they keep on stacking up when I already overflow. It’s probably got to do with how they chunk their information though.. But a piece of paper and a pencil can do wonders

Paper and pencil is like writing to swap.

> Don't make your readers hold parts of the sentence in their head.

Funny to read this as I'm learning German! In German the main verb of a sentence has to be at the end depending on the context (e.g: if it is a question, or following some prepositions such as "dass").

Let's say we want to build a question, it will be constructed this way:

1. question marker (such as "Was", "Wo", "Warum", etc)

2. subject

3. other details regarding the subject (adjectives and others)

4. the verb, with correct grammatical form depending on the subject

Something I find quite frustrating is that I have to keep in mind everything about the subject during the entire duration of the sentence just to be able to use the verb correctly. So because of this I always try to keep the distance between a subject and the verb as short as possible when trying to speak German, which results in very terse sentences that looks similar to what you described.

My life partner speaks native German and doesn't even realize that she does this buffering.

A famously playful version of this is the first sentence of Kafka's Metamophorphosis. The reader has the concept of Gregor Samsa waking in his bed from uneasy dreams and then a monstrous vermin in their heads, and the verb they're definitely not expecting to link this subject and object is 'transformed into'...

It's a pain for the translator to pull off the same effect in most other languages.

That reminds me of this story:

An American woman visiting Berlin - intent on hearing Bismarck speak - obtained two tickets for the Reichstag visitors' gallery and enlisted an interpreter to accompany her.

Soon after their arrival, Bismarck rose and began to speak. The interpreter, however, simply sat listening with intense concentration. The woman, anxious for him to begin translating, nudged and budged him, to no avail.

Finally, unable to control herself any longer, the woman burst out: "What is he saying!?" "Patience, madam," the interpreter replied. "I am waiting for the verb."

> Als Gregor Samsa eines Morgens aus unruhigen Träumen erwachte, fand er sich in seinem Bett zu einem ungeheueren Ungeziefer verwandelt.

"As Gregor Samsa one morning from restless dreams awoke, found he himself in his bed into a huge verminous bug transformed."

> Als Gregor Samsa eines Morgens aus unruhigen Träumen erwachte, fand er sich in seinem Bett zu einem ungeheueren Ungeziefer verwandelt.

Haha, that's a nice one, thanks for sharing :)

I had a Brazilian roommate who could second this. He (jokingly) complained this was the absolute worst when dealing with split-proposition-verbs:

E. g. "aufgeben" translated part-by-part is "upgive", so "to surrender" or "to give up" in English.

However, in sth. like 3rd position singular, the form would be "er gibt auf" ("he gives up"). But in German, the object goes between "gives" and "up".

Thus, my roommate mentioned a sentence like "Der Präsident gibt sein Versprechen zur Verbesserung der Arbeitslosigkeitsquote auf" (The President gives up his promise about improving unemploymemt rates).

So yeah, parsing German sometimes results a pause while everyone unwinds their stack.

Well, English too has some interesting ideas where to put prepositions in the sentence, that is, turn them basically into postpositions. For example, "Which basket did you put that exquisite marble figurine in?"

The "in" is logically related to "which basket", so one would expect that the question would actually be *"In which basket...", but nope, that's rustic and colloquial at best. I suspect it's because of the word inversion in questions, since in dependent clauses the order is reasonable: "I put the figurine in this woven concrete basket over there".

> that's rustic and colloquial at best.

nope, the other way around; "don't end sentences in prepositions" is a formal rule iirc. Quoting Grammarly website,

* Which journal was your article published in? (Casual)

* In which journal was your article published? (Formal)

"In which basket did you put that exquisite marble figurine?" is perfectly good English. It sounds better to me that the "which ... in" version. (British English speaker.)

To my ears, a slight improvement to this would be to use the word "Into" instead of "In":

"Into which basket did you put that exquisite marble figurine?"

Or within which, with which, yields a pleasant alliteration.

This is the type of errant sentence up with which I will not put.

with that I'd put myself up with, but nice would be if more was written text along the lines of this...

This is a fascinating discussion.

Could the tension/buffering in that sentence be resolved with something like: "Which basket has got that exquisite marble figurine"? When spoken by a native speaker 'has got' would likely be contracted to "which basket's got"

Sub out 'has got' for 'contains' if you want to be more formal.

Shorten even further to "Exquisite marble figure; which basket?" or "which basket? Exquisite marble figure." Depending on which is more likely to short circuit based on context.

I have in mind an idea for a movie scenario where someone important is on their death bed and says their last words, and nobody can tell what they actually meant because it may be missing the second part of the verb, resulting in a potentially completely different meaning :)

"Was ist der Unterschied zwischen einem Raben und einem Schreibtisch"?

As you mention, it gets even screwier given the opportunity to put a "nicht" (not) at the very end of a sentence to lead listeners down a garden path.

You can do the same thing in English but it's pretty obnoxious.

Yes, but the grammar doesn't lend itself to it quite as nicely (any more, compared to earlier forms of English, IIRC).

In German, the word order "I believe you not" is the proper way to phrase that sentiment, without being pithy about it.

So, "the President gives his promise about improving unemploymemt rates up"?

This is no different in English: "He told the upstanding, proper young woman off".

A cursory search [0] suggests that English allows not having such a wide gap between verb parts if it sounds odd, i.e.

"He told off the ... woman."

German doesn't (directly) give you that chance.

[0] https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/77472/is-there-a...

Yes, I'm saying it also allows leaving the gap.

>An average sentence, in a German newspaper, is a sublime and impressive curiosity; it occupies a quarter of a column; it contains all the ten parts of speech--not in regular order, but mixed; it is built mainly of compound words constructed by the writer on the spot, and not to be found in any dictionary--six or seven words compacted into one, without joint or seam--that is, without hyphens; it treats of fourteen or fifteen different subjects, each enclosed in a parenthesis of its own, with here and there extra parentheses, making pens with pens: finally, all the parentheses and reparentheses are massed together between a couple of king-parentheses, one of which is placed in the first line of the majestic sentence and the other in the middle of the last line of it--AFTER WHICH COMES THE VERB, and you find out for the first time what the man has been talking about; and after the verb--merely by way of ornament, as far as I can make out--the writer shovels in "HABEN SIND GEWESEN GEHABT HAVEN GEWORDEN SEIN," or words to that effect, and the monument is finished. I suppose that this closing hurrah is in the nature of the flourish to a man's signature--not necessary, but pretty. German books are easy enough to read when you hold them before the looking-glass or stand on your head--so as to reverse the construction--but I think that to learn to read and understand a German newspaper is a thing which must always remain an impossibility to a foreigner.


I was just thinking about German the whole time.

I knew a German to Polish translator and she complained about how hard live translation was when a key part of the sentence is held until the very end.

Ten minutes into his lecture, the German professor exclaimed to his restless audience, “Don’t leave yet, I was just getting to the verb.”

As someone who is also learning German (Viel Glück!), doesn't the verb always go into the second position unless:

1. It's an infinitive verb, perfect verb, or a verb in a subclause, in which case it goes to the end.

2. You're asking a question without a question word (i.e. "Can you" or "Will you") or issuing a command, in which case the verb moves to the beginning).


Verb in second position:

> "Was willst du" -> What do you want?

Infinitive verb at the end of the clause:

> "Ich will mit dir reden" -> I want to talk to you

Conjugated verb at the end of a subclause:

> "Kannst du mir versprechen, dass du mich nie verlassen -wirst?" -> Can you promise you will never leave me

Just to clarify, I'm not any sort of authority on this. Merely trying to double check my own understanding as I continue on my language learning journey :)

Pretty much! However, as such it's really only second in simple present and preterite statements, which are actually sort of rare outside of really simple sentences.

In light of that, the default German construction is effectively verb-last. (separable prefixes moving to the end exacerbates this need for buffering too)

Good point! The separable verb things is super strange for me as a native English speaker. I haven't internalized the meaning for any separable verbs so whenever I see them in text, I usually end up having to re-read or re-listen to the text with the knowledge in mind to actually get the meaning.

Üben macht den Meister!

I learned Dutch, which does the same thing with the verb, and at one point after a few years it just clicked and started feeling natural to structure sentences that way. I've been living abroad long enough that occasionally I catch myself trying to organize English sentences in that way as I'm speaking (which, of course, results in falling flat on my face at the end.)

In Dutch at least, you can imagine these really long sentences which build up details, adding more and more, until they finally surprise you with the verb at the end. But in practice people don't speak that way - the patterns of speech and just the way people use the language in different subtle ways mostly prevents that from happening, in natural ways that don't feel terse. It may be different in academia/legal professions and that sort of thing.

Actually, in Dutch there is quite some flexibility in verb ordering. Teachers actively warn against so-called pliers-constructions where a subordinate clause is wedged between subject and verb.

Example time!

Dutch: "De man die de vrouw die bloemen plukt kust." Literally: "The man who (the woman (who flowers picks)) kisses" Meaning: "The man who kisses the woman that is picking flowers"

The subordinate clause is sandwiched between subject and verb. However, Dutch allows the following order:

Dutch: "De man die de vrouw kust die bloemen plukt." Literally: "The man who (the woman) kisses (who flowers picks)"

In this case the verb kisses has moved to the front. It is a transformation that allows a form of tail recursion elimination. After the main verb the parse stack for the main clause can be popped and all resources dedicated to parsing the trailing subordinate clause(s). This allows us to string together quite a lot of subclauses without getting lost.

> This allows us to string together quite a lot of subclauses without getting lost.

Correct, a sentence like this is quite easy to read:

De man, die gewoonlijk zijn handen afveegt aan zijn broek, besloot dit keer zijn handen af te vegen aan de handdoek die zijn vrouw, die gister nog bloemen aan het plukken was, specifiek hiervoor had neergelegd.

Oh my, yes. Although I disagree, as it's not such a hard thing when you break it down, I'm usually considered a language genius. I am fluent in more than a handful of languages and my travel activity of choice is learning the local language as fast as I can, which starts yielding real results around the 2 week mark. But despite living in Germany for 16 years and having studied it in a bilingual middle school for a handful more, I don't dare near a German newspaper. Japanese has proven similarly hard, but for completely different reasons.

Reminds me of this excellent sentence of Hofstadter's, on the concept of treating language as a stack composed of clauses and popped by verbs:

"The proverbial German phenomenon of the 'verb-at-the-end', about which droll tales of absentminded professors who would begin a sentence, ramble on for an entire lecture, and then finish up by rattling off a string of verbs by which their audience, for whom the stack had long since lost its coherence, would be totally nunplussed, are told, is an excellent example of linguistic pushing and popping."

I’m from Austria, so I speak german, but I don’t think we buffer. We guess through out the sentence what the next part might be and slowly move that assumption to the final meaning of the sentence. That’s why I have to reread a sentence, when I was wrong. Same principle as in jokes.

I'm not a German speaker, but verb-at-the-end sounds like reverse Polish notation (of happy memory, learned for my brand-new 1972 HP-35 calculator).

I think none of those is the best way to write this. Start with the conditional first, so the reader knows a branch is coming. Then have the most common case immediately following. Invert the conditional if that's necessary to put the common case first. Restating the opposite of the conditional can make it even clearer.

"If you are age 59 or under, fill form 331. If you are 60 or over, fill form 445."

Experienced UX practitioners will immediately note that a surprisingly large proportion of users don't actually know how old they are; furthermore, of those that do, another significant segment will (intentionally or otherwise) mis-state their age, date of birth etc.

This problem is further exacerbated by the wide variety of temporal arithmetic possibilities any such workflow might adopt.

The solution is to either combine the forms, or (in an interactive context) ask the user if they were born before 1960, then give them the right form.

> a surprisingly large proportion of users don't actually know how old they are

How did they manage this? I've tried every way I can think of forgetting my age, to no avail -the bastard number is always there :)

I'm in my twenties. Sometimes I forget my age. Only ever by one year -- I just don't remember if my birthday passed or not. Kind of like in January when write oit today's date and accidentally use the previous year. After a few mistakes, your brain adjusts and you start using the right one. Same thing for my age, except that I don't actually think about my age very often; it hasn't mattered much since I passed 21.

A colleague of a old friend would recall your birth year (and date?) to know your age. It is a value about you that doesn’t change and then you can derive the age.

I’ve started doing similar now. I don’t often recall my age or the number of years my wife and I have been married, or, heck, even our kid’s ages. But I recall all the years and dates. In this way, I more easily appear to recall the right value.

I'm in my late twenties and sometimes I need to pause, a bit like dealing with left/right or east/west.

I may forget my age, but I can't forget I'm now over 30.

I've no idea of my precise age.

Of course. The Uncertainty Principle encodes this consequence: we know exactly how fast we are aging, ergo we cannot know exactly how old we are.

I really don't like style (2). It starts with a false/incomplete statement.

  Diffusing bomb model AX72 steps:
  - Cut the blue wire.
  - But first cut the red wire.

Your last one requires keeping the first clause of the first sentence in your head; just because you've split sentences doesn't mean you've avoided that, because “otherwise” imports the conditional in the previous sentence by reference and then inverts it. To actually avoid requiring the reader to keep sentence parts in their head, use if-then or do-if constructs, but not if-then-else constructs.

“Complete form 445 if you are over 60 years old. Complete form 331 if you are 60 years old or younger.”

That's a bad example of how to express age limits. If I've just had my 60th birthday, or perhaps today is my birthday, which applies, or do I have to fill in both forms?

Also, is it my age at the time I sign the form, or my age at the time the form is received, that matters? Arguably that's a problem with the rule itself rather than how it's expressed. It's better if you can write something like: "If you were born before 6 April 1960 ... otherwise ...". Note that "after 6 Apr 1960" is arguably more ambiguous than "before 6 Apr 1960" because there's a slight risk that someone could interpret "6 Apr 1960" as meaning 1960-04-06 00:00:00.

This problem is vaguely related to the insurance policy renewals that leave a one-minute gap between the old policy and the new policy, and even more vaguely related to the ambiguity of "midnight on the next day".

> It's better if you can write something like: "If you were born before 6 April 1960 ... otherwise ...". Note that "after 6 Apr 1960" is arguably more ambiguous than "before 6 Apr 1960" because there's a slight risk that someone could interpret "6 Apr 1960" as meaning 1960-04-06 00:00:00.

I strongly prefer pairing “before” and “on or after” (or “on or before” with “after”) when it comes to dates. “On <date>” is widely and conventionally understood to encompass the entire day, and it seems to make it far less likely than with after/before alone with “otherwise” that people will trip up over boundary conditions. But the right phrasing is highly sensitive to the context and the underlying rule; if it's an age based rule and you have fixed text that doesn't dynamically adjust by dates you can't use date-based language even if it would be clearer.

Oh man I'm having day nightmare flashbacks about the time I spent days parsing some well-meant European Energy-Saving directive and figuring out whether we could sell a PC with a fixed-frequency CPU, and all power- and energy-saving features disabled (latency concerns). Ouch... There were some official and unofficial logic diagrams and they made things even worse. Lexicon was pretty vague, use-cases too, exceptions too... and you end up writing some kind of justification for you being one of the special cases and praying it's OK. And it wasn't even the worst normative document I've ever read. It was clear about the spirit of the directive...

Imprecise language to allow flexibility and 'let the judges decide'... I'm not sure I'm comfortable with common-law-inspired regulation.

Not sure how to do this better though.

I disagree. Putting the "if" clause first means you can skip this sentence. In other words, the if-sentences are guard clauses to the default option (fill form 331).

In other words, it's not really an if-else block, but just an if statement before the default scenario. Almost everyone has to fill form 331.

I think the sentence structure you suggest would quickly make a longer text tedious to read. I have experimented with that sentence format, and it added a lot of text, but not a lot of clarity.

I also think that putting the if statement at the end makes little sense, just like when reading code.

I think you gave a good reason why passive voice is preferred in some situations.

To me (I am not a native speaker), the default emphasis is on the first words:

The police stopped the riot. -> emphasis on the police

The riot was stopped by the police. -> emphasis on the riot

It coincides with the examples in which passive voice is recommended.

> To make something less hostile - 'this bill has not been paid' (passive) is softer than 'you have not paid this bill' (active).

> To avoid taking the blame - 'a mistake was made' (passive) rather than 'we made a mistake' (active).


Yes, I agree that we often overuse passive voice, and active voice is a good default. However, I think that the rule of thumb should be "write in the natural order", rather than "don't use passive voice unless strictly necessary".

None of this can really be pinned on the use of passive voice. Attention is naturally drawn by the beginning of a sentence and to the end of it, and while the passive is a powerful tool for reordering sentences, its function is equally well served by verbs with the opposite alignment. There is nothing about "there were mistakes" or "mistakes happened" that attributes more agency to anyone than "mistakes were made", but only the last one is passive.

Rather, there is a rich history in English prescriptivism of misdiagnosing and blaming the passive for all ills.


The overwhelming reason why bureaucrats (either those in government or in corporate middle management) love the passive voice is "to avoid taking the blame" (or to avoid appearing to blame someone powerful).

Or just have a proper online form that asks for your DoB and leads you through entry of the necessary info.

FWIW in UK 'must' in gov advice indicates a legal obligation. It annoys me no end when such obligations are not supported by references to legislation: as then I can't check if they've been correctly interpreted.

Prose should be readable, but also functional.

That works for forms. I write static content.

I did start adding little calculators and utilities in my articles, but those only make sense because I have a lot of free time.

I heavily cite sources, so at least you'd know the exact paragraph in the law that supports it. It's something my competitors neglect, and it makes it hard to tell facts apart from hearsay.

The worst of the three versions you've given is the second, as it makes use of a sentence which, taken on its own, is a lie.

It's poor writing to state a mistruth and then whittle away at it until you arrive at the truth. Far better to build up truth upon truth until you arrive at the full picture.


A natural number greater than 1 cannot be expressed as the product of two smaller natural numbers, if it is prime.


A prime number is a natural number greater than 1 that is not a product of two smaller natural numbers. (Stolen from Wikipedia.)

It still requires a fairly large buffer. It could be improved with some punctuation.

A prime number is a natural number that is greater than 1, and not a product of two smaller numbers.

Commas let you catch your breath and flush the buffer. When there are two many commas, I use a bullet list.

My point was there's an additional anti-pattern at play. As the reader progresses through a sentence, they shouldn't have to mentally cross out previously made categorical claims. This isn't quite the same thing as the stack overflow problem.

I'm afraid I don't see your rephrasing as an improvement. It doesn't substantially restructure the sentence, and to someone familiar with the mathematical writing style, it reads less naturally.

The last one is only good if you actually read it. I might end up seeing the first clause, assuming the entire line is irrelevant, and moving on without seeing the "Otherwise".

Prefer declarative statements:

"If you are 60 or older, you must fill form 445.

If you are 59 or younger, you must fill form 331."

But I can't short-circuit those, so I have to read all of them just in case multiple apply.

I might go for: If you are 60 years old or younger, fill form 331. If you are older than 60 years, fill form 445.

> the sentence’s cognitive buffer is flushed

Somehow, this single expression made me finally (after reading beginning of it) understand your post better. Before that expression had hit my apprehension, the post read like "what is he on about?".

Perhaps needless to point out, but this is quite a beautiful thing you've done there: the expression itself works as the very thing it describes, in the context of your post. Within the post, that expression is the T-shaped block, - the thing that clears the buffer and makes all the collected blocks all make sense together.

Personally I really dislike that example text.

Starting a paragraph with However doesn't seem right. It ties the paragraph too intimately to the previous one, from which it should stand apart. Similarly, sometimes it may be ok to begin a sentence with But, but in this instance it doesn't read quite right. I'd have preferred:

> At first you may still find yourself writing the odd long sentence, especially when trying to explain a complicated point. Fortunately, most long sentences can be broken up in some way.

Something the article does but doesn't mention, is to use short paragraphs. I do this instinctively on Hacker News/Stack Overflow/email, I think it improves readability, although it might not be appropriate for more formal writing (papers, books).

I disagree with

> Starting a paragraph with However doesn't seem right.

If I were to do this, my paragraphs would become at least 3 times as long. Because much of my writing is complex enough that it takes about half a page to make the 'basic argument' and another half a page to explain the exceptions to the basic argument. I would put both half-pages in separate paragraphs. And I do think it makes sense to start the second paragraph with however. It clearly signals to the reader that:

* The previous point is finished (end of previous paragraph)

* Reading this paragraph without having read the previous one doesn't make sense.

I don't think my second point there is bad. The second paragraph deserves to be split from the first to delineate the arguments. It allows the reader time to drop all but the conclusion of the previous paragraph from their mind. But the second paragraph still depends heavily on the first.

> If I were to do this, my paragraphs would become at least 3 times as long. Because much of my writing

I find this jarring to read. That should be a comma, not a period. By using a period, you've technically made your sentence shorter, but the structure is unchanged. Alternatively you could just chop the Because, and it would flow fine. I really doubt your writing is thrice the density of mine. I very rarely encounter writing that approaches sentences this way, authors are able to get by fine without it.

I find it similarly jarring to read the sentences beginning with and, or but. It's as if you've told me the sentence is finished, only to then reopen it. It's like a programming language permitting a && b; && c;

There may be situations where it's ok to do this, but I wouldn't overuse it.

> Alternatively you could just chop the Because, and it would flow fine.

Hmmm, I guess I agree. I am going to try that a lot. In sentence structure I often get the issue of "$Claim, because $justification." This leads to really long sentences that I feel should be split. And again, I want to preserve the link between the two parts. Doing $Claim. $Justification. Feels like I am making an unsubstantiated claim followed by another unrelated claim.

In the programming language I would see this sort of as:

    int a = foo(b);

    int foo(b){
        return 1 + b
(Ignoring a forward declaration of foo in some header).

I guess this is similar to my earlier point. Where I want to split the un-related parts but still want to capture the strong relation between the two.

An alternative might be something like.

"We know that $justification. Hence, it follows that $claim."

You've given me food for thought. Thanks!

This is such a beautiful explanation. Comments like this make me come back to HN again and again.

Can I say that this is an excellent piece of writing, the tension at the end of the second last paragraph was only finally relieved by the final sentence.


I enjoyed reading the second half in a nature documentary narrator's voice. Or a tennis announcer maybe.

The article doesn't mention the way that word placement changes the meaning of sentences. From a video I recently saw but can't recall, consider these sentences:

- Although John is a nice guy, he beats his dog.

- Although John beats his dog, he's a nice guy.

- John is a nice guy, but he beats his dog.

- John beats his dog, but he's a nice guy.

These are all plain English sentences, but will be interpreted quite differently. For the moment, try to set aside the moral judgement on dog beating and consider what the author's opinion of John is in each case.

For example, readers tend to latch onto the last part of a sentence. So putting the nice guy part last tends to support John. Whereas putting the dog beating last tends to undermine John.

Same facts, almost the same words, but different messages.

Pronunciation changes meaning too.

"i didn't say he stole the money." this doesn't say much, but when a word is stressed takes on a new meaning, so one should be careful to capture the stress in writing.

I didn't say he stole the money. - someone else said it, not me

i DIDN'T say he stole the money. - you think I said it, it wasn't me.

i didn't SAY he stole the money. - I never said such a thing, might have suggested it's a possibility, but never said it.

i didn't say HE stole the money. - I said someone else stole it.

i didn't say he STOLE the money. - I might have said he took it, like borrowed, but definitely didn't say he stole it, who knows?

i didn't say he stole THE money. - not the money in question, another money.

i didn't say he stole the MONEY. - he stole something else besides the money.

So the same sentence can mean something very different and to really make sure the reader get's the meaning, will need more context than in spoken language.

While obviously everyone's native tongue seems the most expressive to them, I can't shake off the feeling that written (and often even spoken) English is just lacking a lot of the nuance and expressiveness of other languages. It's just more factual and dry and lacks a lot of implied texture, even after having learned and used it for decades. (But perhaps I'm just still not advanced enough to notice it.)

For example in Hungarian, most of the above emphasis differences would have to be reflected in word order and would therefore be visible in writing.

This makes translation also quite difficult, because English likes to play with this ambiguity a lot: "I won't kill you." "Oh thank God!" "... Johnny, my assistant will." - this is hard to express the same way in Hungarian, because you'd have use a different word order in the first sentence if you negate the "I" vs. if you negate the "kill". (Or more precisely: you'd include the "I" if and only if it's emphasized, otherwise the "I" pronoun has to be omitted in Hungarian.)

Your lede and finish are somewhat contradictory, don't you think? English can't both lack nuance and expressiveness, and be difficult to translate because of the nuance and expressivity!

Languages hide their expressive power in different places, rather. Hungarian is primarily an agglutinative language, while English is historically a fusional language, which lost most of its inflection and is mainly analytic in its modern form.

In conclusion, the first clause of your first sentence is bearing most of the load.

> Your lede and finish are somewhat contradictory, don't you think? English can't both lack nuance and expressiveness, and be difficult to translate because of the nuance and expressivity!

Depends on what "nuance" exactly means here. What I meant is specifically the kind of logical and structural ambiguity like what "NOT" refers to or what "TOO" refers to. For example "I ate lunch, too..." can be continued as "... not just my friend" or as "...not just breakfast". In Hungarian this wouldn't be possible because the grammar is less ambiguous. The word order would tell what the "too" refers to, similar with "not".

English feels distinctly "Tarzan-like", it feels like words put next to each other. Most of the difficulty in learning English comes from the strange orthography and the difficult phonology and, yes, some of the grammar too, like tenses. But students can start building correct sentences from day one, because there is not much complexity in the grammar. High fancy prose in English is mostly about using rare words and synonyms, not through intricate grammatical structure.

As I said one effect in the opposite direction is the richness of tenses in English. All the "I had been going" or "I used to go" and "I have gone" and "I am going" kind of complex tenses do not exist in Hungarian. So it may be that we just notice the parts of our native language that have no equivalent in the second language, while discounting things we don't "need" as extraneous complexity and fluff. For example in Hungarian if you want to tell a story with complex timelines, you can't rely on tenses alone as in English, you have to give more explicit times or say "before that" and "meanwhile" and similar temporal phrases explicitly.

> it feels like words put next to each other.

Yes, that's what an analytic language is: words put next to each other.

English is also a creole language, synthesized from an Anglo base stratum with French imposed by the ruling class. This has a simplifying effect on a language: as you point out, English is simple to pick up, and devilish to master.

I will say this: Hungarians offer this complaint about English more often than can be explained by chance. Russians and Germans as well, two heavily inflected languages. I gather that Hungarians are justly proud of their language, and wish I had a spare decade to see what all the fuss is about!

One aspect of this analytic ambiguity which I treasure, is the facility with which humor can be expressed in English. Even the silly Groucho Marx kind, like "One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, I don't know."

It's simple: when you want to express any those different meanings in writing, you don't just transliterate what you would say orally. It's as simple at writing "that" instead of "the." Except, obviously, when the ambiguity is deliberate.

That is so cool. I speak indian languages such as Tamil and Hindi. I am not aware of such a usage that you are referring to. Can you give me an example? I am not able understand how word order makes clear the word that the speaker wants to emphasize. Is it peculiar to Hungarian?

Good keywords to search for are "topic" and "focus" and "topic-prominent languages".

Basically word order reflects the informational structure of the sentence, as opposed to grammatical structure. So what was known before, what is the new information, what is the surprising bit etc. East Asian languages like Japanese do this as well and are perhaps better known for this internationally.

I didn't say he stole the money. - Nem (not) én (I) mondtam (said-I), hogy (that) ellopta (he-stole) a (the) pénzt (money-accusative).

i DIDN'T say he stole the money. - Én nem mondtam, hogy ellopta a pénzt.

i didn't SAY he stole the money. - Mondani nem mondtam, hogy ellopta a pénzt. (Needs a bit of different structure)

i didn't say HE stole the money. - Nem mondtam, hogy ő lopta el a pénzt. (See how ő=he/she has only appeared now, it was implied by the conjugation before)

i didn't say he STOLE the money. - Nem azt mondtam, hogy ellopta a pénzt.

i didn't say he stole THE money. - Nem azt mondtam, hogy A pénzt lopta el. (This one is unusual already in English, we'd explicitly say "that money", not just "THE money").

i didn't say he stole the MONEY. - Nem azt mondtam, hogy a pénzt lopta el.


Imagine if English had versions like:

Not I said he stole the money. I not said he stole the money. I not said stole he the money. I not said the money he stole.

Or something like that. Depending on which part is negated the order would be different. However since English morphology is very simple, you can't shuffle the words around because grammatical structure is only encoded by the words' position in the sentence, there are no significant conjugations and declensions to mark words according to their role in the sentence.

I always find it weird that English texts and speach tend to emphasis different word in sentence that I am used to in my mother tongue. In Polish it's simple, just like in your example, the word that is in bold is the one you are trying to get attention to.

But in practice I hear often in English media and books something completely else, where a word next to it has the accent/emphasis, not the one that is CLEARLY arising from context.

I tried to consult that with local English teachers and people coaching others in communication in that language, but they just had no idea what I am talking about.

In your example it would be: "i didn't SAY he stole the money" when it's perfectly clear from context that the person denies such situation ever had place and was not involved in it in any way.

In TV it's just weird, but maybe I'm dumb, or person speaking is weird. But in books it's stated with bold font or "<<word>>" and the context is clear. I saw that espacially in books from 1940-1970, modern reeditions from UK and US have all those bold text left intact.

Very awkward for a non native speaker.

I think there's also a difference between the way I (an English person) would place the emphasis in a sentence compared to the way I hear Americans speak. One thing that frequently makes it more difficult for me to understand is an adjective/noun phrase with the emphasis at the start, so the important part (the noun) is nearly swallowed.

Thanks for your input, this may be it! I checked my old books I mentioned and although my editions are sometimes from UK, the authors are either originally from US or lived there.

I wish I was taking notes while reading, to show examples now :)

Yes, inversion is often a useful trick.

Harsh: We really like your proposal but we don’t have the resources.

Soft: We don’t have the resources, but we really like your proposal.

Another trick is to not just say, "I disagree" when you disagree. Validate first, then express disagreement. For example: "I hear you and see where you’re coming from. I have a different view." This lessens defensiveness.

This might all sound very silly, but these are actually brain hacks in order to have constructive conversations. Depending on your culture, you might have a different sensitivity to direct speech. If you're sensitive, your lower brain (fight-or-flight mechanism) is activated when you perceive someone is critical toward you. The idea of rearranging language is to defuse that lower brain (fight-or-flight) tendency and move the conversation to the upper brain (executive function), so instead of fighting at a pure feelings level, ideas can be exchanged (and disagreements can be had) at a more abstract level.

I'm struggling to read those as being different. UK English reader.

Native English UK Reader here and whilst the words have essentially the same meaning, I would definitely have a different take away from these two:

- John is a nice guy, but he beats his dog.

- John beats his dog, but he's a nice guy.

For me, the difference is that the second one carries more of an implication that the speaker doesn't consider dog beating all that problematic since even though John does it, he's still a nice guy. Also, to me, the first one is more judgemental towards John than the second.

This is even summed up in a bit of wisdom: in a sentence containing the word "but", you may safely ignore everything which comes before that word.

Non-native speaker here. I read it as an emphasis on the second part. First sentence makes a point that John deserves judgement, the second one that he deserves leniency, on the net balance of his qualities.

Indeed there’s no difference. There’s a possibility of different emphasis, but it would depend on a wider context.

I had the same response as you. I’ve come to accept that not everyone’s brain is wired the same.

Yea... they all mean the same thing. I think they're trying to split some imaginary hairs.

> For example, readers tend to latch onto the last part of a sentence.

Everything before "but" is often bullshit. "I'm not racist, but". "No offense, but".

For all intents and purposes "but" is a negation, which goes backwards.

"He is a nice guy, but..." ~= "He is not a nice guy, because..."

One interesting things is that when you look at sentiment of words in reviews, the word "but" glows (in red).

Is it? It seems like a qualified statement which emphasizes the unequal weights of two opposing views.

How about:

"There are multiple ways to solve this problem, but this is best one."

Isn't that better than:

"This is how we should solve it"?

I see no problem with qualifying an assertion with a lesser weight.

Maybe not the best example, as it is hard to imagine someone being nice and beating the dog, but the point still stands if you pick up something less extreme: "John is a good friend but forgets my birthday every year".

Great real world example. IMO it's a really powerful "language pattern".

Another example: "Boris Johnson is a woefully inadequate Prime Minister but he was kind of funny 20 years ago on Have I Got News For You".

It's almost like weighing Negative Fact #1 against Positive Fact #2 and suggesting to the audience that the scales are now more or less level so let's move on.

Obviously the 2 facts are a long way from being really "equal", and how one applies the offset (minor bad vs major good, major bad vs minor good, etc) should be influenced by what one is trying to achieve.

Is it?

"I haven't ever gotten professional training, but I think my driving ability is above average because I analyze what I do."

This is probably the video you saw: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jLPCdDp_LE0 (Judy Swan, Scientific Writing: Beyond Tips and Tricks)

Wow, is that the auditorium in the CMU Gates building? I remember pulling all-nighter "homework parties" in there!

Heres a great list from GOV.UK of the kind of words to avoid when using Plain English:


Love it. Check out “Writing for GOV.UK”[0] for more guidance.

Among interesting things to note that they strongly discourage FAQs (“if you write content by starting with user needs, you will not need to use FAQs … they are usually not frequently asked questions by the public, but important information dumped by the content editor”). The concept of FAQ has long been a pet peeve of mine, although I do believe the “question and answer” format has some merit.

[0] https://www.gov.uk/guidance/content-design/writing-for-gov-u...

A useful FAQ list must consist of questions that are actually often asked.

They represent discovered problems in the text the author didn't foresee.

> They represent discovered problems in the text the author didn't foresee.

Indeed. If certain questions are asked frequently, likely the information is not presented with audience’s actual needs in mind. Content should be updated, possibly rewritten. Putting up a FAQ shows content editor washing their hands of that responsibility.

I also find it a little rude, like “Welcome to the group of people who, despite our best efforts, didn’t manage to understand what we wrote! Here are some questions you lot keep asking…” (Of course, usually it’s not that, but rather a half-hearted attempt to be helpful and/or reduce the amount of people getting in touch with questions.)

Of course, FAQs originated in places like mailing lists and usenet groups, where it's arguably a good fit, precisely because there is no real standing body of text. The trouble is that it then got shoe-horned into being used on websites.

I think FAQs are an excellent way to present information— even information that has been previously covered— in a different way. Not everybody absorbs the same way, and not all information is presented clearly.



Also, here's the GOV.UK guide to Content Design. It completely changed the way I think about content.


I like how they banned "empower" with no added explanation while the Rust team was bending backwards to argue that there is nothing wrong with the word when, in 2018, they controversially changed their motto to "A language empowering everyone to build reliable and efficient software." (https://rust-lang.org/)

Obviously gov.uk material is of a different nature than that of a corporate motto, but it speaks to the exasperate community complaints at that time.

What's wrong with 'empower'?

It’s one of those words that used to have a different meaning but then a bunch of people started using it “wrong”, which is annoying to some people. It used to connote a legal or other official authority to do something.

Kinda like how some people don’t like hearing that their plane will be taking off “momentarily” or when people use “begs the question” to mean “raises the question”

I, for one, would very much prefer my plane not take off momentarily.

Your mileage may vary. By rather a lot.

It has become a buzzword. Sprinkle it in your text (along with "experiences", "embrace", "diverse", "engagement" etc.) and your text will be hard to argue against. Words are weapons. Just like you have to sprinkle "democracy" and "peace" in statements when you start wars as a country.

It is normally used as marketing term. There are other alternatives that don't stink of bullshit like such as allow.

TBH in the example given the above should simply be:

> A language for building reliable and efficient software.

Rust's developers are mostly very left-wing and are, in my view, over-eager to imprint their views on societal power imbalance on their technical project, the Rust language. They hint not too subtly that before them systems programming was the preserve of forthright white guys and that they're breaking that hegemony.

You could play bingo with this entire list of words to avoid in most corporate meetings I've ever been to.

Agenda, advance, deliver, deploy, facilitate, empower - all such cringy words when used out of context.

Since everyone knows this is corporate bullshit speak, I wonder if the actual function of these words is to signal that you're so high status that you can get away with not saying anything of substance. That you don't need to get your hands dirty with the real world, you can just float around in this vague space and still command a huge salary. Then you must be a powerful person who actually gets ahead through the shady under the table style of work. So if I see a successful person talking in this way, I can assume I can approach them with my nefarious plans and he'll be able to lie and deflect suspicion and successfully go through with corruption.

Beautiful. The worst is that many of these ugly words come en masse to the lips of marketing droids speaking in other languages. They can't help but pepper their stupid speeches with bad English. God how I hate that.

How else would you describe seven red lines?

I am surprised to see the list of "Words to avoid" in an alphabetical list just under "Words document" and "wifi". Cringe.

someone could write a simple grammar checker that looks for words in that list, passive voices, sentence length and whatnot and suggests alternatives. It wouldn't work without human oversight but then again, no automated checker really does.

Although, as ever on these topics, it's probably worth finding out what professionals think of these tools (spoiler: not much although this is from 2014 and it's possible they've improved it since.)

https://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=10416 "Filed by Mark Liberman under Prescriptivist poppycock"

edit: Just checked and it still rates "Silly" x 75 as "Good". "Hemingway" x 30 rates as "Post-graduate" but otherwise good. Yeah, it's still broken.

Thanks for reminding me about this! I had seen it years ago, but forgot about it till now.

I use https://languagetool.org/ for that. I have integrated this Java program in Vim as well. Every time I think I finished a piece of write, I run the ":LanguageToolCheck" command to learn that my writing still leaves a lot to be desired.

Is the Java tool directly connecting to the site for the checks or it uses some kind of local database? Is it updatable?

I use it as a local Java program and you can enable / disable all kinds of rules. You can also write your own.

I just fell in love with this list. I'm considering handing it to the very expensive consultants who make shiny presentations but tend to be very vague about how concepts get transformed into tangible things.

I'd guess (almost) everyone wishes everyone else wrote in plain language. But there's potentially a more fundamental reason people don't. bambax in another comment pointed out the power of ambiguity, and that's one of the reasons especially in legal / government, but there's another.

Language, specifically jargon, is an expression of culture. It's an expression of power, education, experience, or lack thereof. It's a quick way to gauge if someone is "like you" or not. If they have the same experience, and especially in professional settings, a quick (yet often incorrect) measure of competence.

Take everyone's favorite, "Business English":

You don't try again, you iterate. You don't take another call, you jump or hop to another call. You sync, and you align. Against the article's recommendation, you nominalize all day, by "bringing projects to completion" and "moving forward with the engagement".

Jargon and style, while often utter bullshit, is a way of measuring people quickly. I once had someone ask me, "would you say you practice disruptive innovation methodology?" My answer to that question was a quick way to learn that unlike them, I did not have an MBA. Complexity is often synonymous with education.

> Jargon is a type of language that is only understood by a particular group of people. You can use jargon when writing to people who will understand the terms and phrases. It can be a useful form of shorthand. But try to avoid using specialist jargon on the general public.

Unless your goal is to identify if someone is part of said particular group. And therefore in the vast majority of business and technical cases, Plain English -- at least jargon and nominalization -- unfortunately may close more doors than it opens.

There is a place and a time for culture. Your electric bill is not one of them.

I disagree with your last paragraph. Speaking clearly and decisively is a good thing, and people will usually appreciate it. People become famous for speaking clearly. I remember some general made the rounds for his plain, no-nonsense COVID-19 address. I wish I could find it again.

I can only think of this scene right now.


I'd say that actually is my point though. If you're a high-ranking official giving a speech, speaking the same language as the general population will make you well-received and well-understood by using the language of your constituents.

Speaking a language people understand is decisively a good thing, and what people understand varies dramatically by situation. "Plain English" isn't always the answer. (Also hierarchy -- when you're on top, you get to set the tone.)

If you want to be part of a club, you need to sound like a member. Unless you own the club.

In the end, you have to adapt your speech to your audience. If you address the members of a club, you can speak their language. When the club is 300+ million strong, you might have to pick a broader tone.

Your last line beautifully captures your point. Very well made.

> "Business English"

I'm not sure why it took me until now to name that style of speaking.

Over 10 years ago I was in a room where someone said "let us dialogue about this offline" to actually mean "shut up, let's continue".

I am often reminded of the phrase "It does not require many words to speak the truth", but here we are with "Business English".

> "would you say you practice disruptive innovation methodology?"

My eye genuinely twitched reading this sentence

there's something illogical about "disruptive innovation methodology"

how can something disruptive and innovative -- which I take to imply unpredictable novelty -- be methodological?

I take methodology to imply that something has become normalized; that it has become common enough and happened enough times that its practice can be systematically described as a method.

"Our scientific and engineering production pipeline makes 10 disruptive innovations every year! 100% satisfaction guarantee. invest now!"

Plain English has been a 'super power' for my report writing ever since it was drummed into me by a former CEO and MD at a finance and economic consultancy I worked at after University.

"Style toward Clarity and Grace" by Joseph M. Williams is, imho, the most thorough, yet comprehensible, guide to how to write in Plain English. It goes beyond short 'do this, don't do that' guides by explaining why, and how, English can be unclear with exercises to help transform your writing.

I can't stress enough that the ability to take both simple ideas, and complex ideas, and write both in a clear and compelling way that inspires action, will pay dividends over any career.

I wrote a memento / summary of the book, for anyone interested to discover it at a glance: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1F8_p3bkzugTvkBd1Ja6bHLR2...

Thank you for the link, this is a great resource you've put together! I'll be sure to share with some of my colleagues.

This is good advice, but we should be wary of assuming that writing well is easy or a matter of following rules. Like most things worth doing, good writing requires that we practice it regularly and over a period of years, that we are exposed to good writing, and that we have access to competent feedback on our own writing.

Every decent writer I know has worked diligently at practice, usually for years. They're also omnivorous readers of good long-form writing. Finally, they seek and are grateful for the advice of a good editor.

Talent can help you advance in skill more quickly and perhaps reach a higher ultimate plateau, but it does little to replace the requirement for observation, practice and review. I've often thought that talent is indistinguishable from interest and passion---it's what gets you to do the work, not a replacement for it.

Some minor comments: "utilize" should be on the list of words to avoid. I have yet to encounter a use of that word that wouldn't be improved by replacing it with "use". In technical and scientific writing, passive voice can be valuable when the salient concern is not the actor, but the act and its consequences. "The sheep were administered methamphetamine one hour before being tased" focuses on the study, while "we gave the sheep meth and then we tased them" focusses on the scientists. The former is often better for this type of writing.

Note: the example is from one of my favourite studies. I wish I had heard about before I chose my thesis topic: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1553-2712...

How to write rich text English:

1) The writer should make a conscious effort to keep his or her sentences as long as possible; just one word: the flow; some shorter sentences can be juxtaposed, periods replaced with comas or semicolons; the abundance of adjectives and adjective phrases never hurt --

2) The passive voice has to be chosen whenever possible; safer, less offensive, less responsible language is the enabler

3) Possessive determiners are to be preferred over personal pronouns, the passive voice is based on their liberal use

4) Thesaurus is considered by some to be essential for richer and more subtle communication, word substitutions refine the ideas being conveyed to the reader --

-- the reader should be never explicitly solicited to do anything -- he or she should be free-willed into doing

6) Consideration of these dos and donts will likely unleash also the power of nominalization; nominalized verbs put action first

*) Bullet lists are the standard punctuation;


The campaign founder's biography[1] sounds interesting:

  Born in 1938, Chrissie largely missed out on formal education 
  and could not read until she was in her mid‑teens.
And later:

  In 1994 Chrissie received an OBE and in 1995 she was awarded an 
  honorary MA by Manchester University. Two years later, she received 
  an honorary doctorate from the Open University. And in 1999 she 
  officially joined the 'establishment' when she was listed in Who's Who.
[1] http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/about-us/history/chrissie-mahe...

Personally, I'm happy with few tools that helps me write simpler (and hopefully better) English in my everyday usage.

## Long-Form

When I'm writing a long-form prose/essay, I start writing in Hemingway[1]. Edits and changes are done there to cater to my target audience. I'd then pick up the draft from there and go through Grammarly[2] as the final passage.

## Quick, Short Writings

For everyday use, I use iA / Writer[3]. I turn on all the Style Check filters to spot superfluous adjectives, weak verbs, and unwanted repetitions. I then, let it go through Grammarly (either with the App, or via browser Input fields).

This has helped me a lot. Growing up in a region with too many dialects per area, we used English as the one medium to communicate and educate, so I have the affinity to write more phrase-y, English-y. For quite a while, I have wanted to simply and write more clearer, simpler, and effective. These three tools have helped me a lot.

I have used Grammarly for almost a year, it says my vocabulary uses more unique words than 94% of Grammarly users. I'm not particularly proud of that. I want to simplify.

1. http://www.hemingwayapp.com

2. https://grammarly.com

3. https://ia.net/writer

English vs. business English.

Pre-boarding is just boarding. Pre-booking is just booking.

Pre-prefixing everything. Sigh.

"Please revert" - you mean 'reply', not 'return to a former state'.

"Ping me" - ugh.

And my favourite.... "Learnings" - you mean lessons. "What drivings have you been on?" ... "What journeys have you been on?"

"We should socialize the learnings from this discussion."

Is close to a real sentence pronounced upon us from a management type during one of their endless Zoom meetings.

Someone sent in a semi-private chat shared by some of us, "They meant, we should share what we've learned."

> "We should socialize the learnings from this discussion."

I feel like we worked for the same company. Last time I heard this exact phrase I was participating in a meeting where one of the agenda points was feedback from a meeting about meetings.

Result: we scheduled another meeting.

Important question: did we deliver value?

Dunno, Ping me felt quite natural to me. It feels like a handy substitute for when there are multiple options for one person to contact another and person one does not care how he is contacted. As opposed to very formal communications that stick to email or mail.

Ping me => email/call/slack/whatsapp/zulip/telegram/meet-in-person me

Wouldn't `contact me` do?

It lacks some connotation. "Remind me" comes closer. "Get my attention" probably captures it, but "ping me" is much shorter.

I don't mind 'ping me': that one has a clear reference to submarines and networks.

What bothers me are 'ask' and 'lift' used as nouns. They add nothing to the language, and are just ugly. Maybe my father felt the same the first time he heard 'sweet' to mean 'cool.'

"Ask" as a noun - "What is the ask?"

"Build out" instead of just build.

"Actionable" - although it is a real word, it is a legal term, not a synonym of practical.

“Ping me” really threw me for a loop the first time I heard a non-tech say it in an obvious non-tech way.

It literally has no other meaning outside of the ICMP echo utility; and the onomatopoeia of hitting glass.

How did it enter the Business world?

Ping comes from submarine sonar - not the networking world.

Everyone of a certain age will have seen a half dozen submarine WW2 or Cold War films so regular people do have context.

And there's nothing wrong with it.

'Learnings' is an odd word but it actually makes sense because there are no perfect substitutes. 'Insights' isn't quite it.

I think the word 'learnings' comes to software companies from India. A company I worked at didn't use the word until an Indian senior manager came on, and then everyone started talking about 'learnings.' Conversely, I have heard it used in conversational English between people from India.

There are plenty of other English words that work in context where you might use 'learning', like 'lesson', 'insight', or 'takeaway'. 'Learning' just encapsulates them all without nuance.

A possible alternative to "learning" is "lesson". The problem with "lesson" is that it can have two meanings:

(a) a formal lecture given by a qualified person to a class;

(b) a fact that you learned from any person or even just a situation you were in.

"Lesson" in the sense (b) is a direct substitute for "a learning", but I have to admit a few people might sometimes interpret it as (a) and be confused. But it depends on the context - if a project report has a "lessons learnt" heading I don't think any reader is going to expect that means meaning (a).

Yeah - 'lessons learned' is idiomatically more tantamount to something 'learned after having made an error'.

I'll bet there are words in other languages that more perfectly capture the meaning of 'learnings' - and admittedly it's a really ugly colloquialism ... but I would accept it out of a resigned pragmatism.

> It literally has no other meaning outside of the ICMP echo utility

What about in the context of a sonar system on a submarine? My first encounter of the term was probably The Hunt for Red October.

Not that it answers your question, but here is a fairly interesting article on "ping me": https://slate.com/human-interest/2015/01/history-of-ping-a-w...

I'm confused here. I thought what I thought of as "ping me" was obvious, but since you didn't state what I'm thinking of I guess not. Are we talking about slack/discord/teams pings here? If so the use is the onomatopoeia.

You might like this George Carlin stand-up show: https://youtu.be/6IC_It9DwDA?t=82

Nice. Surprised I hadn't seen that.

"Sense check" is one that infuriates me. Just say "check".

Every place I've worked with managers that speak like this has invariably produced crap.

I thought that "pre-booking" means that you input all the available data related to a document into some computer system, but you do not finalize & accept the document yet -> so some of the data can still be changed in the future without consequence (for example: when some issue is explained with a supplier).

Pre-booking is the initial step before a complete booking.

Agreed. Except when it isn't :)

Ticket agencies use 'pre-booking' to book the first tiny tranche of tickets.

And HR departments seem to love 'pre-authorization' to get... authorization for holidays, or purchasing, and so on.

That's not entirely unreasonable, pre in this case trying to make explicit "ask me about this well ahead of time".

eg you can make on the day bookings or call up HR to say you've got dave from forklifts incorporated on the phone and you need the company card immediately.

How about “decisioning”?

The definition of "revert" has evolved, and even dictionaries are starting to acknowledge its alternative meaning as "reply". See: https://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/06/magazine/06FOB-onlanguage...

I personally love "ping me". It's even shorter and more punchy, compared to "message me".

Language evolves. Shakespeare would find our English today bewildering. Instead of complaining about it, I find it most helpful to keep up with the latest lingo, and focus instead on conveying my message most clearly.

Not sure why you've been downvoted. You're 100% correct. Language evolves. And old duffers like me, don't.

This article explains how, but it doesn’t explain why: you should do this because it’s an accessibility issue. NHS Digital came up with a good example of this problem: https://digital.nhs.uk/blog/transformation-blog/2019/pee-and...

Brilliant article. gov.uk (and their adjacents) do amazing work.

Saying the reason is “accessibility” suggests that it only helps people with poor literacy. There are two things to note:

1. Most people writing content will assume that their readers are like themselves or their social circle and will therefore have good literacy skills. However the actual proportion of people with poor (or even just not high) literacy skills is much higher than you might estimate from your social circle.

2. Improving clarity for people with poor literacy will also improve readability for people with good literacy.

> Government experts often say that because they’re writing technical or complex content for a specialist audience, they do not need to use plain English. This is wrong.

> Research shows that higher literacy people prefer plain English because it allows them to understand the information as quickly as possible.

> For example, research into use of specialist legal language in legal documents found:

> 80% of people preferred sentences written in clear English - and the more complex the issue, the greater that preference (for example, 97% preferred ‘among other things’ over the Latin ‘inter alia’)

> the more educated the person and the more specialist their knowledge, the greater their preference for plain English

> People understand complex specialist language, but do not want to read it if there’s an alternative. This is because people with the highest literacy levels and the greatest expertise tend to have the most to read. They do not have time to pore through reams of dry, complicated prose.

someone linked this above: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/content-design/writing-for-gov-u...

This makes total sense to me. Simple language makes room for complex ideas.

> This makes total sense to me. Simple language makes room for complex ideas.

My takeaway is slightly different: simple words (familiar) are easier to digest than big words (unfamiliar) because familiar words will be parsed very quickly for most people than unfamiliar words.

I prefer to use the categorization of “familiar” vs “unfamiliar” because the categorization of a word as “big” or “simple” depends largely on the reading ability of the person making the assessment.

If you read that "accessibility" is only helpful to specific groups, then you haven't understood accessibility.

(I'm not sure if I'm agreeing with you here)

You must also consider people who are not native speakers. I'm sometimes appalled by the complexity of the letters I get in Germany, especially when they are related to immigration.

So, the solution is to dumb everything down to the least common denominator?

> So, the solution is to dumb everything down to the least common denominator?

Essentially, yes.

Using words most people are familiar with will afford a lot of people nearly instantaneous cognition [0] of the information you are trying to convey with your writing.

This applies to both ends of the reading spectrum: highly educated people who do a lot of reading than most; and poorly educated people who probably had to drop out of school to make ends meet.

0: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subitizing

You say ’lowest common denominator’ like it’s a bad thing. It’s not a bad thing to try to support all your users.

It's not about dumbing things down, since you convey the same information and solve the same problems, just more efficiently. It's about being understood by the users you are meant to serve.

> People tell us they see it as: ‘dumbing down’, ‘simplistic’

This can be a real issue, indeed.

It is one thing to speak to people in a language they will understand without judging. But it is another thing to simplify grammar and vocabulary too much in written technical documents that need to be precise.

One example is the push to use "plain English" in legal documents. As it happens, legal documents are highly technical and the wording is very important, with terms having an actual precise meaning.

There needs to be a balance.

I frequently receive letters from various European administrations, France, Germany, Poland, the UK.

Letters from HMRC are amazing. The first time it is really shocking, but after a while it's almost a pleasure to be asked to send money to the Queen!

But I think one of the reason bureaucracies prefer writing jargon and long winded sentences is to protect their influence and necessity. If you write in plain English (or French), then there's little room for interpretation. Good for the reader, but not for the sender. Ambiguity is power.

The ones from German bureaucrats are simply horrible.

The Plain English Campaign is not a useful authority on English usage. They are a group of prigs and pedants who issue press releases about alleged errors by famous people in the hope they will receive coverage in the British press and bring in work for their consulting business.

I'm distressed to learn they now expound at book length and I'm surprised to see this garbage taken seriously by HN.

See, e.g. http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/002229.h..., https://web.archive.org/web/20110510090548/http://oliverkamm....

One problem with plain writing using simple sentence structure, common words and conversational grammar is that it's boring. It has its place: technical writing where facts need to be presented completely and unambiguously as well as writing for non-native speakers are two examples. However, if your goal is to educate, entertain, convince, communicate with passion, or simply express yourself in a way that permits subtlety or complexity, then it's tremendously constraining---and even more boring to write than it is to read.

It is not only the sheer pleasure of reading language used to its utmost, an indulgence found in the enduring literary accomplishments of Shakespeare or Dickens but somewhat lacking in the trendier, reportorial style of a Hemingway (who, after a hundred years, it seems safe to say has not reached the same level of immortal acclaim), but also if I may venture, a particular suitability to the kind of digressive, meandering, rich and nuanced thought, a precious and valuable part of human intellect, a rich roast which loses much of its savor when cut into bite-sized chunks, which recommends, contra all the style advice of today's factory-line English departments, an appreciation and a space for the continuation of the English of Milton and Gibbons and Melville as against the simplified, utilitarian style recommended in the fine article.

That style has its uses for sure. For example if you want to impress people or signal belonging to certain groups. It's also risky to state something in a crystal clear way, because you can be disproved and your status is diminished. As long as you write in long sentences and a confusing academic style, you can feel safe in your lukewarm puddle and enjoy your high status and sneer at the plebs. It's a sign of insecurity and inferiority complex.

If you actually have substance to say and feel confident about it, then chunk it up. Clear writing needs courage and is a weapon in itself against the entrenched lazy elites. A slingshot of David against Goliath. While unclear writing is a middle finger towards the public.

Also, I disagree that Shakespeare is as obscure and hard to read as your comment would suggest. He is just from a different era but was quite a down-to-earth fellow, not some stuck-up obscurantist.

This is a peak pretentious HN comment that gives HN its infamy.

It is a pleasure to read that style in literary works, but in your day to day life is that how you want to communicate with people? I think that's what the linked article is talking about, how to use plain English for communication.

I don't agree with this idea.

Don't follow the 'active verbs' rule too much. There's a limit to it, especially when writing technical documents. If it sounds unnatural, or when you have an implied subject that's an important part of the thing you're trying to convey, just use passive voice.

Also Fear and Loathing of the English Passive http://www.lel.ed.ac.uk/~gpullum/passive_loathing.pdf

TFA does mention some good uses of passive voice. If I were to add one more example it would be where the object is actually more important than the subject. "The handle then gets closed by one of the cleanup mechanisms" is probably okay if you are telling the story of the handle.

indeed not.

There's a youtube video with Steven Pinker explaining how passive verbs often improve the flow of writing thus increasing legibility


This is especially important when working at an international company with many non-native English speakers.

One of the software engineers (an English major) I worked with at a previous gig could not get his head around the idea of writing in plan English.

He would write English at such an elaborate level that when he announced his resignation to the company via email, most people did not understand from that email that he was resigning!

From Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft:

"If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.

I’m a slow reader, but I usually get through seventy or eighty books a year, mostly fiction. I don’t read in order to study the craft; I read because I like to read. It’s what I do at night, kicked back in my blue chair. Similarly, I don’t read fiction to study the art of fiction, but simply because I like stories. Yet there is a learning process going on. Every book you pick up has its own lesson or lessons, and quite often the bad books have more to teach than the good ones"

Can't recommend enough this book. Peek inside the mind of the master of writing in Plain English and one of the greatest modern storytellers. For me one of the best non-fiction books out there. Wish more artists produced something like this.

I'm curious. Is there a specific reason why the trend for our use of the English language went towards this direction, when in the past, a lot of the historical material I read seemed intentionally verbose?

Sure, it's all for ensuring we are understood better among ourselves, but I wonder if writing this way makes us cognitively simpler.

Plain English should not be confused with low literacy level. Plain English is a style that is hard to master. Only 12% of U.S. adults reach the highest PIAAC literacy proficiency levels.

"unnecessary verbosity" is just one way to express your position in the society. Wearing impractical clothes, complex etiquette, having pale skin and speaking in certain manner was something that requires either wealth or practise.

Today business jargon combined with clothes and behaviour still work today as signalling your identity. So is wearing hoodie and saying "bro" constantly. People learn to feel comfortable in the uniform and in the language they identify with.

It is also possible that certain styles of writing and clothing are felt by some to be more beautiful. It is not necessary to reduce every stylistic predilection to status or identity signalling.

https://web.archive.org/web/20151212223141/http://www.poynte... argues for technology, in the form of the telegraph.

> "Consider the leisurely style of British correspondent William Howard Russell in his coverage of the Battle of Balaklava in 1854.

    If the exhibition
    of the most brilliant valor,
    of the excess of courage, and
    of a daring
    which would have reflected luster
    on the best days of chivalry
    can afford full consolation
    for the disaster of today,
    we can have no reason
    to regret the melancholy loss
    which we sustained
    in a contest
    with a savage and barbarian enemy.
> Not until the end of the story does Russell get to the news: Because of a mix-up in orders a 650-man cavalry brigade charged head-on into enemy guns. In a few minutes more than 100 were dead. But Russell had no reason to write an urgent story because it would take nearly three weeks for his dispatch to reach his readers by boat and train and spread news of “The Charge of the Light Brigade."

It's not that the style was unknown (Tacitus' prose was flattened compared with Cicero's) but that it wasn't expected in asynchronous long-form writing. In a different genre, compare Cooke's easily tweetable summary of Custer's 1876 command:

> "Benteen. Come On. Big Village. Be Quick. Bring Packs. P.S. Bring Packs."

It is not so much about verbosity as it is about clarity in public communication. It is not about preventing a poetic turn of phrase but about avoiding the all too common business bullshit intended to deflect blame and shift responsibility by muddling the content to near incomprehensibility.

This is especially true for late 1700s English, specifically around the time of America's founding. The entirety of the Federalist Papers could be reduced to a fraction of their original lengths with plain English without losing any of context.

If the aim is to get a point across, why use complicated words and sentences, when simple ones might be better understood?

If an idea can be expressed in the same way with "Plain English", how would this make people 'congnitively simpler'?

Because the practice of parsing more complicated sentences, compounded over time, might instill in people the mental fortitude that translates in other areas? But yup, I get it.

Maybe in the past, written material was consumed by the elite, educated fraction of the population, and this was a way to "show off" their knowledge. Today, reading is accessible to a much broader percentage of people who may not all be as educated.

> written material was consumed by the elite, educated fraction of the population, and this was a way to "show off" their knowledge

One notes that even in letters sent home from American and Western European wars in the 19th century, the common soldiers who wrote those letters often used much more elaborate sentence structures than today, even though they were from the peasantry and had not received more than a rudimentary schooling.

Uneducated peasant soldiers wrote that way too, in 19th century war letters from America and Western Europe.

Am I the only one who finds The List of Words to Avoid rather depressing? I mean I get what they are trying to do: minimise the number of letters. Yet, language is also about variety and not being really, really dull. Perhaps also about not treating your readers like idiots? Most of those slightly longer words look like perfectly legitimate alternatives in that regard.

It would be depressing if they were suggesting this style of language for literature, but they are absolutely not suggesting that. They are suggesting it for bureaucratic situations, like a utility company sending a bill or a goverrment body issuing notes about how to fill in a driving licence application form. A utility bill is never going to be a thrill to read, so if using simpler language means that some recipients understand they're exempt from a charge when they wouldn't have realised otherwise, or are simply able to read it a bit faster, then that's a clear win.

Frankly, it's more important to maximise the number of people that understand government advice than it is to maximise your enjoyment of application forms.

The advice is not even necessarily for situations that are partway between factual and pleasure, like a blog post or your example of a news article (or a HN comment!). In those cases it could still be helpful to bear the advice in mind, but without taking it too seriously.

It depends on what you need to achieve.

Les Cowboys Fringants display the full colours of Canadian french in their songs, but they're creating art.

The government needs to tell people of all backgrounds that they must do something or face serious consequences. They are not creating art, but communicating important information to busy, confused people.

Your point is addressed earlier in the article:

It's not about banning new words, killing off long words or promoting completely perfect grammar. Nor is it about letting grammar slip.

A good complement to this article is Orwell's "Politics and the English Language," which talks about how people might use long, complex words (like those in the Words to Avoid list) to seem more important. That's the other side of the "variety" coin. The reality is that a skilled writer can walk that fine line, but most people are better off keeping their word choice simple and direct.

"It is not bout killing off long words" rings rather hollow when it is followed by a list of longer words to replace with shorter ones. It is not the fault of the innocent words that someone may have misused them to feel important.

But let us go deeper and ask: how did importance become associated with longer words? Was it perhaps because important and educated people used them, since they carried more precise and specific meanings?

I agree. The beauty of reading and writing English is the massive array of words we have that can mean the same thing. It's also one of the reasons I like reading the Economist for my news, they typically write with a diction that is above 6th grade level.

Poetry can be about not being dull, business communication should be dull.

Something not written there: don't use acronyms

Acronyms are a plague, especially in technical documents. These documents may include a glossary, which it better than nothing, but if an acronym is only used once or twice in a document, why not use the full name instead?

Here is a couple of anecdotes:

- I once overheard a heated argument between a project manager and some over guy who criticized his work. Turned out, they weren't talking about the same project at all, only their acronyms where the same.

- In a report that explained why a particular proposal was selected over its competitors, one of the positive points was that their proposal was clearly written, understandable, and didn't contain any acronym.

It does say to "Use everyday English whenever possible. Avoid jargon and legalistic words, and always explain any technical terms you have to use."

This guide makes excellent points. I also recommend this book:


He says that to achieve clarity, imagine the subject of each sentence as the character of a scene, and the verb as its action. Make sure you hit both character and action within the first 6-10 words of your sentence.

Begin each sentence with information that the reader is familiar with, and end it with the new information you want to introduce.

That will get you a long way toward creating understanding (and feeling) in the reader.

As someone working with software engineers for which English is not a first language I cannot emphasise the importance of this enough. I've spent the last year or so consciously working on my writing and it's really paid off - especially given the current situation.

Never assume anything about your audience's understanding. Break everything down into short, concise sentences. If you're attempting to get across a non-trivial concept avoid the temptation to use big words - even if you end up having to write more. When you're done take another pass and see if you can simplify things further.

I don't write in E-Prime, but I think it raises a valid point: you can often clarify and strengthen your English sentences by avoiding the verb "to be".


Given someone called John who is a racist, can you find a way to say "John is a racist" in E-Prime without making John seem less racist?

I think the point is that you describe what John does, or how people think of John, rather than what John "is". The Wikipedia article (which constitutes all I know about E-Prime) says:

> [The authors of E-Prime] describe misuse of the verb to be as creating a "deity mode of speech", allowing "even the most ignorant to transform their opinions magically into god-like pronouncements on the nature of things".

And I think that's appropriate here.

I think that's kind of the point of using e-prime.

We are forced to identify explain specific evidence of behavior that John has done that show that he's a racist.

Saying that, "John in frequently unkind to people different from him" or "John commonly uses racial slurs" goes beyond applying a label. This kind of approach to describing the ways people's actions hurt others requires more work. The pay off is that this kind of claim is also harder to credibly dismiss as "grievance culture."

Mind you even when trying to stay close to E-prime I still miss the mark all the time.

"John judges others by the color of their skin" maybe? It actually feels an even stronger indictment to me, as it calls out just what is meant by "racist" and how absurd it is.

Ignoring passive voice is often a priority for some forms of writing.

Structure is the biggest factor of readability. We’ve seen many English style guides, but they are mostly on a sentence and vocabulary level.

A run-on sentence can still be read, just more slowly. An unfamiliar word can be tackled with a dictionary.

But if the text isn’t well-organized on the larger scale, there is no hope.

The Elements of Style by Strunk & White offers similar advice: “Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.”


Although it is a marvelous little book, 'The Elements of Style' is quite lacking. Instead, I'd strongly echo the suggestion of the user 'icu' in this thread[1], where they mention 'Style: Towards Clarity and Grace' by Joseph Williams and Gregory Colomb (there are several editions of this; but any earlier edition would do).

To quote from 'Towards Clarity and Grace' (it is alluding to what's lacking in 'The Elements'):


This is a book about writing clearly. I wish it could be short and simple like some others more widely known, but I want to do more than just urge writers to "Omit Needless Words" or "Be clear." Telling me to "Be clear" is like telling me to "Hit the ball squarely." I know that. What I don't know is how to do it. To explain how to write clearly, I have to go beyond platitudes.

But I want to do more than just help you write clearly. I also want you to understand this matter to understand why some prose seems clear, other prose not, and why two readers might disagree about it; why a passive verb can be a better choice than an active verb; why so many truisms about style are either incomplete or wrong. More important, I want that understanding to consist not of anecdotal bits and pieces, but of a coherent system of principles more useful than "Write short sentences."


[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24268952

I've heard complaints that while it calls itself "campaign", implying it's a not-for-profit grass roots movement, it is actually a private for-profit company selling publications along with commercial editing and training services.


The EU has ended up inventing its own form of English [0]

"Over the years, the European institutions have developed a vocabulary that differs from that of any recognised form of English. It includes words that do not exist or are relatively unknown to native English speakers outside the EU institutions and often even to standard spellcheckers/grammar checkers (‘planification’, ‘to precise’ or ‘telematics’ for example) and words that are used with a meaning, often derived from other languages, that is not usually found in English dictionaries (‘coherent’ being a case in point). Some words are used with more or less the correct meaning, but in contexts where they would not be used by native speakers (‘homogenise’, for example)."

[0] https://www.eca.europa.eu/Other%20publications/EN_TERMINOLOG...

> * A list that is a continuous sentence with several listed points picked out at the beginning, middle or end.

> * A list of separate points with an introductory statement (like this list).

> In the list above, each point is a complete sentence

Er, no, each of those is a (quite long, given the target sentence size the piece argues for) freestanding noun phrase, not a complete sentence.

"It's faster to write."

Totally disagree with this point. Orwell explains how the exact opposite is true in his "Politics and the English Language." Vague writing requires only vague thought. Clear writing requires clear thought (as well as editing), and clear thought takes effort. As a writer, you might have to spend more time actually typing unclear and convoluted garbage, but you can basically turn off your brain and just start vomiting words onto the page. To do that asks much less of you than writing clearly does. (Classic example is the Pascal quote: "I apologize for the length of my letter. I didn't have time to write a shorter one.")

> whilst (while)

I'm not a native English speaker, but I find it funny how Americans often consider English spellings wrong.

I wonder if American Hispanics do the same for Spaniards:

> Ahem, it's pronounced "ustedes", not "vosotros". That's not a word.

> Ahem, it's pronounced "ustedes", not "vosotros". That's not a word.

As someone who learned Spanish in Spain, I have occasionally been "corrected" by South Americans when using vosotros. Of course, no one denies that vosotros is a word, but I have been told something along the lines of "There are X Spanish-speaking countries in the world, and only one says vosotros, so please, stop doing that and talk like us instead." South Americans with this hangup are a small minority, of course, but they definitely exist.

Spanish spellings are quite standardized around the world, the “language academies” of each country collaborate together. Moreover Spanish writing is phonetic so there’s only really one way to pronounce a written word.

On the other hand, in Spain we’re famous for “cecear”, that is to pronounce “c” as the z in zombie; while in the rest of Latin America the pronounce it more like an s.

> Spanish writing is phonetic so there’s only really one way to pronounce a written word.

So there are no accents or dialects in Spain?

Of course there are. What I mean is that each letter is only pronounced one way.

For example, in English the "o" in "woman" and "women" sounds different, with exactly the same syllabic structure. However in Spanish, every time you write the "o" it is pronounced the same as every other "o". In some accents/dialects some letters will have slightly different pronunciations or intonations (e.g. c turns into s, or s at the end of a word will turn silent), but within that accent, most sounds will remain stably linked to a letter.

EDIT: Of course, I am not a linguist and I'm sure every word of my example can be debunked a million ways; but this is the experience of the language for a native Spain Spanish speaker.

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