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Monday, May 11, 2015

Week 19 Avoid Mid-Sentence Shifts

Week 19
By Tamara Passey

Change is good. You've heard that before, right? Change can also be hard. Like when a certain cosmetic company discontinues your favorite color of lipstick--without giving you advance notice--so you can't buy a lifetime supply of the color you love. I won't name names. Some changes are necessary, but even then, there is a proper time and place for change. Here is a big hint: that place is not in the middle of a sentence.

Wilbers compares mid-sentence shifts to jumping off a train before it has pulled into the station. Or in some cases 'jumping abruptly to one train of thought to another.' 1

I may or may not be guilty of this. But thankfully for me, and other thought-jumpers like me, Wilbers breaks down the most common mid-sentence shifts to avoid.

1. Shifts in verb tense. If you start in present, stay in the present. If you start in the past, stay in the past. If you don't know what tense you are in...ask your nearest writerly friend.
2. Shifts in person. 1st person, 2nd person, 3rd person. Stay consistent (like the advice, 'dance with the one that brought you') I, you, we, they, etc.
3. Shifts in subject. This one gets tricky for me so here is an example: "Although some people consistently arrive on time, there are others who do not" should read "Although some people consistently arrive on time, others do not."
4. Shifts in voice. This refers to active voice and passive voice. And that discussion could take several blog posts. To sum up: active voice is where the subject performs the action and passive voice is where the subject receives  the action.
5. Shifts in modified subject. Here is the example: "When pickled, I think herring tastes like caviar" should read "When pickled, herring tastes like caviar to me." Why the change? In the first sentence, the reader is imagining what you look and smell like pickled. Yes, be careful with your subjects and don't change them mid-sentence!

Stay on track. Keep your sentences from shifting and your reader will be better able to follow your train of thought.

1. MTC, p. 103


  1. When attending English class, I think it's important to pay attention to shifts in modified subjects. Or rather, When attending English class, it's important to pay attention to shifts in modified subjects. Ooh, I think I'm probably guilty of a few of these shifts in my own writing. Good to know how to fix it.

    1. I think this explains why many times I know what I mean in a certain sentence, but I lose the reader. Now we know1