The end-weight principle is a basic principle of syntax that good writers usually follow instinctively. But sometimes, when a sentence reads clunkily for reasons that aren’t immediately clear, it’s because this essential stylistic element has been forgotten or overlooked.
The principle is simple. The elements of a sentence vary in weight or complexity. To make the sentence as smooth to process as possible, lead with the simpler parts and put the heaviest and most complex elements to the end, where they’ll cause least syntactic disruption.
- The menu features meze, the classic Greek stew stifado, and moussaka.
- This is easier to read like this:
- The menu features meze, moussaka and the classic Greek stew stifado.
- The off-the-shoulder dress displayed her collection of off-the-shoulder tattoos to advantage.
- Which is easier to read as:
- The off-the-shoulder dress displayed to advantage her collection of off-the-shoulder tattoos.
- The huge number of commuters who daily pass through its portals fails to notice Grand Central Station’s ornate architecture.
- Which is easier to process as:
- Grand Central Station’s ornate architecture often goes unnoticed by the huge number of commuters who daily pass through its portals.
- Comments the Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English: ‘This placement helps hearers and readers to follow the message more easily, because they do not have to keep in their mind complex information from the beginning of the clause as they reach the end of the clause.’
So: Put the heavy bit to the end. Simples!