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Syntax Training | Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

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April 10, 2014


Muhammad Daud

Dear Lynn,

Hope you are doing well.

I am Afghan, 26, a struggling and practicing second language professional writer.

I regularly read and practice your slightly packed giant articles. This one, I have printed and pinned adjacent to my table.

You are a highly valued free tutor to me and I really wish you a very happy and healthy life to keep feeding us with most wanted knowledge.

Best Regards

Muhammad Daud

1. in a consistent manner – consistently
2. most of the time - mostly
3. on a frequent basis - frequently
4. subsequent to - subsequently
5. prior to that time – priory
6. a greater number of – plentiful
7. in a timely fashion - appropriate
8. is of the opinion that – belief
9. consensus of opinion – agreement
10. sum total - total
11. is in a position to - ready
12. exactly identical - duplicate
13. refer back - reply
14. is in the process of – procedure
15. may possibly – maybe/perhaps
16. during the course of - throughout
17. due to the fact that - as
18. at the present time – currently/presently
19. just recently - recently
20. during the time that - then



As another reader of Lynn's blog (and one who is an editor by trade), I'd like to suggest the following changes to your answers above:

5. prior to that time – before
6. a greater number of – more
7. in a timely fashion - timely
8. is of the opinion that – thinks
9. consensus of opinion – consensus (although agreement works, too)
11. is in a position to - is
12. exactly identical - identical
13. refer back - refer
14. is in the process of – is
15. may possibly – may (or "possibly" by itself, also)
16. during the course of - during (throughout is also correct)
17. due to the fact that - because (your answer, "as," is also okay)
20. during the time that - while

Of course, editing these phrases does depend on their context within a sentence, as Lynn said, and different people might imagine different sentences. I tried to keep one of the original words when editing the list--often, the extra word adds little, if anything, to the statement, and sometimes either of the words is fine, as I noted in some of the answers. (Another example: I know folks who would write "often times" instead of just "often" in the previous sentence, out of habit.)

In any case, I hope this helps, and good luck to you!


Chris Kajano

Great Friday morning exercise! I got hung up on a few, particularly 10, 19, and 20. And I refrained from peeking, though as tempted as I was.

1. in a consistent manner - consistently
2. most of the time - often
3. on a frequent basis - frequently
4. subsequent to - subsequently
5. prior to that time - previously
6. a greater number of - additional
7. in a timely fashion - promptly
8. is of the opinion that - believes
9. consensus of opinion - unanimous
10. sum total - result
11. is in a position to - prepared
12. exactly identical - synomomous
13. refer back - reference
14. is in the process of - currently
15. may possibly - likely
16. during the course of - amidst
17. due to the fact that - consequently
18. at the present time - presently
19. just recently - recently
20. during the time that - while

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hello, Muhammad. Thank you for your very thoughtful message! I am glad that my packed articles are helpful to you. I hope you also subscribe to my free newsletter, "Better Writing at Work." If not, you can subscribe at this link:

Best wishes,


Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Christie, thank you for so promptly responding to Muhammad. I was away from my computer last night, and I appreciate your stepping in with good advice.

I will list my revisions in my next comment.


Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, Muhammad, Christie, and Chris. I am glad you took the test. Rather than respond to each of your lists, I have shown my revisions here:

1. in a consistent manner--consistently

2. most of the time--usually

3. on a frequent basis--frequently

4. subsequent to--after

5. prior to that time--before

6. a greater number of--more

7. in a timely fashion--promptly (or quickly, timely, etc.)

8. is of the opinion that--thinks

9. consensus of opinion--consensus

10. sum total--total

11. is in a position to--can

12. exactly identical--identical

13. refer back--refer

14. is in the process of--is

15. may possibly--may

16. during the course of--during

17. due to the fact that--because

18. at the present time--now

19. just recently--recently (or just)

20. during the time that--while

Our answers may differ. I tried to replace the phrase with either a word within it or a clearer word. Also, I imagined a sentence with the wordy phrase in it so that my revision would be in the same structure.

Thanks for testing yourselves!


Lisa Marie

Lynn, this is an excellent post! I want to print it out and post it in my cubicle for all to see.

My favorites are #11 and #14- I love how you reduced whole phrases to two or three letters!

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, Lisa Marie. I like 11 and 14 too. Isn't it fun to cut extra words?

I am delighted you are making a sign for your office.



Thank you, Lynn and contributors. This has a been an interesting exercise for me because my mother tongue is Spanish. Being straight forward or cutting on words is considered rude and uneducated in the Latin world; therefore, I always look for the wordiest way to say things. I am glad to know that less is more.


Great post!

Muhammad Daud

Thanks a lot Lynn for your courageous reply; I am really feeling more productive and more efficient.

I am so sorry for late reply. After this, I will be using my personal email ID for your blog to follow more actively.

Muhammad Daud

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Claudia, thank you for reminding us what works well in the Latin business world. That's very helpful information.


Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hello, Muhammad. Would you like me to change the word "courageous" to "courteous" in your April 12 message to me? I can do that.

Thanks for your comment.



#20 is quite often "when," not while.
#12 may also be "check" rather than "refer back (to)" (Let me refer back to the rules= Let me check the rules.)
#9 is often better as "agree" rather than "consesus."
"Our consensus is that..." is often crispier written as "we agree that..."

All the other edits, I agree with.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, JP. Thank you for your excellent suggestions. How we edit depends, of course, on the context.



"because of issues of font thickness" or "because of font thickness"? :-)

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, Ken. I like the way you think!

I decided to use "issues of" because the debunking made it seem rather complex, with different thicknesses for different font sizes. That's why I hesitated to be as concise as you suggest. Again, I like your thinking, and I could be persuaded.


Alison Hill

I wish these edits were compulsory! Thanks for a great post; I've shared it on my Facebook page.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, Alison. If you are the editor, you CAN make them compulsory. Good luck!




I'd just like to note that #11, 'in a timely fashion', cannot simply be replaced with 'timely': 'timely' is almost always an adjective, whereas the phrase requires replacement with an adverbial modifier. So 'I need you to act in a timely fashion' cannot become 'I need you to act timely'; 'promptly' is much the better option.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi Gavin,

I thought the same thing you do--until I worked with a variety of accounting and audit teams. In those circles "timely" is often used as an adverb.

I agree that "promptly" is a better choice in most business writing. You have prompted me to change the order of my list of adverbs for "in a timely fashion."

Thanks for taking the time to comment.


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