Deconstructing the Inaugural Address

Many commentators around the world have no doubt already weighed in on the strengths, content, and feeling of U.S. President Obama's inaugural speech. Here is a look at the mechanics:

Number of words: 2414 (according to Microsoft Word)

Number of sentences: 110

Number of words per sentence: 21.4 (Microsoft) or 21.9 (my calculator)

Grade level, based on sentence length and word length: 8.3

Sentences with passive verbs: 10 percent (Examples: "The capital was abandoned"; "It must be earned.")

Number of times "I" appears: 3

Number of times "we" appears:  62

Number of times "my" appears: 2

Number of times "our" appears: 66

Number of times "you" or "your" appears: 17 (typically referring to people outside the U.S.)

Number of sentences that begin with a conjunction: 15 (and, but, so, nor, yet)

Here are a few observations I share, which are based on the text:

1. You can move a nation and a world writing at 8th-grade level.

2.  It is perfectly okay to use passive verbs selectively. (Search this blog for "passive verbs" to learn more.)

3. To create a sense of community, use "we"–not "I" or "you."

4. To communicate in an engaging way, feel free to begin sentences with conjunctions such as "but" and "and." The President's speech includes not one "however," "moreover," or "in addition."

What did you observe about the inaugural address?

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  1. Hi Lynn – Wonderful statistics and observations. Obama’s inaugural speech was one of the best I have heard off late and here are some of my observations:

    1) Communcation is all about packing a lot of meaning into a few words. Speech was not too long, but it was very meaningful. I think same applies to writing as well.

    2) He was able to paint pictures with his words and delivery style. People were hooked when he spoke because he added feelings into each and every spoken word.

    3) From a management standpoint, his speech was a progressive one. One of the statistics could be how many progressive and positive words he used in his speech. People easily relate with whatever is progressive and hopeful.

    4) As you rightly pointed out, he did not use any junk into his speech. He was speaking with utmost clarity (of thought and words) which created the impact. No junk and no interruptions made it even better.

    All in all, a great speech.

  2. This is a great analysis.

    Point #4, seems more acceptable in verbal communications than written communications. It sounds better verbally than it reads or looks in writing.

  3. Tanmay and Ali, thanks for adding your comments.

    Tanmay, it would be interesting to compare Mr. Obama’s use of positive and negative words. To communicate a sense of urgency, I believe it was necessary to show both sides.

    Ali, I frequently begin written sentences with conjunctions such as “but” and “and.” My purpose is to avoid long, stringy sentences and to communicate energetically.

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