Posted in Grammar, Writing

Why You Need to be Careful about Mixed Constructions

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Mixed constructions are a lot more complicated than comma splices and fused sentences.

Recently I wrote about the need to avoid comma splices and why you should fix all your fused sentences.

Those are two areas in your writing that are easily noticeable as long as you’re paying attention.

Mixed constructions, on the other hand, might appear right to you even if you’re looking closely. You might read a sentence aloud that has mixed constructions and think it’s grammatically correct.

Unfortunately, such is not the case. And to make your writing sound its best, you need to learn what a mixed construction is and why it should be avoided at all costs.


So what exactly is a mixed construction?

At the most basic level, it’s a sentence that starts with one kind of structure… but then ends with another one. Usually a sentence with a mixed construction makes total sense to a reader, but it also has the ability to confuse a reader as well.

There isn’t one kind of mixed construction, and such is the reason why it can be hard at times to point them out.

But let’s look at some common examples and figure out ways to fix them…

Example One

Revising is when you go through your short story or novel and improve upon it in a variety of ways.

Sounds perfectly fine, right? If you were to see this sentence in the middle of a paragraph — hell, even at the beginning of a paragraph — you might not think anything of it.

But notice the awkwardness at the beginning. The word ‘when’ is our problem. ‘When’ refers to an event happening in time, and there’s no time associated with this example. The sentence is detailing a kind of writing process, so the use of ‘when’ is unjustified.

So how do you fix it? Pretty easy.

Revising is the process of going through your short story or novel and improving upon it in a variety of ways.

Way better, right? Notice that I added -ing to the words ‘go’ and ‘improve’ so that the sentence makes perfect sense.

Example Two

Most writers tend to agree about the necessity of short chapters in thriller novels and also quick, choppy sentences.

This isn’t a terrible sentence. You could probably get away with it.

But it still sounds kind of odd, right? What’s the problem, exactly?

The problem is the mixed construction. Everything before “and also” makes sense, but then things get confusing. The way the sentence is written now makes it sound like writers could be agreeing on the use of short chapters in thriller novels AND the use of short chapters in choppy sentences, which is confusing and bad.

Here are three ways you could potentially fix this sentence.

Most writers tend to agree about the necessity of short chapters in thriller novels and also on the necessity of quick, choppy sentences.

Not terrible, but let’s do better.

Most writers tend to agree about the necessity of short chapters in thriller novels. Writers also believe quick, choppy sentences are important in the genre.

Much better. But I still would go a step further and make the example less wordy, more to-the-point.

Most writers tend to agree about the necessity of short chapters and choppy sentences in thriller novels.

There! Oh my God, so much better. And so much easier to read.


Be aware of mixed constructions in your writing.

They happen to the best of us. I probably write one or two every day I’m drafting a new novel.

And that’s totally fine! Feel free to load up your first draft of a story or novel with dozens of mixed constructions.

The trick of course is to locate them and fix them pronto as you revise your work later. And one easy way to do this is to read your work aloud and recognize the sentences that don’t sound quite right.

Again, mixed constructions are often harder to find than comma splices and fused sentences.

But take the extra time to find as many as you can, and you’ll absolutely be rewarded in the long run.

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