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I'm having so much trouble figuring this out for some reason:

He raised his hands in mock surrender, warranting a raised eyebrow from Simon who proceeded to bid again anyway, setting off another round.

I'm having trouble figuring out how to restyle this sentence so that it flows better. Is having so many different phrases so close together a good idea? SHould I break this apart so that it is multiple sentences maybe or am I just doing something horrendously wrong?

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closed as off-topic by Neil Fein Oct 7 '13 at 17:17

  • This question does not appear to be about writing, copywriting, publishing or editing within the scope defined in the help center.
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

This question appears to be off-topic because it is about the strictly interpreted correctness of English grammar or syntax rules. – Neil Fein Oct 7 '13 at 17:17
"Punctuating long stacked dependent/relative clauses"? – Mussri Oct 7 '13 at 18:35
See BESW's comment below; perhaps this can be edited and reopened? – Neil Fein Oct 7 '13 at 22:09
Is that better? – Mike C. Oct 8 '13 at 22:44
@MikeC. I'm afraid not, now it's just a request to rephrase a short sentence, which the community has decided is also off-topic here. Questions about writing techniques and strategies tend to do better here. Your best bet for this would be to just ask in our chatroom. – Neil Fein Dec 16 '13 at 6:14
up vote 4 down vote accepted

This is very much a style issue. I'll share what I'd do but it may not work for you at all.

Brenda Ueland's writing style (specifically in If You Want to Write) taught me that most times I want to put in a comma or other spacing punctuation I'm better off with nothing, or a period. I'll be combining this with Strunk's admonishment that "rich, ornate prose is hard to digest" and if it is "your natural form of expression, [...] you will have to compensate for it by a show of vigor." I do not lay claim to sufficient vigor, so will be eliminating the rich and ornate.

Since I don't know anything about the surrounding context I can't be as aggressive about this as I'd be with my own work. But without adulterating it too much I'll walk you through my process for working with it.

I'm not going to talk about whether it's a present participial phrase or anything like that. In my experience the instant I start getting confused about which phrase modifies what or needing to think too hard about what manner of phrase it is in order to see if it's okay, I've gotten into deep trouble and need to back up right quick. The average reader is going to be more confused than the writer. If a phrase confuses me the thing for me to do is to rip it apart: the sentence is probably trying to cram too much into too little space and is stepping on its own toes. So let's split it into two sentences and see what happens.

He raised his hands in mock surrender, warranting a raised eyebrow from Simon. Simon proceeded to bid again anyway and set off another round.

Repeating "Simon" (or even an equivalent word/phrase) is a bit awkward though. If I knew the context I could use another word/phrase to describe Simon, like "His rival," but how about we chop it up so that's not necessary? In the process we can emphasize the surrendering man's action as the catalyst by setting it apart. This eliminates the action-comma-result structure common to both sentences. While I'm looking at it, "anyway" feels weak and unnecessary: shouldn't we know from the raised eyebrow that the bidding is in spite of the surrender?

He raised his hands in mock surrender. Simon raised an eyebrow at him before proceeding to bid again, setting off another round.

Improving! But the phrase after the comma feels tacked on. That "proceeding/setting" combination feels a bit awkward too. Do we need to say that much? "Proceeding" already means he's starting it. If the context assumes the reader knows that one starts a round of bidding by bidding, we can tighten this up even more.

He raised his hands in mock surrender. Simon raised an eyebrow at him before proceeding with another round of bidding.

Hmm. I feel like I could actually turn it back into one sentence now because I've cut out a lot of the fat from it. Phrases like "warranting a," "proceeded to," and "setting off" are fine when they're needed, but in this case they seem over-elaborate and unnecessary, and using so many together contributed to the original awkward sentence structure. Now that we've stripped them out and used easier language we can simply say:

He raised his hands in mock surrender, and Simon raised an eyebrow at him before starting another round of bidding.

But now that I've got it laid out so simply... I notice that I'm saying "raised" twice in one sentence. Let's use a more expressive word for Simon's action, shall we?

He raised his hands in mock surrender, and Simon cocked an eyebrow at him before starting another round of bidding.

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Beautiful! A thorough and thoughtful explanation. – Lauren Ipsum Oct 7 '13 at 16:38
This far exceeds what I had expected for an answer. Thank you for taking the time to write this up. I was stuck on how to work with the editing of this sentence but you've shown me a very nice method that I think I can even reuse elsewhere. – Mike C. Oct 7 '13 at 17:24
@MikeC. Glad it was helpful! I thought your question wasn't really a grammar one. Maybe you could edit it to be more about editing and less about the parts of sentences so it can be re-opened and get other citizens' takes on the process too? – BESW Oct 7 '13 at 17:31

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