I’ve observed one basic difference between the Spanish and English languages: The languages handle the order of their nouns and adjectives differently. And this one difference can be pivotal in writing effectively for an audience.
You see, the English language places adjectives before nouns. English speakers tell all about something before they tells what it is they are talking about. Take this sentence, for example: The skinny, white, male cat sat by the door. Listeners hear three descriptors — skinny, white, male — before they discover that the sentence is about a cat.
The Spanish language, on the other hand, places nouns before adjectives. Spanish speakers tell what they are talking about before they tell about it. The Spanish version of that sample sentence is translated literally as: The cat skinny, white, male sat by the door. Listeners are told that the sentence is about a cat before they hear the three descriptors.
Although I speak English, I’ve always been impressed with this difference that makes the Spanish language more friendly to its listeners. Spanish speakers give their listeners a heads up as to what they are talking about before diving into details.
So, what does this mean for writing?
When presenting information to readers, consider shifting your mindset to that of a Spanish speaker. In other words, look for opportunities to place your nouns before their descriptions to make your writing more reader-friendly. Your readers first want to know what you are talking about before wading through details.
Take a look at this sentence before and after one of my clients considered the order of his nouns and adjectives.
The largest contributor to information security related regulations is section 501 (b) of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act.
The largest contributor to regulations related to information security is section 501 (b) of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act.
In the second draft, the writer puts the focus on the word ‘regulations’ before telling more about it. The noun gives the reader something solid to which he can hold on before delving into details.
Look at one piece of your writing today. Where can you change the order of your nouns and adjectives to make your sentences more reader-friendly?
Ella Hearrean of Stellar Communications is a Houston-based freelance editor and writer for business leaders, publishers, and other writers. Connect with her on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/ellaritchie.