Hooray for the smallest of words

Courtesy Freedigitalphotos.net, "Sun Sky" by samarttiw.

Courtesy Freedigitalphotos.net, “Sun Sky” by samarttiw.

Sifting through my old blog on business writing, I found this:

A tribute to the humblest of words, hooray for the article.

They’re short, they don’t seem important, but look what they do. Consider the following two sentences:

He moved the cart.

He moved a cart.

I’ve noticed lately that people don’t mind dropping an article now and then. Maybe they’re writing quickly, and a short little “a,” “an,” or “the” gets lost in the rush. But articles are important. They give a sense of how specific, how personal, something is.

What’s the difference between “he moved the cart” and “he moved a cart?”

Lots.

A cart is an inconsequential piece of furniture that happened to be there. It belongs to no one, or at least to no one we care about at the moment.

The cart has consequence. It’s there for a reason. It belongs to someone, and that person cares about it. It’s not any cart – it’s a specific one.

All that, accomplished with three small letters.

So pay attention to articles. Don’t drop them; don’t misuse them. They have meaning.

This post caught my eye because since I’ve been focusing on fiction, articles have only grown in my estimation. Actually, I’m in love with small words in general. Conjunctions, for example, are my guilty little pleasure.  I love the word and so much that I often have to prune a lot of my ands on rereading a draft. I love it most especially in the beginning of a sentence, for the biblical sound that construction produces. I know, I know, countless English teachers marked off points for starting a sentence with and or but. But (sorry, couldn’t help myself), the fact is the Bible does it all the time. Talk about falling back on tradition! Listen to these verses:

In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light; and there was light.

In some old-fashioned high school classes, God just lost a minimum of three points on His paper. Somehow, it works, though, doesn’t it? Ands have a nice rhythm to them. Buts too. So hooray for the smallest of words.

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2 thoughts on “Hooray for the smallest of words

  1. I’m with you on the Ands! Not to mention that with kids sometimes a period that breaks up what could be written as one long sentence for adults, with lots of clauses, can be really helpful. Of course it’s just my opinion, I’m sure others might differ.

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