Andrew Huth

May 14, 2021

It was the best of sentences, it was the worst of sentences

June Casagrande’s It was the Best of Sentences, It was the Worst of Sentences is about writing sentences (don’t judge mine!). Writing good sentences helps your writing (of course). And it also helps write commit messages and code comments.

The book is useful, amusing, and never boring, although I wish it was organized better. Each chapter covers a (seemingly) random concept.

I’d categorize most of them into
  • Writing should serve the reader
  • Brevity
  • Troubleshooting
  • Grammar and parts of speech
  • The nature of rules

Writing should serve the reader

Every word, phrase, and sentence must enhance the experience for the reader. This includes prioritizing information. You should rearrange, add, and remove as you see fit. If something doesn’t serve the reader, you have to let it go. As Stephen King says, “kill your darlings”.


Brevity is a powerful tool. You don’t have to use it, but you should know how. Consider whether removing any word, phrase, or clause would be better.

For example, some adjectives are meaningless. "The exact same" means "the same". There’s no reason to include “exact”.

To help with brevity, break down what the individual phrases and clauses in a sentence are. Can any be their own sentence? Can any be removed?

Don’t feel bad if sentences come out long and rambling at first. It’s part of the writing process.


When working on a sentence, start by identifying the main clause. This is the main subject and verb. Remove everything else, and then add things back to get the right voice and feel. Make changes as necessary.

When working on a noun, consider the simplest alternative. The film, instead of the depiction.

When working on a verb, consider the simplest tense. He walked, instead of he had been walking, may be a better choice.

Parts of speech / grammar

Many different parts of speech and grammar are covered. Here are a few of the memorable ones.

Passive voice is when the object of an action is the subject. The coffee was made by Ned. We’re taught to avoid it, which is usually a good idea. However, passive voice is really useful when we want to downplay the doer of an action.

Relative clauses relegate a clause to lower status. Starts with something like after, although, as, because, before, if, since, than, though, unless, when, and while. Can make sentences less clear or vivid if the wrong part is demoted. 

“Before robbing a bank, Mike was an accountant” is weird because the more interesting part (Mike robbed a bank) is grammatically lower status than the less interesting part (no offense to accountants). Better would be “After 25 years of being an accountant, Mike robbed a bank”.

Adverbs answer when, where, how much, how often, or in what manner. “Manner” adverbs answer “in what manner”, and should be avoided. All adverbs may weaken the words they modify, so use with care. They must provide a clear benefit.


All of the rules presented are just guidelines. They’re meant to be broken.

Rules help us when we’re getting started, or when we’re struggling. But shouldn’t weigh us down “when we’re soaring”.