Five Needless Shifts and Their Quick Fixes

A well-written paragraph or text shows a clear relationship between sentences and between ideas. They all fit together well. Coherence is the term for this harmony achieved through the consistency in voice, tense, person, number, and discourse.

When unannounced and unnecessary shifts occur in one of these five elements, chaos begins. Readers are bewildered so they just stop paying attention. Look at how these needless shifts can be easily fixed or avoided by careful rewriting.

1. Needless Shift in Voice

  • Incoherent: So the man gave (Active) him the bricks, and his house was built (Passive) with them. (Shift from Active to Passive)
  • Coherent: So the man gave (Active) him the bricks, and he built (Active) his house with them.

2. Needless Shift in Tense

  • Incoherent: He made (Past Tense) war with all his neighbors, and defeat (Present) them. (Shift from Past to Present)
  • Coherent: He made (Past) war with all his neighbors, and defeated (Past) them.

3. Needless Shift in Person

First person (the person talking), second person (the person spoken to), and third person (the person being talked about) are the three points of view. 

  • Incoherent: We say one can no longer afford indifference to the suffering outside our borders. (Shift from Third Person to First Person)
  • Coherent: We say we can no longer afford indifference to the suffering outside our borders.
  • Incoherent: Teachers will find the computer lab a great convenience. You can use any of these computers for free. (Shift from Third Person to Second Person) 
  • Coherent: Teachers will find the computer lab a great convenience. They can use any of these computers for free. 

4. Needless Shift in Number

Singular nouns or pronouns are followed by singular antecedents. Plural antecedents follow plural nouns or pronouns.

  • Incoherent: When someone (singular) calls, tell them (plural antecedent) that I'm out of the office.
  • Coherent: When someone calls, tell him or her that I'm out of the office.
  • Incoherent: Parents (plural) have an obligation to his (singular antecedent) children to turn off the TV, pick up a book, and read to him (singular antecedent) more often.
  • Coherent: Parents have an obligation to their children to turn off the TV, pick up a book, and read to them more often.

5. Needless Shift in Discourse 

Direct and indirect/reported speech are two different formats of discourse; the first has quotation marks, the latter always ends with a period.

  • Incoherent: The giant asked whether the children knew where he lived, and have they seen him before
  • Coherent: The giant asked whether the children knew where he lived, and whether they had seen him before.
  • OR: The giant asked, "Do you know where I live and have you seen me before?"
Designed by Neil Yamit