The use of left-branching sentences is a common problem in translations. Yet many translators are unaware that they are even writing them.
In most cases, right-branching sentences are more appropriate and easier to read. So what’s the difference?
Left-branching sentences can resemble a magic trick. This is as they keep the reader in suspense by only revealing at the end of the sentence what it is that’s being discussed.
This becomes particularly problematic (and infuriating for the reader) in long sentences with lots of information to take in. By the time the reader finally learns what the subject of the sentence is, they are likely to have forgotten all the information that came before. This means they either have to strain to remember the information, or re-read the sentence. Neither of which is ideal.
“You will need flour, eggs, milk, butter and a dash of salt to make pancakes.” (Left-branching)
Right-branching sentences place the subject at the front of the sentence, both putting emphasis on the subject and making it clear from the beginning what is being discussed.
This sentence structure makes it much easier for the reader to take in the extra information that relates to the subject.
“To make pancakes you will need flour, eggs, milk, butter and a dash of salt.” (Right-branching)
In the following examples, it’s easier to see why left-branching sentences with many modifiers can be hard to read:
“Over the coming year we will be emphasizing employee training; our extensive branch network; improved ingredients; better product choice; and faster service as part of our primary communications messages.” (Left-branching)
“As part of our primary communications messages over the coming year we will be emphasizing employee training; our extensive branch network; improved ingredients; better product choice; and faster service.” (Right-branching)
“In response to the severe market volatility that emerged from the Swiss National Bank’s removal of the currency floor, the board of directors has put into action a comprehensive risk register.” (Left-branching)
“The board of directors has put into action a comprehensive risk register in response to the severe market volatility that emerged from the Swiss National Bank’s removal of the currency floor.” (Right-branching)
In some instances, such as short commands and instructions, it may be preferable to use a left-branching structure in order to move the emphasis away from the subject. They can also be used to add suspense or variety to your writing – but use sparingly.
“Click on the link below to apply for a platinum credit card.” (Left-branching)
“To apply for a platinum credit card, click on the link below.” (Right-branching)