A Philosophy of Writing Style: a Guide on Say and Express

By Xah Lee. Date:

In alt.english.usage, Ian wrote:

“In her letter Jane expresses that she is getting irritated with me for not writing”

should be corrected to

“In her letter Jane says that…”

You can express an idea or a thought, but you can't ever express that. In technical terms, “express” is a transitive verb and requires an object. But “says” is also a transitive verb, at least that's what the dictionary says it is, so wouldn't “says” require an object too?

I do not know your background or context, so my advice is subject to applicability of your judgment. Without further ado, i begin.

First principle in communication is to consider theories of communication. In this matter, the subject is a extremely complex one, and part of the encompassing in meaning theory or theories is the notion of grammar and its fixation by those who view it that way. The technicality you mentioned, “transitive verb”, is a side effect of such machinery.

Now, without going into the expansiveness and details of the theory or theories of communication (which can easily entail epistemology and fall into largely untinkered foundational problems), one simple and effective guideline one can use to achieve better writing with respect to quality and efficiency is a certain doing away with grammatical concerns, provided if you can write OK. (e.g. if you are college educated with the language)

You Sir, in your mentioning of the term “transitive verb”, and in your rumination on the diction choice, the logicality and compatibility in grammar, and most importantly the effort undertaken to materialize your thoughts into a short presentation in a forum dedicated to this affair, indicate your earnestness and possession of no slight understanding. Therefore, i think my advice so stated in the previous paragraph is applicable in your situation.

More specifically, in your case, your choices as another patron of our forum are for example the following 3, and i will go over each with a circumstantial analysis to illustrate and substantiate my guideline.

My guideline can be abstracted as a feeling of comfortableness. And really that is it. In the above 3, which do you feel more comfortable? That would be your choice to heart most pertinent to your intention. Now, let's analyze each's focus and air.

In ①, she “expresses”. In ②, she “says”. In Express versus Say, express is a put forth of sentiments, while say is moving of the mouth. This is their quality. Which one to use is now obvious. In particular of note in this guideline of mine is the doing away of what standard writing dignitaries or pundits's prescription and description. The standard approach is as you've lead to with the analysis of grammar. That, and or in conjunction with Style Guides set down by pro guilds. These, are likely to mold one into inexpressibility and confoundedness.

Now look at ③, using “becoming”. She now no longer “says” or “expresses”, but BECOME! The word become is a certain transformation or transmutation or metamorphosis, with a emphasis of physicality. Again, with a slight application of brain or rationality, we immediately see the force or shape of this variation. Which one to use now becomes a clarity unprecedented, with each a direct connection to a meaning distinct.

With the above understanding, you can now see the power within you. In a manner of expression, your force in exactitude, in precision, your ability to choose, and shun the confusion your predecessors was trapped, can harbor you a writing skill far ahead and away of the mundane and trite, of the suppressed and depressed, of trying trite tiring tired, inflexibilities and irreflectabilities.

With that note, i end this missive of guidance. And with a blessing, wish you sail forth smoothly in the realm of philosophy of writing.