A pause can change syntax and meaning

Trying to write something concisely, I came across a quirk of English. I ran into an example where inserting a pause changes both the syntax of a sentence and its meaning.

Here’s the context. Sarah Wells married Joseph Randall, but Joseph died within a few years. After that, Sarah remarried. Her second husband was Louis Sear.

I was looking for a way to collapse the last 2 sentences into 1 sentence, for conciseness. Most of them didn’t work, for reasons given in the following table.

AttemptReason it doesn’t work
She remarried.Doesn’t say who her 2nd husband was
She married Louis Searl.Doesn’t say (explicitly) that this was her second marriage—though the reader can infer this from the context.
She remarried Louis Searl.Suggests she married LS twice.
Her remarriage was to Louis Serl.Presupposes that a 2nd marriage had occurred, but doesn’t say that explicitly.
She remarried to Louis Searl.Remarried (like married) takes a direct object that can’t be introduced by to.

On the other hand, the following sentence seems fine to me: ‘She remarried—to Louis Searl’.

That sentence includes a pause (recorded in writing with the dash —). Including that pause has 2 odd effects:

  • effect on syntax. The pause makes it possible to introduce the preposition to before Louis Searl. In other words, it turns what must normally be a direct object into a prepositional object that the verbs married and remarried cannot normally take.
    That preposition to is the same preposition that follows the noun marriage (as in her marriage to Louis).
  • effect on meaning. The pause removes the implication that Sarah married Louis twice.

2 comments

    1. Yes, it does.
      Thanks for a good writing tip from the master of conciseness (concision? being concise? brevity? Though I’m not sure ‘brevity’ conveys as well the notion of not losing any meaning)
      In any case, the things I discovered about the effects of the pauses / commas are interesting and surprised me.

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