Thursday, August 20, 2009

You only need two words.

When we were in school, our teachers made us write 100-word essays. Or, we applied for scholarships that asked for 500-word essays. This unfortunate practice has led many of us to search the dictionary for long words so as to create long sentences and even longer paragraphs. Ultimately this gives rise to the kind of business writing we see, filled with jargon, buzz words and incomprehensible gobbledygook. We think that if we use long words in long sentences we'll appear smarter.

Our teachers should have told us that we only need two words to write a great sentence. I use as proof that wondrous sentence from the King James Bible (John 11:35), "Jesus wept." You will recall, if you've ever read about Lazarus, that he and his sisters were greatly loved by Christ. But, Lazarus died. Jesus learned of the death from Mary, Lazarus's sister, who approached him crying. When Jesus saw this, the Bible tell us, "Jesus wept." How profound is that! Two words! "Jesus wept."

A simple two word sentence conjured a full image of the entire scene, and the great compassion of Christ, for each of us. No further description was required. Two words covered it. Great writing does that: it creates full color images for the reader in simple, concise language. The writer engages the reader and the message is clearly heard and received.

I hereby offer some other two word sentences (granted, not as profound as the last example) that prove that you only need two words to make an impact:

1.) I quit.
2.) Mom died.
3.) We won!
4.) That rocks!
5.) Girls rule.
6.) I do.

Now, those were declarative sentences and you may be thinking of some imperative sentences with two words such as:

1.) Get lost.

But, those two word sentences don't count. They don't count because they're really three word sentences. They have an understood subject - you. So, "Get lost" is really "You get lost" - three words.

Three word sentences can be powerful, too, and we will explore that in the next post. But, for now, I ask you to suggest some two words sentences that make a strong statement and require no further elaboration. Remember: you only need two words!


  1. I read.

    I read for pleasure, I read for knowledge, I read to be touched, I read to be informed, I read because I want to, I read because there are great writers like you!

  2. To me, these statements share another commonality, (which I've fixated on since I just prepared a lecture about sentence structure). These two-word sentences only include a subject and a verb. An object is not included, not necessary. These sentences focus on the action of a single entity, and declare a type of singularity. One person, one action, one moment, one impact. These sentences expand emotionally because they define only a single point out there somewhere. It is the reader's responsibility, then, to position herself in regards to the sentence. "How does this change me, now?" she might ask. What has ultimately been accomplished, then, is a sentence that necessarily engages the reader by not dictating how she must relate to that new information. Relationships are made, but they are more profound since the reader is part of the process. "She understands."