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I hope I'm posting this in the correct forum. If not, please direct me to the proper place to move my question. This is my first time using this site since I found it on Google, though I've used some of the answers here as references a number of times before, so please bear with me.

I'm in the process of editing a friend's story, as she is unfamiliar with a lot of grammar and punctuation rules. I've been trying to explain to her why I'm making each edit as I go so that she can learn from the experience.

I've run into a chapter where she's used a similar sentence structure a few times, and I'm not positive that it's incorrect, as I've seen it done plenty of times before, but it just feels wrong to me. If it is incorrect, can you tell me how to explain it to her grammatically so she's less likely to make the same mistake again?

Here are the examples:

  • The thought that his kind were something to fear or at least be wary of, it was harmful.

  • The way Jordan was smiling and the lightness in his voice, it was unlike the man he had seen before.

  • The memory of her face, caught contorted in the middle of a scream, it had haunted him for the first year.

To me it feels like it would be better to remove the ", it" in each case but I don't want to tell her something is incorrect if it works grammatically (though I might mention that it feels more natural without that). If I'm analyzing the sentence structure properly, it seems that the "it" she's using is just simplifying and restating the noun used at the beginning of the sentence, before the comma break ("the thought," "the way," "the memory"), but could using "it" in that manner also apply to other parts of speech that I should warn her about?

Also, are there instances where, with certain formatting changes, the "it" can properly repeat the subject without being grammatically incorrect? For example, I've seen situations where someone would use an ellipsis in place of a comma, but I'm not sure if they mean to trail off and then begin a new sentence with it, or what.

Sorry for the long-winded question. I'd appreciate any answers you may have for me.

  • This might be more for writing.stackexchange.com although, I suspect from your perpective it might belong here and her's there. ; ) I say that because, the a writer of fiction can play more loosely with the language - especially true when a story is being told from the view of a character sharing their subconscious observations. While your suggestion would be proper expository writing, her's is more like a flow of impression, reason and realization in a persons mind. Or, perhaps just "poetry" of a rhythm of ideas. – Tom22 Apr 12 '18 at 6:21
  • "If it is incorrect, ..." No, I don't think it's grammatically incorrect to do so. – Kris Apr 12 '18 at 9:08
  • I have always corrected this in my students' writing and speech, but maybe it is not technically incorrect. The middle sentence, to be correct, ought to say "they" – Chuckk Hubbard Apr 12 '18 at 9:08
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The three sentences use it in different ways.

The thought that his kind were something to fear or at least be wary of, it was harmful.

Although the sentence could dispense with it without significant change in meaning, the pronoun changes the way the idea is conveyed in the sentence (emphasizing the subject, as @pablopaul already noted). Compare:

"The thought that his kind were something to fear or at least be wary of -- it was harmful."

The way Jordan was smiling and the lightness in his voice, it was unlike the man he had seen before.

The it seems more like a "dummy it" (not a useless it) in this case.

The memory of her face, caught contorted in the middle of a scream, it had haunted him for the first year.

I see no useful purpose served by it here.

In general, these examples also suggest a possible carry-over from the writer's native idiom (possibly a non-native speaker of English).

  • Thanks for your reply. I like the comparison you offered with the dash, as it emphasizes the subject even further, and I'll make a note of it for her to see which she likes best. Can you elaborate on what you meant by "a dummy it"? Also, what's the difference between the first and third sentences as to why the "it" in the first instance is useful and in the third it's not? Does the description of her face ("caught contorted") after the subject ("The memory of her face") affect its usefulness? I agree that it sounds better without, but I need to be able to explain the difference to her. – Lauren Apr 12 '18 at 14:54
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It sounds like your friend has a proclivity for left dislocation. It's grammatically sound, and a fairly common sentence structure in English used to emphasize the subject.

Whether your friend uses this sentence structure too often, that's a question of style.

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    Like in, " This old man, he played one..." – Chuckk Hubbard Apr 12 '18 at 9:07
  • I had never heard of that! Thank you for that useful link. – Lauren Apr 12 '18 at 14:49

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