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Add Your Own Criminal Sentence!

If you find a particularly terrible sentence somewhere, post it for all to see (go here and put it in the Comments section).

Monday, June 30, 2008

Criminal Sentence 47: Faulty Comparison

From a newspaper column where the columnist answers readers' bizarre questions. In this column, the columnist didn't remember how to make bird feeders out of old pill bottles:

"I have made tuned wind chimes in the past, but like making bird feeders out of old pill bottles, the directions are long lost."

This sentence incorrectly compares "making bird feeders" to "the directions." Writer and reader can understand this sentence, but it's better to compare like things.

You can rewrite this in a number of ways. Here are two examples:

"I have made tuned wind chimes in the past, but like the directions for making bird feeders out of old pill bottles, those for making tuned wind chimes are lost."

"I have made tuned wind chimes in the past, but the directions for making them are lost, as are the instructions for making bird feeders out of old pill bottles."

Friday, June 27, 2008

Criminal Sentence 46: How Much?

On a sign at a fast food restaurant:

".99c roast beef sandwiches"

Wow! Under 1 cent for a roast beef sandwich? What a bargain!

The store meant 99c or $0.99. .99c is .01 less than 1 cent.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Criminal Sentence 45: Years (of) Experience

A common error I see:

"I have eight years experience."

This should be "years' experience" or "years of experience."

Just think about it if you used one year:

"I have one year experience." This sounds wrong (and it is!): "one year of experience" or "one year's experience."

I have too many years' experience making this correction.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Criminal Sentence 44: Your or You're?

My battery died earlier today, conveniently allowing me to go to an auto parts store and see this:

"Bring in you're old battery and we'll give you $3." (Or something to that effect.)

That should be "your." You can test if the contraction ("you're") is right by pretending you don't have a contraction and spelling it out:

"Bring in you are old battery and we'll give you $3."

As you can see, this does not make sense. It would make a cool insult, though: you old battery.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Criminal Sentence 43: Question Marks and Quotation Marks

From an illuminating article about funeral arrangements:

Are caskets "one size fits all?"

The question mark should be outside the quotation mark in this case.

Question marks mixed with quotation marks can be tricky. If what you're quoting contains a question mark, then the question mark goes inside the quotation marks; if the entire sentence is a question, then the question mark goes outside.

Here are some correct examples:

Are caskets "one size fits all"?
"Do I look fat in this?" asked Mary.
Can you believe he called me "fat"?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Criminal Sentence 42: Hire More Grammarians, Not Table Cleaners

From a sign at the IKEA restaurant. The rest of the sign indicated that customers should bus their own trays.

"By taking your tray to the tray station, we can continue to keep prices low."

This sentence contains an amusing misplaced modifier. It says the exact opposite of what's intended. IKEA wants "you" to take your tray away, not "we," as stated here.

How about this, IKEA:

"If you take your tray to the tray station, we can continue to keep prices low."

Thanks for the Swedish meatballs, and the memories.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Criminal Sentence 41: How Old Is This Mom?

I had to laugh at this sentence.

From a parenting magazine, where a mom is answering the question "What trait of yours do you hope your child doesn't inherit?":

"My stubborn nature. The bad thing is that at age one and a half, I think he already has some of it!"

According to this sentence, the mom, not the son, is one and a half. Let's rephrase:

"The bad thing is that at age one and a half, he already has some of it, I think!"

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Criminal Sentence 40: Read What You Write

From a fascinating article on who was chosen for the list of hottest bachelor:

"Bruce Willis, who has been linked to model Emma Hemming, landed him a spot too."

This should say either" landed a spot" or "landed himself a spot." It seems that this sentence was edited but not proofread. Editing is good, but proofreading is even better.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Criminal Sentence 39: I Wouldn't

Overheard on a TV show:

"I wouldn't have had to if you would have told me the truth."

When you have an "if" clause, you don't use "would. In the above sentence, you use "had":

"I wouldn't have had to if you had told me the truth."

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Criminal Sentence 38: I'm "Sore" about This

From a weather report yesterday:

"Temperatures will sore to 112 once again."

Ouch! I think the writer meant "soar."

Today it's supposed to be 113! Another ouch!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Criminal Sentence 37: "There Are" Better Ways to Say It

Writers love the phrase "there are" (or "there is"). For example:

"There are three girls standing over there."

This is just wordy. I feel it's almost always best to cut out unnecessary cases of "there":

"Three girls are standing over there."

Many times, you can get rid of a boring "to be" verb (such as "are" and "is"):

You can turn "There are six students who attend the school"
"Six students attend the school"
and you save three words.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Criminal Sentence 36: Wherefore Art Thou, Comma?

From an article on last night's baseball game:

"With one out, Luis Castillo hit a hot shot to third where Reynolds couldn't handle it."

Commas can be tricky but I recommend you add one after "third." You're giving additional information. Another example (with correct comma):

Sam and Pam went to the prom, where they had their first kiss.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Criminal Sentence 35: Incompletes

From an article on a restaurant I like:

"The garden of eatin' pizza ($13.75 for a 12-inch pizza; $12 for an 18-inch pizza), a sauceless pizza with marinated roma tomatoes, basil and garlic in olive oil, topped with mozzarella cheese and splashed with balsamic vinegar."

Sounds delicious, but the sentence is missing a main verb: is ("is topped with..."). This kind of sentence is known as an incomplete sentence or a fragment.

Did you catch the other fragment I used above on purpose? This one is missing a subject:

"Sounds delicious."

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Criminal Sentence 34: To Ire or To Irk?

From a Web headline:

"Slow batter ires Big Unit"

(FYI, "Big Unit" is a nickname for pitcher Randy Johnson, who is 6'10".)

The verb here should be "irks," which means "annoys." "Ire" is a noun that means "anger."

A new headline:

Lack of Dictionary Use Irks Copyeditor

Monday, June 9, 2008

Criminal Sentence 33: Apples to Apples

A quotation from Roger Federer, who lost the French Open tennis final to Rafael Nadal in an embarrassing fashion:

"He was more dominant than the previous years."

Granted, Federer is Swiss, so English is not his native language, but I see native speakers make this same mistake. In this sentence, "he" is compared to "previous years." We know what he means, but when you're making a comparison, it would be better to compare apples to apples:

"He was more dominant than he was in previous years."

Here, I compared "he" to "he."

Friday, June 6, 2008

Criminal Sentence 32: Don't Repeat

A common error I see:

"It was dark and also foggy."

I made this one up, but I see a lot of similar sentences, sentences that use both "and" and "also" together. In this case, please delete "also" because it is repetitive. Also watch out for "in addition." I often see this phrase in the same sentence as an "and." Some writers use both for emphasis, but most of the time it is redundant.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Criminal Sentence 31: Commas or Semicolons

From an article about Obama:

"Attendees included Sex and the City actress Sarah Jessica Parker, President Kennedy's speechwriter, Ted Sorensen, and Caroline Kennedy."

When I first read this sentence, I thought the writer was implying that SJP was Kennedy's speechwriter. Actually, the sentence could mean three things:
1. There were four attendees: SJP, an unnamed speechwriter, Ted and Caroline.
2. There were three attendees: SJP (who is Kennedy's speechwriter), Ted and Caroline.
3. There were three attendees: SJP, Ted (who is Kennedy's speechwriter) and Caroline.

I think the writer meant number 3. Semicolons in the right places would remove any doubt:

Attendees included Sex and the City actress Sarah Jessica Parker; President Kennedy's speechwriter, Ted Sorensen; and Caroline Kennedy.

Now the sentence is clear.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Criminal Sentence 30: Insure or Ensure?

From an ad for financial services:

"Lock in your appointment now to insure these special rates"

The word "insure" is usually used to refer to insurance:

I would like to insure my car, please.

When you're saying that you want to be sure about something, you use "ensure":

Please ensure you lock the door before you leave.

Now, if you use "ensure" instead of "insure" in the criminal sentence, it still sounds odd, so let's improve it:

Lock in your appointment now to ensure you receive these special rates.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Criminal Sentence 29: Me or Myself?

From a Q&A column in my newspaper. The writer is asking about whether to close air conditioning vents in two unused rooms.

"With two bedrooms being unused, it leads to a debate between my wife and myself."

In addition to being poorly worded, this sentence has a grammatical error: "myself" instead of "me." Although the writer is talking about himself, "me" is correct.

You use "myself" (and other reflexive pronouns like it: himself, herself, ourselves, themselves) when you've already mentioned "I" (or he, she, we, they):

I washed myself.

You wouldn't say, "I washed me."

In this criminal sentence, there is a debate between two people: the wife and the writer. If the writer had an argument with himself, he could say, "I had a debate with myself."

Monday, June 2, 2008

Criminal Sentence 28: Not "In Tact"

From an article about a poor pitcher hit in the mouth by a baseball:

"Blackburn didn’t lose consciousness, and his teeth stayed in tact."

That should be "intact," an adjective meaning not broken. "Intact" is one word. "Tact," a noun, means the ability to speak or act without offending someone. "In tact" is not a valid combination of words.