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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.

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