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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).

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Criminal Sentence 132: Oooh, I'm made

From a book I finished last week:

"Leonard is running made over it."

I had to read this sentence for a couple minutes before I realized there was a typo. It did pass Spell Check, though!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Poll Results 12

This was the question:

What's wrong with this sentence?

Strip malls may be an eyesore, but they sure are convenient.

Most of you got it right: the grammar is awry. "Strip malls" is plural but "eyesore" is singular, and they don't match. It would be better to write:

"Strip malls may be eyesores, but they sure are convenient.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Can or May: Grammar Girl Episode

Criminal Sentence 131: Big name or big store?

From something I recently edited:

"The big name stores don’t attract the same people."

As I noted in the title of this post, are we talking about a big name or a big store? A hyphen will clarify things: "big-name stores."

If you have two words that modify one thing, then a hyphen helps link them:

high-wire act
low-maintenance haircut
well-written sentence

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Criminal Sentence 130: What did the sun do?

From a beginning reader my son was reading:

"The sun shown in the sky."

This makes me mad. How can kids learn to read and spell if the books they read are not right? How can I protect my kids from bad spelling and bad grammar? Well, I can't. I will have to be an overprotective mother shielding her children from the evils of the world. Perhaps I'll do what my father, a writer, did with me: give me a dollar for every mistake I found. That's a good way to build up a piggy bank.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Criminal Sentence 129: Looking beyond redundant cliches

From the CNN crawl again:

"Sarah Palin is looking ahead to the future."

Really? I thought she was looking back in the past. This statement is so obvious as to be meaningless. If you really must, why not just say "looking to the future"? "Ahead" means "in the future.

I don't know what Sarah Palin is planning for herself, but maybe the CNN crawl writers can plan their sentences a little better.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Criminal Sentence 128: Dollars dollars and cents cents

From the CNN crawl:

"$25 million dollars"

This reads twenty-five million dollars dollars. Now if someone is giving me that amount, I won't complain, but otherwise, I must protest. The dollar sign ($) and the word "dollars" are the same, so you need only one, usually the dollar sign.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Criminal Sentence 127: Hurry and add punctuation!

From one of those mailed cards that advertise something:

"Hurry time is Limited!"

What is limited? Hurry time? Well, no

Before we go on, I'd like to complain about that capital L. No capital is Needed unless all of The words are capped or unless It's a proper Name. See how dumb random capitalization Looks? Caps do not equal emphasis.

Now, what to do about the hurry time?

Just add a comma!

Hurry, time is limited!

Or you could make it two sentences:

Hurry! Time is limited. (just one exclamation point needed)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Criminal Sentence 126: I like this sentence--not!

I was watching CNN at the gym and became confused by one of the headlines that flashed on the screen. It was talking about Sarah Palin and I think it was a quote. I was so flummoxed that I didn't notice the rest of it. Here it is:
"I like many governors are …"
At first I thought this was talking about "I like such and such"--here, "I like many governors." But then "are" got in the way. So "like many governors" is an aside. Take it away and the sentence reads "I are." Ow! That hurts.
As you can see, there are two things wrong with this sentence:
1. You need commas around "like many governors": "I, like many governors, ..."
2. You need to match the verb with the subject: "I am."
So let's imagine what the end of this sentence should be:
"I, like many governors, am ready to work on my grammar."

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Criminal Sentence 125: You or yourself?

Slightly revised from earlier (hope it's clearer!)
From something I edited yesterday:

"If, after a short time of giving to someone less fortunate than you, you still feel that bad, then volunteer some more. "

Which "you" should be "yourself"? "Yourself" is a reflexive, which means that you're going back to the subject "you."

I gave myself a present (not I gave me a present).
He likes himself (not He likes him).
...after a short time of giving to someone less fortunate than yourself, you... (not than you).

You can't use a reflexive unless you're referring back to something already stated:
I sent flowers to him and to myself (you're referring back to "I").
He gave flowers to Jane and me (not to Jane and myself). (You can't say to myself here because you haven't stated I or me.)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Criminal Sentence 124: Marketing babble

I recently edited some marketing pieces that used a lot of words but said relatively little. Here's an example of the verbiage I had to deal with:

"Due to the vast knowledge of building retail structures, the company was able to quickly and accurately identify the necessary steps to ensure complete satisfaction and overall success."

This is so vague as to be meaningless. It is also quite wordy. If you're trying to lure customers, it's better to be specific. Differentiate yourself by giving specific examples instead of making general statements that anyone could make.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Criminal Sentence 123: Veterans and their day

Happy Veterans Day. No apostrophe is the preferred spelling of the holiday according to my references, but Veterans' Day is also acceptable.
Veteran's Day, which I see everywhere, is definitely not acceptable. More than one veteran was involved.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Criminal Sentence 122: Rewriting Practice

Can you cut this down, way down?

“The tailored jacket provided the woman with the ability to not only look good to her fullest potential but in addition also enabled her to show off her new figure.”

Post your shorter sentence in the comments section.

Poll Results 11

This was the question:

In this sentence do the two people have the same political views?

"I'm not sure what my mom's and dad's political views are."

85% of you were right: Their political views are not the same.

There are two apostrophes, so two political views.

See this post for more.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Criminal Sentence 121: How many days?

From a novel I finished yesterday:

"In two day's time..."

One day: one day's time
Two days: two days' time
Three days: three days' time

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Criminal Sentence 120: If "only"

From an article about the IRS:

"If it's a rebate you're waiting on, you only have until Nov. 28 to claim your cash."

I only have one problem with this sentence. I mean, I have ONLY ONE problem with this sentence. The word "only" should go next to the word it modifies, in this case, only one, not only have.

In the IRS sentence, Nov. 28 is the deadline; people have until Nov. 28 only.

In conversation, it's probably OK to put "only" in the wrong place, but when you're writing something, please be more precise.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Criminal Sentence 119: An informative "post"

The beginning of a sentence in something I edited yesterday:

"Post the survey, the company..."

This writer, who was trying to sound important but ended up sounding ridiculous, meant, "After the survey."

Someone in Britain might say, "Post the survey" to mean "Mail the survey." In America, "post the survey" could mean "hang up the survey for all to read."

"Post" is a prefix (it goes pre the word; I mean, before the word). You will see it in real words such as "postmortem" and "postpartum."

I suppose you could say something like "The post-survey results were good." If you're adding "post" to a word, you should add a hyphen, but be sure to check if your "post" word is in the dictionary. Some are closed compounds.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Criminal Sentence 118: Subject confusion

A statement I would not vote for (I came across this piece guest-written by a politician):

"Making the decision to put these vital projects on the November ballot was not taken lightly."

When a person is involved, I always advocate including the person in the sentence. At the moment, here is the subject: "Making the decision to put these vital projects on the November ballot." No person in sight there. Here is the verb: "was not taken." Passive voice. Bad. Vague. Boring.
Even if this style were OK (which it's not), you can't say, "Making the decision was not taken lightly." That just doesn't make sense.
So who is deciding something not so lightly? The writer. Let's call him Chris.
Chris might want to say, "I didn't take lightly the decision to put these vital projects on the November ballot." That's still a bit not great (nominalization: "decision," plus "to take something lightly" is a cliche). It would be better to use the verb "to decide," as perhaps here:
"After doing hours of research, I decided to put these vital projects on the November ballot."
Politicians tend to avoid using "I" so they can deflect responsibility. You, however, should not be afraid to state who is doing what. You should be responsible for your sentences.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Criminal Sentence 117: I have to go to the bathroom!

From something that I edited recently and that made me laugh out loud:

"It is an evening during which 10,000-plus rollerbladders take a 30-kilometer roll through the streets of Paris."

I hope they had bathroom stops along the way.

Poll Results 10

Which two sentences are correct?

She looked like she hadn't eaten in days.
28 (29%)
She looked like a hungry person.
59 (61%)
She looked as if a hungry person.
6 (6%)
She looked as if she hadn't eaten in days.
76 (79%)

The majority was right!
She looked like a hungry person, and She looked as if she hadn't eaten in days are right.


Use "like" when no verb follows:

He looked like Batman.
She seemed like a nice girl.

As (If)

Use "if" when a verb does follow:

She looked as if she would faint.
The cat seemed as if it would pounce.

Some of you might remember that English teachers went berserk when they heard this cigarette ad:

"Winston tastes good like a cigarette should."

If you don't know the difference between "like" and "as," this won't bother you, but now you know.