Ask Me a Question

If you have a writing, grammar, style or punctuation question, send an e-mail message to curiouscase at sign hotmail dot com.

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).

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Criminal Sentence 146: Foreword March!

The name of a section from a book I am editing:


"Forward" means not backward, or not too discreet in showing affection:

I went forward.
That girl is too forward.

"Foreword" means the introduction to a book.

As we move forward to a new year, may you have a fun New Year's Eve and a grammatical and well-spelled 2009.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Criminal Sentence 145: "As" on the Brain

From a Web site on which I signed up for tennis lessons:

"Your registration will be active as soon as payment as been confirmed."

Lots of "as"es in this sentence. One too many, in fact.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Poll Results 16

This was the question:

Does this sentence make you laugh? "She had once hosted a show about her exploits on Court TV."

I myself laughed when I read this in a bestselling author's latest book, but a quarter of you weren't sure what the problem is. Since you are reading my blog, and since you know I hate misplaced modifiers, you should be able to guess that this is what's wrong. The phrase "on Court TV" is misplaced. It is right next to "her exploits" but it goes with "hosted." So this sentence is talking about her exploits on Court TV instead of the fact that she hosted a show on Court TV. That might be an interesting show: a show about exploits.

The sentence would be better like this:

She had once hosted a Court TV show about her exploits.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Criminal Sentence 144: Into the Breach

From today's paper:

"... the breach delivery of a baby..."

Breach = a large gap
Breech = the kind of birth where the feet or rear end comes first

The paper also had an article about a woman giving birth to her 18th child, but this child was born by Cesarean section.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Criminal Sentence 143: The KGB Will Get You for This

The beginning of a very long sentence in a book about Russia:

"Besides spying on other countries. conducting sabotage and assassinations, the KGB ..."
Just like the KGB, this sentence isn't very nice. The writer is stating that three activities the KGB participates in include spying, conducting sabotage and assassinations. Lovely. Well, let's be good Communists for a minute and make everything equal (parallel):
spying on other countries, conducting sabotage and carrying out assassinations. Three -ing words make the sentence parallel.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Criminal Sentence 142: Having Bad Dreams

Seen on a child's set of pajamas:

"Sweet Dream's"


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Criminal Sentence 141: A Mutinous Sentence

From a book about a mutiny on a Russian ship in the 1970s:

"You'll kill us all if you go though with a mutiny."

That was a good rhyme in that sentence: "go though." I'm glad the sentence passes spell check but let's just "go through" with proofreading our sentences instead of relying on a computer program.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Poll Results 15

Here was the question:

Why is this sentence incorrect? Fired at close quarters, it was overkill.

Something is wrong with spelling or punctuation. 2 (3%)
Nothing is wrong with it. 6 (9%)
"It" was not "fired at close quarters." 50 (81%)
You can't use an "it" after a comma. 3 (4%)

So 81% were right: "it was overkill" is an expression in which the "it" doesn't refer to anything. However, "fired at close quarters" does refer to something, but it's not mentioned: a gun.
How would you rewrite the sentence?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Criminal Sentence 140: The Doctor Is an Athlete!

From an American Lung Association brochure about the flu (this is a quote from figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi):

"As an athlete, my doctor stresses the importance of annual influenza vaccination to maintain my health. But now as a mother, I realize my whole family needs to be immunized and that's a responsibility that I take seriously."

Wonderful advice, especially since her doctor is an athlete. Wait a minute. Maybe the doctor runs marathons or something, but Ms. Yamaguchi is the athlete. Her second sentence is right: "as a mother, I," but she needs to rearrange the first sentence to something like this:

"I'm an athlete, so my doctor stresses..."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Criminal Sentence 139: Dental Drama

From the mouth of my dental hygienist yesterday:

"Good brushing and good flossing is very important."

And subject-verb agreement is very important, too.

If you have an "and," chances are you have a plural subject: A and B are very important.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Criminal Sentence 138: Baby Jesus Is Nowhere in Sight

An error I come across a lot:

"Wanted: Marketing Manger"

I've trained myself to do a double take whenever I see the word "manager" because sometimes a "manger" wants to slip in. Although it is the Christmas season at the moment, marketing pieces don't usually need to involve mangers.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Criminal Sentence 137: One or More Clerks?

From a thriller I'm reading:

"The courtroom was dark and the clerk's pod next to the bench was empty."

I'm no lawyer or judge, but I have a feeling that this pod is an area where clerks for judges work. Unless you're in this book, where only one clerk ("clerk's pod) works tirelessly for who knows how many demanding judges.

Assuming there is more than one clerk, this should be "clerks' pod."

If you're a lawyer, correct me if I'm wrong.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Poll Results 14

This was the question:

"Does this spelling bother you? Thank's Giving"

Thanks to my brother for noticing that atrocious spelling somewhere.

I'm glad
that only one of you liked this spelling.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Criminal Sentence 136: Who Has Many Male Visitors?

Mike Lee in the UK was kind enough to share this blunder:

I just heard a reporter's introduction to an interview on the evening news, and I'm pretty sure it was a criminal sentence!

He said, "She told me about her neighbour's lifestyle, and her many male visitors", which makes it sound like the interviewee has "many male visitors", not the neighbour. Oops!

He's right. The reporter definitely should have said "...and her neighbour's many male visitors" (or neighbor's if you're in the USA).

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Criminal Sentence 135: Time to "Bailout" the News

From a news question asked to viewers:

"Should the government bailout the auto makers?"

The phrasing wasn't exactly the same but the error was there: "bailout."

"Bailout" is a noun; "to bail [space] out" is a verb.

"The bailout is not going well." (noun)
"I would like the government to bail out my bank." (verb)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Criminal Sentence 134: Confusing Commas with Dates

From something I edited:

"In the February, 2007, edition of the New York Times..."

The writer had the right idea, sort of. If you are doing a full date (for example, February 14, 2009), then you do need the commas around the year:

"In the February 14, 2009, edition of the New York Times..."

You're enclosing the 2009 within commas. Commas often go in pairs. Only one comma is lonely and incorrect:

"In the February 14, 2009 edition of the New York Times..."

If you don't have the date with the month, then you don't need commas:

"In the February 2007 edition of the New York Times..."

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Criminal Sentence 133: Sentence Disconnect

From a book I'm reading (farmers are recovering from a flood):

"Cattle and sheep are gone that the farmers thought were on safe ground."

This is one of those annoying misplaced modifiers that makes me do a double take because the sentence is so disconnected. When you have a "that" phrase (which should modify a noun) right after a verb, the sentence makes no sense: "the gone that did such and such" is just not possible.

In my view, it's not that hard to rearrange such sentences:

"Cattle and sheep that the farmers thought were on safe ground are gone."

When a "that" (or "who") phrase follows a verb, get used to cringing, and please don't do that yourself.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Poll Results 13

Here was the question:

What's wrong with this sentence: "He didn't have a conscious."

Most of you got it right: spelling.

Conscience=noun=the Jiminy Cricket voice that tells you not to take the cookies
Conscious=adjective=awake/opposite of knocked out