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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Criminal Sentence 156: How to Catch Anglers

From an article about fishing:

"My goal is to tell anglers where to start fishing and how to catch them."

This lovely sentence has two errors: one is regular and one made me laugh out loud.

1) My goal is to do a and to do b: This is wrong because it states there is one goal but there are two goals. So, "My goals are..." is what we want.

2) The second goal here seems to be "how to catch anglers," with the "them" standing in for the only plural noun so far mentioned: "anglers." Of course the writer meant "fish," but since fish weren't yet mentioned, the "them" refers back to "anglers." How do you catch anglers? I wonder.

So the revised sentence should read (sorry, it's not as amusing as the original):

"My goals are to tell anglers where to start fishing and how to catch fish."

2 comments:

Howard said...

Don't you have an additional problem even in your corrected sentence? It appears unparallel: "to tell anglers" and "how to catch."

Wouldn't a better restatement be "[M]y goal is to tell anglers two things: where to start fishing and how to catch fish."

Since I'm a legal writer, I'd actually write it differently: my goals are to tell anglers (a) where to start fishing and (b) how to catch fish.

The Sentence Sleuth said...

Hi, Howard. Your restatement would work, though I don't recommend the (a) and (b) style in regular writing.
Let's look at my sentence:
"My goals are to tell anglers where to start fishing and how to catch fish."
"to tell anglers" and "how to catch" are not the elements that need to be parallel: where to start fishing/how to catch fish are the parallel items. Both go with "to tell anglers."