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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).

Friday, February 27, 2009

Criminal Sentence 177: Pronouns

From a book I'm reading (this occurs in the middle of a paragraph about a tour of a chapel):

"I fancied that there had once been a Catholic chaplain at Tysedale. Indeed, when he rejoined us the following day, (Mr.) Brockley poked about in the chapel..."

Pronouns refer back to nouns already mentioned, which is why I got confused when I got to "he" and then was presented with another male character, Mr. Brockley. The "he" incorrectly comes before what it refers to (called an "antecedent"), and as you know, "ante" often refers to "before," so the antecedent goes before the pronoun. To avoid confusion--and to be more grammatically correct--we need to rearrange the pronoun and the antecedent:

"I fancied that there had once been a Catholic chaplain at Tysedale. Indeed, when Mr. Brockley rejoined us the following day, he poked about in the chapel..."

So when you use a pronoun, make sure you have already mentioned what you're referring to.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Criminal Sentence 176: Not a Knockout

From a TV program:

"It’s time to knockout breast cancer."

A wonderful sentiment but not the right spelling. The noun is "knockout"--no spaces. The verb is two words: "knock out."

Go get a mammogram and then go get a dictionary!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Criminal Sentence 175: How Many Houses Does This Couple Have?

From a book I read recently:

“What did Ingrid’s and her husband’s house represent for her?”

This sentence suggests that Ingrid and her husband have more than one house. If they share a house (which I believe they do), they should share the apostrophe ("Ingrid and her husband's house). They shouldn't both have an apostrophe. If they each have a house, then they would each have an apostrophe, and you would pluralize the noun:

"Ingrid's and her husband's houses"

See this post about compound possession for more info.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The President and Pronouns

Criminal Sentence 174: Your Finished

From a sign outside a fast-food restaurant (the sign was encouraging me to text my opinion about something):

"Press send and your done."

My done?

Nope. You're done.

There's no excuse for that, Sonic!!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Poll Results 24

So, commas, eh?

What punctuation mark's rules give you the most trouble?

Comma: 22 (37%)

Semicolon: 18 (31%)

Quotation Marks: 7 (12%)

Colon: 8 (13%)

Other: 3 (5%)

Ask me and I'll try to help ease your troubles.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Criminal Sentence 173: Misplaced Prepositional Phrase

This sentence is from an excellent book I'm reading. The "he" in the sentence is a man who has assaulted a woman and is worried she might tell someone about the assault:

"He could not help but be concerned that she might have discussed what had happened with some outsider."

This sentence suggests that something happened with "some outsider" instead of with the "he" of this sentence. The phrase we're concerned about is "with some outsider." It goes with "discussed," not "happened."

So, this sentence should read like this:

"He could not help but be concerned that she might have discussed with some outsider what had happened."

I wrote about the same error in this post.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Album Cover Typo!

Criminal Sentence 172: National Magazine Is Under Arrest!

I was reading the latest issue of Tennis magazine and recoiled at this paragraph, about the Williams sisters and their absence from a major tournament, Indian Wells:

"As for Scott, he believes that suspending the Williams sisters would do more harm than good. 'I just don't see that scenario,' he says of a suspension. 'I think we have that mutual respect and credibility. If we stay true to those principals, we'll be able to preserve the integrity of both the game and the players.'"

I have complained about this error before (principles v. principals), but I am doing so again because it appeared in a national magazine. I understand that an individual who writes a blog, for example, is likely to make an error like that, but a national magazine, with a large staff, should have caught that mistake.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Criminal Sentence 171: Less "Then" Perfect

Seen on a drug store sign regarding medication prices:

"One-month supply: less then $1/day"

Well, then... I mean, well, than, in this case. "Less then" is less than perfect. "Then" means not now; "than" is used to compare items or pairs up with "less" and "more."

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Criminal Sentence 170: How Many Landladies?

I went to the movies yesterday and before the feature presentation, the theater showed us a bunch of ads and informational tidbits. One of them was this:

"James Blunt recorded this song in his landladies' bathroom."

I guess the acoustics are good in there, but the punctuation isn't, unless James has more than one landlady. I doubt he does, so it should be "his landlady's bathroom."

Monday, February 16, 2009

Poll Results 23

This was the question:

What's wrong here? "I hate a synopsis as much as you do, but they are a necessary evil of the business."

Spelling 3 (4%)

Grammar 60 (81%)

Punctuation 5 (6%)

Nothing 6 (8%)

Well, 81% of you were right. "A synopsis" does not match up with "they," so you need to make these two agree. Your choices are either make both singular or make both plural:

"I hate a synopsis as much as you do, but it is a necessary evil of the business." (I prefer this one.)
"I hate synopses as much as you do, but they are necessary evils of the business."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Criminal Sentence 168: Many Words That Say Little

From something I edited recently (it was about a construction project that enlarged the space of a gym):

"He needed to find a partner that could help him think about the dynamics of the environment based on the specific needs of his clients using the space."

This sentence is an example of the filler prose I object to. Writers who don't know what to say pack in a lot of important-sounding phrases that say nothing. There's nothing really grammatically wrong with this sentence, but I object to the end, which doesn't say much of anything. What specifically do his clients need? What dynamics are they talking about?

When you write something, try to be specific, not vague and general.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Criminal Sentence 167: Ambiguity 2

Here's the other confusing sentence I promised you:

"But I know for sure that unless we try our chances will be zero."

Without a comma after "try," it's easy to read the sentence as "try our chances," so I recommend a comma!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Criminal Sentence 166: Ambiguity

A very similar sentence to one I read in a book recently:

"He sat against the arm of the chair, smoking and talking so low to Mary Ellen heard only his murmur."

When I first read this sentence, I did a double take because when I got to "heard," the sentence didn't seem to make sense. At first glance this sentence might be about one woman named Mary Ellen, but really it's about two: Mary and Ellen. A "that" would clear things right up and not confuse the reader:

"He sat against the arm of the chair, smoking and talking so low to Mary that Ellen heard only his murmur."

Be careful of potentially ambiguous sentences. I'll have another one for you tomorrow.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Poll Results 22

So, only one of you would use "set" this way:

"The man was setting next to me."

I wouldn't, though, but I understand that in some regions of the U.S. you might hear this. I don't recommend that you write "set" to mean "sit," though.

When I lived in Nashville, I often heard ads for a "bedroom suit" (read "suite"), so there are some odd regionalisms out there!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Criminal Sentence 165: Affects or Effects?

The name of a business I saw on a truck driving by:

"Desert Affects Landscaping"

Does desert affect landscaping? Maybe. Is this landscaping company trying to give clients a desert effect? Maybe.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Criminal Sentence 164: Calling All Spirits

From the mouth of the traffic school instructor:

"... a raised medium..."

When he said this, I had to stifle a chuckle because I imagined a floating Whoopi Goldberg from "Ghost."

I think he meant "median," that thing in the middle of the lanes, though I have to admit that driving would be a bit more fun if mediums were floating around.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Criminal Sentence 163: Inventing Words

So during my 5 hours of traffic school, the instructor showed us a video featuring red-light runners. It was disturbing, from both the death and grammar perspectives. In one scene, a pedestrian was in the crosswalk. When a car ran a red light, the car it hit rolled over and squashed the pedestrian. From behind me I heard a yell: " Whoa! He got tooken out!" Ouch. Instead of turning around and reprimanding the young man, I scribbled down this gem into my notebook.
Tooken or taken?
Moral(s): don't run red lights; don't make up words.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Criminal Sentence 162: That's Irritating

Over the weekend I had to attend traffic school, and it was a gold mine of fodder for this blog. This week's poll is an example of what the instructor kept saying.
The first slide he showed me and the other speeders was this:

"I get irritated when other drivers go to slow."

I got irritated at that; it should be "too slow." After that, I started taking notes whenever an egregious error came out of someone's mouth. Another tomorrow.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Poll Results 21

Here was the question:

Would you enroll your child at this school, whose sign I saw yesterday? "Kindergarten Regestration"

Well, it's our first unanimous poll: All of you scorn this spelling and would not sign your child up.

Poor school with no students.