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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).

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Criminal Sentence 488: A The An Article Problem

From CNN:

"Stuck on a the tarmac for hours"

I guess the CNN graphics writer couldn't decide which article (a/the/an) to use.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Criminal Sentence 487: Kids Can't Eat Here

Not really a Criminal Sentence, but funny.

From my online banking list of credit card purchases:


I must have eaten at a restaurant, but it wasn't called that!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Criminal Sentence 486: That's Un-exceptable

From something I edited recently:

"The use of CO2 to clean graphite has been an excepted practice for over twenty years."

I take exception to that!

These two words sound alike but mean different things:

"accepted": related to "accept," meaning to receive with approval--We have accepted you into our club.
"excepted": related to "except," meaning anything but that--We like all of you, present company excepted.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Criminal Sentence 485: Typo or Error?

From an e-mail message:

"You could use more then one."

I used to think this was just a typo, but then someone told me she'd always thought "then" was correct. Nope! It's "than" when you're saying "more than."

Monday, December 13, 2010

Here was the question:

Is a punctuation mark incorrect here? "At Christmas, the Germans baked squares of lebkuchen, or honey cake; loaves of stollen, a sweetbread studded with raisins, and trays of pfeffernusse, peppery spice cookies coated in sugar syrup."

47 (73%)
17 (26%)

Congrats to 73% of you.

As you can tell, this sentence contains an overabundance of commas here. The one semicolon is lonely and needs another friend:

"At Christmas, the Germans baked squares of lebkuchen, or honey cake; loaves of stollen, a sweetbread studded with raisins; and trays of pfeffernusse, peppery spice cookies coated in sugar syrup."

Sounds yummy!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Criminal Sentence 483: Joint Gymnastics

From a sign:

"Men and Women's Gymnastics"

Gymnastics doesn't work this way. The men are separate from the women. They don't share the equipment, nor do they share an apostrophe. They each need their own:

Men's and Women's Gymnastics

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Criminal Sentence 482: Boys Having Babies

From a book I'm reading:

"The next day he became a grandfather when his son (BJ) gave birth to a son."

The book was not science fiction!

As far as I know, only ladies can give birth.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Double Reader Question

Here is the double question:

Only that often times I see "often times" and "life like" written as two words: "often times," "life like." I assume in such a context as "That's a lifelike doll," they're compound words, and I can't think of a way to say them as two words. Tell me if I'm wrong!

The short answer for both is that each is one word: oftentimes and lifelike.

You might consider using just the word often instead of oftentimes: fewer letters.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Poll Results 114

Here was the question:

What's the best way to rewrite this? "As the owner of your business, it is imperative that you learn about the business."

As the owner of your business,
it is imperative that you learn about it. 13 (21%)

As the owner of your business, you
must learn about the business. 12 (20%)

As the owner of your business,
you must learn about it. 27 (45%)

No rewriting necessary. 9 (13%)

Congrats to 45% of you. The initial problem here is that "it" can't follow "As the owner of your business." "You" needs to go there. The second item to be concerned about is the repetition of the word "business." Therefore, the third choice is best.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Criminal Sentence 481: Painter or Police Officer?

From a book I'm reading:

"I'll canvas the area over there."

Oh, and this was spoken by a police officer.

To canvass, with two S's, is to inquire, as in to canvass the neighborhood by knocking door to door and asking residents questions.

Canvas, on the other hand, isn't a verb. It's a noun and it's that thing on which painters create their art. Or maybe someone is going to put canvas on that area over there.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Reader Question: Pickup vs Pick up

Carrie's question:

I have to go research pick up vs. pickup, as in "your pictures will be ready for..."

Pickup with no space is a noun, so you use that with "Your pictures will be ready for pickup." It can also be an adjective: " a pickup game of baseball"
To pick up is a verb, so you would say, "I will pick you up at 10:00."

I have covered this topic before: here, here and here.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Criminal Sentence 480: Fishy Comma

From a book I'm reading (this sentence refers to herring):

"In its fresh form, this small, silvery fish (cousin to the sardine), figured prominently in the local diet."

Hmmm. There's something fishy about that last comma! Delete! Delete!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Criminal Sentence 479: Tall Letters on a Hill

From a blog:

"They traveled to Capital hill."

That's not the place in D.C.; that's the hill where runaway tall letters are housed.

The place in D.C. is called "Capitol Hill": two caps and an O.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Poll Results 113

Here was the question:

What's wrong here? "The source of the beliefs are as important as the beliefs themselves."

0 (0%)
Use of reflexive
2 (3%)
Verb agreement
47 (92%)
2 (3%)

You guys are too smart!

"Source" is singular, so "are" should be "is."

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Criminal Sentence 478: MISSING!

From a newspaper article:

"Unless you're running, biking or swimming, it's going to be hard to around town this weekend."

To what, that is the question!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Criminal Sentence 477: Facial-Hair Problem

From a book I read:

"...curling mustach..."

Perhaps this curling mustachE got chopped a bit too much!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Poll Results 112

Here was the question:

Do you chuckle at this or not? "Jazz Men Rice"

Ha ha
13 (41%)
Not ha ha
18 (58%)

Well, is it funny when you hear that it was supposed to be Jasmine Rice?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Criminal Sentence 476: Going back to School

From a newspaper article:

"their freshmen year"

This sentence concerns two people. Had it concerned one person, the correct phrase would have been "his/her freshman year." It's about two, so let's pluralize both words: "their freshmen years."

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Criminal Sentence 475: Which Noun?

From junk mail I received:

"You currently have a $30 credit towards this service which expires 12/31/10."

Question: Does the credit or the service expire at the end of the year?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Reader Question: Subject-Verb Agreement

Here is the question:

I recently came upon this sentence and, though I couldn't figure out why, it rubbed me wrong.

"Profound sadness, grief, and anger are normal reactions to an abnormal event."

My question is, should events be plural (because reactions are plural)? If it was just one emotion, it should read Grief is a normal reaction to an abnormal event. But it is a group of emotions, therefore plural. To me, the subject-verb don't seem to be in agreement.

The short answer is that this sentence is fine. The subject is the plural "Profound sadness, grief, and anger" and the verb is the plural "are." Don't be fooled by other elements in the sentence. You can have one or more reactions to a single event, so this is just peachy.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Criminal Sentence 474: Having a Dialogue with Subject-Verb Agreement

From a Web site:

"The dialogue he had as a child with his family capture the emotional truth if not the factual truth of what was said."

This sentence pairs a singular subject, "dialogue," with a plural verb, "capture." What's strange is that there's no plural noun to pair up with a plural verb. It's also strange that this sentence is rather nonsensical. Let's try to make sense of it:

"The dialogue he had with his family when he was a child captures the emotional truth--if not the factual truth--of what was said."


Monday, November 15, 2010

Poll Results 111

Here was the question:

Correct or not? "More than anything else it has lead to an open mind."

12 (21%)
44 (78%)

Congrats to 78% of you!

The past participle we were looking for is "led"!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Criminal Sentence 473: Being Religious about Grammar

From an insert in today's paper:

What is the problem here? (ha ha)

Beware of a sentence that begins "As a..."; such a beginning introduces a characteristic of a person. For example, "As a mom, I have a lot of experience changing diapers."

You have to ensure that the person follows the "As" phrase, so here, "what" is the problem.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Criminal Sentence 472: Wearing Glasses

From a writing student of mine:

"He was in casual clothes wearing glasses."

Thanks, R., for being a good sport about this. That was a funny sentence! How did the clothes wear the glasses?

How about this less-funny version:

"He wore casual clothes and glasses."

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Criminal Sentence 471: Fearing a Mistake

From a book about POWs in Vietnam:

"Fearing the worse, Dieter rushed over and cradled Duane in his arms."

The worst--with a T--is that only Dieter made it out alive.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Poll Results 110

Here was the question:

Is this right? "What we were discussing were the grounds on which he would make the motion."

14 (28%)
36 (72%)

A tough one. I had to look this up to be sure. Strange as it may seem, this sentence is correct. Pages 103-104 of the Grammar Desk Reference explain that the word "what" is not what the verb agrees with; rather, it's what comes later in the sentence. GDR gives these examples of correct sentences:

What is most essential is a clear explanation.
What are most essential are clear explanations.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Criminal Sentence 470: Comparing Typos

From a Web site:

"My answers is still the same as last year."

What do you get when you cross a typo with an incorrect comparison?


This sentence!

Of course, the second word should be "answer"; the second mistake is just a comparison problem.

Consider this:

My shoes are the same as yours.

This sentence compares "shoes" to "yours" (meaning your shoes). Correct-a-mundo!

Now this: My answer is the same as last year.

This sentence compares "answer" to "last year." Oops. Let's fix-a-mundo:

My answer is the same as last year's.


Hope you have a fun weekend burning off all the Halloween candy you ate.

P.S. What is a mundo, anyway!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Criminal Sentence 469: Two Spellings

From a Web site:

"The linked stories primarily circle out from two principle characters..."

One spelling: principle. Incorrect here.
The other: principal. Correct here.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Criminal Sentence 468: Reflections on a Reflexive

From a book I read:

"In attendance were myself and Maggie."

This is just a bad sentence. "Myself" is called a reflexive pronoun and it refers back to I: "I myself love candy," you might say, or "I gave myself a present." A reflexive pronoun doesn't stand alone.

If we fix the pronoun problem, we get "In attendance were Maggie and I."

Still a terrible sentence. Why not just say, "Maggie and I attended"?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Criminal Sentence 467: Show Me the Past Participle

From a book I read:

"But the photos the lieutenant had showed him ... were troubling."

Had showed? Now that's troubling!

Often, the past-tense verb and the past participle are the same, as in "heard": "I heard the bell"/"I have heard the bell." Other times, they're different, as in "ate" and "eaten."

The past tense of "to show" is "showed." The past participle is "shown."

Monday, November 1, 2010

Poll Results 109

The question:

Is this correct? "As the twins cab to the restaurant, they discuss the law suit."

22 (28%)
54 (71%)

Congrats to 71% of you. "Lawsuit" is one word.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Reader Question: Footsteps

Carrie wants to know this:

When you hear footsteps, do you hear "them" (footsteps) or "it" (the sound of footsteps)? Example: He heard them too; footsteps.)

Well, footsteps is plural, so you would use them; sound is singular, so you would use it:

He heard them too: footsteps. (I would say a colon, not a semicolon, is better there.)
He heard it too: the sound of footsteps.
Footsteps: He heard them too.
The sound of footsteps: He heard it too.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Reader Question: Compounding's

Here is the conundrum:

There is a heading on a page that reads, "Compounding's powerful effects."

Compounding is a verb and appears in lots of financial text, but can this word be possessive?

Answer: In this case, "compounding" is used as a noun. You could turn this around and say, "the powerful effects of compounding."

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Criminal Sentence 466: Typing Trouble

From a Web site:

"When we asked Jamie Lee's publicistf or comment..."


Let's keep our eyes on the words we're typing. This reminds me of a piece of junk mail I got once. It was addressed, cryptically, to Npmmor Ytrmhs. The typist was one letter off for each letter of my name!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Criminal Sentence 465: Think about That Comma

From a blog post:

"Think about it, it happens to many of us when it comes to doing jobs we love."

Think about it. Period. A period--not a comma--separates thoughts like this.

Grammar Girl explains comma splices here.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Poll Results 108

Here was the question:

Did you miss me while I was in Hawaii?
21 (63%)
12 (36%)

So you didn't miss me so much. Waaaaaaah!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Criminal Sentence 464: Peeved Typo

From an online comment:

"a pet peeve of mind"

Oops! That would be a pet peeve of mine!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Criminal Sentence 463: Speed in a Lighter Color

From a comment on my Amazon page:

"The order came with lightening speed!

No bottle blonds here!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Criminal Sentence 462: Painful Sentence

From a book I'm reading (describing childbirth):

"It felt like a vice gripping my stomach."

When I see the word "vice," I think smoking or some other evil thing, not a metal pinching device!

I did look it up, and "vice" is listed as an alternate to "vise," but why use "vice" when a perfectly good "vise" is waiting?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Criminal Sentence 461: Spelling Check

Although I was on vacation, I had to look for typos whenever I wasn't in the ocean. I know it's not the clearest, but at the very bottom, it says, "Repairs and saftey check."

Monday, October 18, 2010

Poll Results 107

Here was the question:

Which sentence is correct?

You should taylor it for specifics.
11 (5%)
The rewards far out way the risks.
7 (3%)
She said that she was able to make
due by staying overnight at local farms.
19 (10%)
Turn the paper over to the backside.
15 (8%)
All are wrong.
133 (71%)

You guys are smart! Congrats to 71% of you.

tailor it
make do
the back side

Friday, October 8, 2010

Criminal Sentence 460: Missing Cyclist

From an online article:

"Before making the week-long bike ride from Virginia to Kentucky, the longest trek she has done so far, typical rides were only one or two days long."

Ah, my friend the misplaced modifier raises his head yet again! Where is the cyclist in this sentence? We have a hint of "she," but this "she" is not making the week-long bike ride!

New Grammar Girl episode: Think Different or Think Differently?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Criminal Sentence 459: Not Five Stars, Starbucks!

From Starbucks:

"As a My Starbucks Rewards Gold level member, we'd like to introduce you to Starbucks® Natural Fusions naturally flavored coffee - with a free sample* and two coupons to use or share

I, for one, like just a plain old latte. No added sugar for me.

What is it with companies? This error is the same as the one I complained about here. In this Starbucks example of a misplaced modifier, the "we" of the sentence is not "a My Starbucks Rewards Gold level member"!


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Criminal Sentence 458: A Prize for Spelling It Right

From a sign:

"We will apprize you of those changes as soon as possible."

And I will apprise you of how to spell!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Criminal Sentence 457: Witchy Bugger!

From an online menu:
  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Cookies
  • Pizzas
  • Bugger
  • Sandwitch
  • Soft Drinks

Monday, October 4, 2010

Poll Results 106

Here was the question:

When you tell family/friends/co-workers that you read this blog, they

Laugh at you for being uptight and weird
22 (56%)
Say, "Wow! I think I'll check it out!"
17 (43%)

I guess we're mostly uptight and weird!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Criminal Sentence 456: I Don't Approve!

From a Web site:

"Simply apply today, and once approved, we'll provide you with all the tools and content you need to succeed."

This sentence makes me ask, "Who is applying and who is approving?" Not we!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Criminal Sentence 455: Woody

From something I'm editing:

"If you get tired or board,"

Had to chuckle at this! At least I wasn't BORED with the sentence!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Criminal Sentence 454: A Country in the Garden

A laughable sentence from a book I'm reading (about the Tower of London):

"Raleigh was even allowed to grow the exotic plants he brought back from the countries he discovered in the Tower garden."

He discovered countries in the garden?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Criminal Sentence 453: Cut/Sever That Out!

From something I am editing:

"Enter your sever credentials."

I used to edit a lot of end-user computer books, and I trained myself to look for these two misspellings, which would creep in past Spell Checker:

"Manger" for "Manager"


"Sever" for "Server"

And don't get me started on "Pubic" for "Public"!

Just for fun, let's put them all together: pubic sever manger!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Poll Results 105

The question:

Is this right? "It isn’t always something you can see per say."

9 (10%)
75 (89%)

OK. That was too easy. "Per se" is right.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Criminal Sentence 452: Lost Adverb

From something I read recently:

"He took everything that he found immediately to the Lost Property Office."

This adverb--"immediately"--needs to be redirected from the Lost Property Office to the Office of Correctly Placed Adverbs. Right now, it seems to be describing how the man found everything, but it should really be describing how he took everything:

"He immediately took everything that he found to the Lost Property Office."

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Criminal Sentence 451: Grammar in the Sky

From something I read online:

"The skies the limit."

Hmm. This is not meant to be a pattern: "the" and a noun; "the" and a noun. This is supposed to be a cliche: "The sky's the limit."

Use neither, please!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Criminal Sentence 450: Take a Breath

From something I edited:

"the tremendous depth and breathe we have"


Oh, you meant "breadth"!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Criminal Sentence 449: Funny Homes

This is from my local paper today. You don't need the "s" on "homes"; "home prices" or "prices of homes" would be correct.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Poll Results 104

Here was the question:

Is this phrasing correct? "Each of the last two years..."

37 (49%)
38 (50%)

That's evenly divided. When I first read this, I did a double take, thinking it was wrong, but then I looked it up, and says this: "every one of two or more considered individually or one by one," and it gave the example "a hallway with a door at each end." This example is talking about a hallway with two ends, and "each" is used. I therefore think that "each of the last two years" is correct, though wordy. "Both years" would be more concise.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Friday, September 17, 2010

Criminal Sentence 448: Cringe

From a writing advice Web site:

"As someone who isn't trained as a designer (but who has worked with many designers over the years, and knows the benefit of great design), the following advice is going to sound paradoxical, yet..."

I always cringe when I read poorly written writing advice on a writing Web site. Shouldn't these publishing people know better?

Apparently not.

This sentence came from a piece on Web site design, but still.

Here's the problem:

"As someone.... the following advice..."

Is "the following advice" someone? I think not.

Watch your misplaced modifiers, people.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Criminal Sentence 447: First Sentence, First Impression

Contained within the first sentence of an otherwise excellent novel:

"...a parking lot florescent..."

This snippet describes a light in a parking lot. I know that it's odd to stick a "u" in there, but "u" know it's necessary:


By the way, "florescence" means "the act, state, or period of flowering; bloom," according to

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Criminal Sentence 446: Where's Your Mustache?

From a book I recently read:

"There in the parking lot was this lumbering big guy with a mustache in a casual suit."

Ha ha!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Criminal Sentence 445: Mom to a Wife?

From an article about tennis player Kim Clijsters, who won the US Open:

"Now a mom to a young child and a wife, she ..."

This makes it sound as if she is mom to a wife! Interesting thought, but her daughter is only two! If you switch things around, the sentence will not be funny:

"Now a wife and a mom to a young child, she ..."

Monday, September 13, 2010

Poll Results 103

Here was the question:

Is this sentence correct? "He admitted to the shooting in the police interview."

17 (30%)
39 (69%)

Congrats to 69% of you. The sentence suggests that someone did a shooting during a police interview. That would be interesting! We need to rewrite!

"When police interviewed the suspect, he admitted that he shot the victim."

Friday, September 10, 2010

Criminal Sentence 444: Toad-ally Funny

From a Web site:

"The main dirt toad..."

Good thing I wasn't drinking anything when I read this. Otherwise, my laptop would have become soaked with liquid spewing from my laughing lips.

Um. That would be main dirt ROAD, guys.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Criminal Sentence 443: When to cApitaliZe

A Web site I sometimes visit has these heads:

My Account
How it Works
Sign Out

One of these things is not like the others!

There are two common schools of thought about the capitalization of heads:

1) Just initial cap everything.
2) Initial cap everything except articles (like "a" and "the") and short prepositions (like "to"). Prepositions at the end, however, get an initial cap (as is done in "Sign Out").

In case you're confused, I'm harping on "How it Works." Although "it" is short, it's not an article or a preposition. If you're following school of thought 1, then "it" should be capped. If you're with number 2, same result. There is no school of thought 3, where short words stay lowercase.

When you're deciding which way to go, pick the way you like and be consistent.

thank You!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Criminal Sentence 442: That's Final

I was watching the US Open on ESPN2 yesterday. When I desperately need to know the score of a baseball game, I do turn to ESPN2 to see the score on the crawl, but when I'm watching something on that channel, it gets annoying to see the same stuff over and over. So when I saw this last night, I was excited:

"Final Alert"

I thought, yippee! The last alert of the night. Well, no. It was an alert about the scores of baseball games that were over. I guess some would see "Final Alert" and avert their eyes if they didn't want to know.

This isn't wrong, but it did give off the wrong impression, I think.

It might have been better to say something like "Completed Games: Scores Coming Now." A bit long, I know. Any other suggestions?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Poll Results 102

Here was the question:

Is something wrong with this? "That alone makes this book a worthy read to check out if you have an interest in Japan, ex-patriots, or writing."

47 (79%)
12 (20%)

Congrats to 79% of you. An "ex-patriot" would be someone who used to be a patriot. Someone who is living abroad is called an "expatriate," or "expat" for short.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Reader Question: She and I's

A reader asked this:

I am hoping that you will be able to clarify some compound possessive sentences.
I have been hearing people say things such as:
"She and I's relationship."
"Sally and I's relationship."
I have also heard:
"It is the end of John and your's vacation."
"It is the end of you and John's vacation."
"It is the end of your and John's vacation."
When I hear or read any of these, I find myself feeling annoyed and frustrated. Annoyed because none of the sentences sound correct and frustrated because I do not know the proper usage.

I was happy to help her. Here's what I said:

These choices would be correct though not ideal:

Sally's and my relationship
John's and your vacation

Recasting the sentence to avoid these awkward possessives works best:

the relationship between Sally and me
the end of vacation time for both John and you

I hope that you's and your three-day weekend is fun! (I mean, your weekend!)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Criminal Sentence 441: That's Un-Fare!

From a Web site:

"[It's] something with strong enough themes that would warrant book club discussion, but still has the readability of more commercial fair."

Uh oh!

That should be "fare," which means something offered to the public. It also means food, as in "Asian fare."

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Criminal Sentence 440: The Krabby Grammarian

Overheard on SpongeBob (in this snippet, Mr. Krabs is talking to himself):

"How does it feel to be in the hole, so to speak, Mr. Krabs? Not well, I suppose."

Nope. It doesn't feel good, Mr. Krabs.

The idiom here is "it feels good to such and such." You would never say, "It feels well to such and such."

For a useful discussion of "I'm good" vs. "I'm well," check this out.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Criminal Sentence 439: A Band of Peeved Grammarians

Heard on "History Detectives," a PBS show:

"A small band of armed warriors are in a standoff."

And the grammarians revolt!

"A small band" is the subject, and that is a singular noun (although it refers to a group). Therefore, "is" is the correct verb. If the sentence started "Some armed warriors," "are" would be correct.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Poll Results 101

Here was the question:

Which one is correct?

I do not appreciate your course language.
10 (9%)
This is a seven-coarse dinner.
7 (6%)
He made a course correction.
83 (82%)
Of coarse I love spelling!
1 (0%)

Congrats to 82% of you.

"Coarse" is an adjective that means rough.