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).

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Poll Not Working

I don't know why the poll started misbehaving mid-week, but I can't get it to work. If you voted already and want to voice your opinion on the question, please do so in the comments section here.

Here is the question:

Do you find this sentence confusing at first? "There seemed to be no danger for he had ordered the gate thrown open."



Westley said...

Coordinating conjunctions, don’t you just love ‘em? They are one of my favourite topics in grammar.

Usually they require a comma to indicate the end of the first clause (after ‘danger’), but in this case, I think the use of the less popular ‘for’ is more in question. I think I’d opt for a ‘because’ instead (or possibly ‘since’): “There seemed to be no danger because he had ordered the gate thrown open.”

The fact that the gate was ‘thrown open’ implies that there must not have been any danger, right? And putting the conclusion before the antecedent requires a ‘because’. Alternately, we could have “He had ordered the gate thrown open, therefore there must have been no danger.” That’s how I read it.

David said...

There should be a comma after danger, and since the clause is in the subjunctive mood "that" should come before "the gate" and "be" before "thrown."

The Sentence Sleuth said...

I would go with "because" as the only change, but you could add a "that" after "ordered." "To be open" would be even clearer. You could always recast the sentence. Something like this would work: "He had ordered the staff to open the gate, so there was in fact no danger."

David said...

"For" as a conjunction has the force of "because," but is considered formal and reflects dated speaking, which might be suitable if you are asking for the "gate to be thrown open." I don't know the context of the sentence, but if something is being ordered what follows has to be in the subjunctive. You are not ordering the gate, you are ordering what is contained in the noun clause introduced by "that." "That" is there whether you like it or not, so you can't correctly say, "He had ordered (that) the staff to open..." You must say, "He ordered that the staff open..." or "He ordered the staff open...;" however, the latter construction can be confusing or ambiguous.

David said...

You are right and I am wrong. There is more than one way to write that sentence. The original sentence offered for criticism seems to be better expressed in the subjunctive if the current wording were to stand, but your rewrite is the best of all the options.

I thought that the "that" clause was always required after the "mandative" (I believe that that is the formal term for words such as require, suggest, demand, order, necessity...), but there are several ways of writing that kind of sentence without, using the subjunctive, and the subjunctive itself is apparently falling out of use. I had thought that only applied to the distinction between "was" and "were," but not so: all areas of the subjunctive are in decline. I looked far and wide for a complete explication of the subjunctive, but found very little written on it, other than the basics. I relied on my poor understanding of old grammars for my thoughts on this posting.