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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).

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.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Criminal Sentence 438: Where Have All the Commas Gone?

From a first-grade reader:

"First Turtle goes to the flower shop."


"Surprise Turtle!"

One of these definitely needs a comma; one is optional but reduces confusion.

The definitely needed comma is this:

"Surprise, Turtle!"

You need a comma before a word of address, as in "Hi, Bonnie" or "Thanks, Jake."

In the other sentence, an optional comma would avoid confusion:

"First, Turtle goes to the flower shop."

Without the comma, someone could read the subject to be "First Turtle," as opposed to "Second Turtle."

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Criminal Sentence 437: Bad Sight

From a Web site:

"Post someone else's query to your sight."

This sentence makes my eyes hurt!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Criminal Sentence 436: Down with Bedbugs

From an online article about bedbugs (New York is number one in the USA):

"But it [Terminix] said the appearance on its list of smaller cities shows the insects that live in furniture, clothing and luggage, are getting a grip on the U.S. heartland."

This is a very awkward sentence, especially when it comes to the commas. There's also a problem with the word "that." Let's fumigate this sentence:

"But it said the appearance on its list of smaller cities shows the insects, which live in furniture, clothing and luggage, are getting a grip on the U.S. heartland."

That rewrite gets rid of the the immediate problems, but the sentence still sucks. Let's fumigate it further:

"But the insects, which live in furniture, clothing and luggage, appear to be getting a grip on the U.S. heartland, since they are showing up in smaller U.S. cities."

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Criminal Sentence 435: Huh?

Over the weekend, I watched "Crash" on iTunes (good movie!). Each section of the movie had a subtitle. One was this:

"A really good cload"

At first I jumped at the opportunity to learn a new word, but when it wasn't in the dictionary, I said, "Oh! I should have known. A typo!"

They meant "cloak."

The "K" isn't anywhere near the "D," so I don't know how they made this error!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Poll Results 100

Here was the question:

Is something wrong with this text, seen on a sign off the freeway (about cars/trucks)? "four axels"

36 (78%)
10 (21%)

Congrats to 78% of you! An "axel" is an ice skating jump. An "axle" is a part of a car.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Friend Me on Facebook!

I just signed up for a Facebook account, Bonnie Grammar Nut, if you want to talk grammar!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Criminal Sentence 434: Interviews Given Where?

Seen online:

"[They will] list online interviews they’ve given on their website.

Does the writer mean that the people will list the interviews on the site, or will they give the interviews on the site? This is an ambiguous sentence because you can read it in both ways. I believe, though, that the writer meant to convey list the interviews on the site.

How do we fix it? The best option is to recast it:

"Their website will contain a list of interviews they've given."

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Criminal Sentence 433: Afraid of Pain

From a Web site:

"Apply ice wrapped in damp washcloth until pain stops. No scaring will occur.

Good thing it's not Halloween!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Criminal Sentence 432: I Un-Like This

From today's newspaper:

"Unlike California, there is no time limit in Arizona."

Be careful with sentences that start with a comparison word such as "like" and "unlike." You have to be sure you're comparing the right things. This sentence compares "California" and "there," not what the journalist had in mind.

All you have to do is add a little "in":

"Unlike in California, there is no time limit in Arizona."

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Criminal Sentence 431: Reaching My Limit

When I went to this drive-thru bank teller yesterday, I obliged, with only one "transation."

Monday, August 16, 2010

Poll Results 99

Here was the question (taken from a book I read):

Anything wrong here? "The deer carcass's stomach sack bulged out."

Yes 46 (65%)
No 24 (34%)

Congrats to 65% of you.

A sack is a bag such as what Santa carries.
A sac is a "baglike structure in an animal, plant or fungus, as one containing fluid" (

Perhaps you thought "carcass's" was incorrect, but when you make a singular noun possessive, you add an apostrophe plus an "s"--even if the singular noun ends in "s."

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Great Typo Hunt

My parents alerted me to this book, by Jeff Deck and Benjamin Herson. I couldn't help but buy it because it seems to be about guys who drive around and notice typos. This scenario is very familiar to me (except for the guy part), because I drive around and notice typos. I just started the book and on p. 2 found these two sentences: "My qualifications for the job [copy editor] rested mainly on my ability to ferret out spelling and grammatical mistakes in text. I found that I was a natural, spotting typos with idiot-savant-esque regularity."

I have found a kindred spirit, or two! Have any of you found yourselves driving by and noticing typos?

Criminal Sentence 430: A New Perspective

From a Web site:

"perspective clients"

The correct word is "prospective," as in "prospect"--e.g., "This client is a good prospect."

"Perspective" means the way you view something: "I got a new perspective when I read the book."

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Criminal Sentence 428: Bak to Skool

Here in Arizona, kids go back to school tomorrow. Let's hope they learn some "compisition" skills!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Poll Results 98

Here was the question:

What’s wrong here (used in a car commercial)? “…ranked BEST in it’s class!”

Capitalization 4 (5%)

Spelling 12 (15%)

Punctuation 61 (77%)

Nothing 2 (2%)

Here is the photographic evidence:

"It's" not right!

Friday, August 6, 2010

New Grammar Girl Episode: The Word "Until": Is it ambiguous?

Criminal Sentence 427: You and Your

From a knitting kit:

"Clear zip pouch pocket for all you knitting needs."

I actually have no need for knitting (this is courtesy of a friend), but I do need you to check your "you" and "your"!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Criminal Sentence 426: Feeling Alone

From a book:

"The troops started to advance alone the coast."

By any chance, were the troops advancing toward a dictionary or toward a spell-check program?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Criminal Sentence 425: No, I'm Not with You

From Facebook:

"Whose with me?"

I'm not.

"Who is" or "Who has" becomes the contraction "Who's." "Whose" is a pronoun as in "Whose spelling is messed up?"

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Criminal Sentence 424: It's Criminal

From an article about escaped murderers:

"In 1991, Province and Rodacker were on leave from jail when they attacked Norman Knoblich..."

Nothing grammatically wrong here, but this is the very definition of a Criminal Sentence. Since when do prisoners get to go on leave from jail?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Poll Results 97

Here was the question, which referred to the newspaper misspelling Dan Haren's name (Heron):

Can you excuse a newspaper for misspelling an athlete's name in a headline? (See associated post below.)

5 (10%)
45 (90%)

Well, you can imagine what my vote would be. I'd be interested to hear a valid excuse for the mistake!