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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).

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Criminal Sentence 411: The Reason I'm Wordy

From a blog post:

"The reason I’m writing this post is because..."

I think that the reason you're wordy is because it's habit.

I think that the reason you should cut, cut, cut is because it will make your writing less wordy and more enjoyable to read.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Criminal Sentence 410: Don't Sign Me Up

Two cringe-worthy signs I saw recently:

A store name:

What Ever

A sign that was advertising produce:

Tomato's

Whatever!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Poll Results 93

Here was the question:

When you read this headline subhead (about nominee Kagan), what is your assumption? "As Clinton staffer, confidence clear"

I assume Clinton is confident in Kagan's ability. 1 (2%)
I assume Kagan is confident in her own ability. 15 (31%)
I assume Kagan is confident in Clinton's ability. 3 (6%)
I am uncertain who is confident about what. 29 (60%)

My first impression was that Clinton was confident in Kagan. When I read the article, it reveals that Kagan is confident in herself. This subheadline could have been a lot better:

Kagan clearly confident when Clinton staffer

Friday, June 25, 2010

Criminal Sentence 409: Bears in the Hospital!

From a photo caption showing an unfortunate man who was attacked by a bear in Alaska (he is recuperating in the hospital):

"Robert Miller, 54, recovers from a bear attack in his hospital room in Anchorage."

How could they let a bear into the hospital room?

The naughty prepositional phrase "in his hospital room" is to blame for this ambiguity. It would be better to write this:

"Robert Miller, 54, pictured in his Anchorage hospital room, recovers from a bear attack."

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Criminal Sentence 408: As a Parent, We Are Ungrammatical and Wordy

From a survey I filled out:

"As a parent who recently withdrew a child from one of our classrooms, we want to ensure that we gain an understanding of your decision and do what we can to improve our operations."

"We" cannot be "a parent." Thou shalt beware of "As" at the beginning of a sentence.

Thou shalt also not be wordy by saying "gain an understanding of"; just "understand" will do.

Let's reword the entire monstrosity:

"We would like to understand why you recently withdrew your child from one of our classrooms. Please fill out this survey and help us improve our operations."

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Criminal Sentence 407: Hardworking Apostrophes

From a Web site:

"Why is The Little Mermaid such a popular children's' movie?"

I'm also wondering something else: Why did the the writer put it two apostrophes?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Criminal Sentence 406: Can Haircuts Have Names?

From a blurb in my local newspaper:

"... a 27-year-old woman with a bowl cut named Katie."

I thought that was hilarious! Her bowl cut was named Katie?

(If you're confused, search for "misplaced modifier" on this blog.)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Poll Results 92

I don't have results this week because the poll wasn't working, but I do want to explain the sentence in question, which was this:

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

I read this sentence in a book and got hung up on the word "for," thinking it went with "There seemed to be no danger for..." as if a person would be named next. However, "for" in this sentence is synonymous with "because."

Friday, June 18, 2010

Guest-Written Grammar Girl Episode: Transitions

Check out this latest episode:

http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/how-to-use-transition-words.aspx

Criminal Sentence 405: Punctuation Outsider

From a book I am reading:

"Outsider's impressions have been very useful."

A correct apostrophe would be useful also.

Even if we were talking about one outsider, "outsider's impressions" would be missing something. You'd need to say something like "The outsider'simpressions have been very useful" or "The impressions of an outsider have been very useful."

In any case, "Outsiders' impressions" is correct. Remember how many items you're talking about. Ask yourself if the noun is singular or plural.

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."

Yes
No

Criminal Sentence 404: Check for Ambiguity at Once!

From a book I am reading:

"The footmen took charge of any packages that were required at once."

The scene is 19th-century London: Passengers are getting ready to depart and the workers are loading bags. This sentence suggests that the packages were required at once, not that the footmen took charge at once.

Make sure that adverbs go next to what they modify, especially if more than potential words populate the sentence (here, "to take charge" and "to require"). In this case, I think I prefer "immediately":

"The footmen immediately took charge of any packages that were required."

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Criminal Sentence 403: Completely Messed Up

From a book I read:

"Their sense of space and time are completely messed up."

What else is messed up in this sentence?

Those of you who read this blog regularly should have no trouble educating those who just signed up. Please do so in the Comments section.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Poll Results 91

Our question:

What's your reaction to this sentence? "I decided to write this book in the galleries of the National Museum of Prehistory."

It sounds fine to me.
8 (11%)
It sounds off to me but I'm not sure what is wrong.
17 (25%)
I laughed (a museum is a good place to write a book).
43 (63%)

Well, I was with the 63%. The sentence seems to say that the person wrote the book while he was in the museum. I highly doubt that. He was most likely in the museum when he had the light bulb of inspiration.






Friday, June 11, 2010

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Criminal Sentence 400: Let's Hear It for Periods (.)

From an announcement I received on my phone:

"Don’t be fooled by Amanda Baumgarten's sweet exterior, she's a gifted butcher currently working as a consultant in L.A. Let's hear it for the West Coast!"

Don't
be fooled by that incorrect comma! Let's hear it for a period instead!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Reader Question

Someone asked me this question:

"[I] wanted a professional explanation of my tagline - The Education I Never Got. It is a play on words that I'm not even sure I should keep because it may sound just too unintelligent. So I was wondering if you could help me out on a good explanation of the sentence - why it works or doesn't work."

This sounds fine to me. Anyone else have an opinion?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Criminal Sentence 399: That's a Lie

From a book I'm reading (about Cro-Magnons):

"The ancestry of both the Neanderthals and Homo sapiens lie with much earlier peoples."

Hmmm. Take away the prepositional phrase ("of both the Neanderthals and Homo sapiens") and the error is obvious: "The ancestry ... lie..."

As I said in the title, that's a lie ("lies")!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Poll Results 90

Here was the question:

What's wrong here? "That'd change if she ever found out about you and I."

Nothing
5 (6%)
A preposition
5 (6%)
A conjunction
3 (3%)
A pronoun
68 (82%)
A verb
1 (1%)

Thanks to Bryan Adams for this (I've been wanting to complain about this since the song came out in the 80s).

Congrats to 82% of you.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Criminal Sentence 398: Not Loath to Loathe

From a book I read recently:

"The extraordinary thing about inventing a persona is that one is loathe to give it up."

I would like to announce the retirement of the error-prone word "loath," which means "hesitant or reluctant." It gets confused so often with "loathe," which means "despise," that it's time for it to go.

Or, people could remember the difference.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Criminal Sentence 397: Dead Apostrophe

From a book I'm reading:

"He was fourteen years' dead."

At first this might seem correct, but we need to bury that thought. Make it a single year and you'll see what I mean:

"He was one year/year's dead."

One year dead. Fourteen years dead.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

This week's poll: Doofus alert

I was a doofus. Please see the newly corrected poll. If you already voted, please do so again. (Thanks, Sharon.)

Poll Results 89

Here was the question:

What's wrong here? "The skeleton was in tact."

Nothing
4 (4%)
Grammar
1 (1%)
A word error
81 (94%)

Guess this was too easy.

Intact is correct.