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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).

Friday, July 30, 2010

Criminal Sentence 423: Testing the Scientists

Overheard on "Forensic Files":

"Metal shavings were discovered on his jeans, in his car and in his workplace. When tested, scientists discovered ..."

I would guess the metal, not the scientists, needs to be tested.

New Grammar Girl Episode: Parentheses and Brackets

Check out this new episode.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Criminal Sentence 422: New Discovery about Birth

From today's entertainment section in the paper:

"Josh Radnor ('How I Met Your Mother') was born to his mom 36 years ago today."

This is stunning news! His mom was involved in the birth? Alert scientists about this new development!

How about just say he's 36 today?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Criminal Sentence 421: I Came, I Sped, I Read

From something I read online (indicating a past-tense sentence):

"[I] sped read the manuscript."

That's a nice rhyme, but I don't think it's correct. The verb is "to speed read," not "to speed," so I believe the correct past is "I speed read."

Anyone beg to differ?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Criminal Sentence 420: Not a Good Note

From a Web site:

"Is he carrying a note-quite-concealed weapon?
"

This is note quite right!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Picture That Goes with This Week's Poll


Please see associated poll.

Poll Results 96

Here was the question:

What do you think of this sentence? "Ariane watched him go with a sigh."

It sounds fine to me.
2 (3%)
It's definitely incorrect.
18 (34%)
It might be correct, depending on the context.
32 (61%)

I would agree with 61% of you. I couldn't include the long paragraph in which this sentence appeared, but it was clear from the context that the man left and the woman sighed. "Go with a sigh" makes it appear that the man sighed.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Criminal Sentence 419: Putting on the Brakes

From a health Web site:

"Hip fractures, or brakes in the bone, are another common cause of hip pain."

Both the idea of this sentence and the spelling are painful!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Criminal Sentence 418: Mindful of Spelling

From a book I read:

"Mindful of her mother's council..."

A "council" is an assembly of people such as the student council.
"Counsel" is advice.

Please take my counsel and check the dictionary!!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Criminal Sentence 417: Sleeves Getting Dressed

From a novel I read (set in the 16th century):

"Clad only in his trunk hose and loose-fitting linen shirt, his sleeves were shoved up to the elbows."

Hmm.

Is it only me, or do you ever find yourself reading a book and feel it necessary to write down an incorrect sentence?

Anyway, "his sleeves" were not clad in those two items!

Since I've pointed out many misplaced modifiers already, I think you guys should work on rewriting it.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Criminal Sentence 416: She's Got Legs

This isn't exactly a Criminal Sentence. More like a Criminal Picture.
Living in Arizona, I have the privilege of seeing these critters walking around in my house. I know for a fact that being arachnids, they have eight legs, not six.

Keep learning alive by getting the leg count right!

I guess I can excuse non-Arizonans for not being up on how many legs scorpions have. On the other hand, the artists who decorated a local freeway with pictures of local wildlife made the same mistake. I can't excuse them!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Poll Results 95

Here was the question:

Correct or not? From a daycare schedule: "Field Trip at 12:30 AM"

Yes
8 (13%)
No
52 (86%)

Congrats to 86% of you. 12:30 AM means thirty minutes after midnight, not a time you would think a daycare would have a field trip!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Criminal Sentence 415: Tick Tricks

From online directions for playing Spades:

"Example: South deals; West bids 3; North bids 1; East bids 4; South bids 4. The objective of North and South is to win 5 ticks (4+1)."

I would prefer no bugs, please!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Criminal Sentence 414: Problems Lying Down

From a health Web site:

"prostrate problems"

While I don't have a prostate, I do sometimes like to lie prostrate.

Those of you in the health field, watch out for this problem!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Reader Question: Irregular Verbs

A reader wants to know about this:

How about irregular verbs?
I decided to refresh my grammatical skills before starting university this fall, and I forgotten about those annoying irregular verbs and using some of them correctly...
Especially lie, lay, lain, laid, and etc... I tested some of my friends (and these are people with MBA, PhDs, etc) and I couldn’t believe how many of them didn’t know the difference or how to use them properly.
I don’t blame them though, because I was using the present tense of lie as lay until last week.


"Lay" and "lie" are easy to confuse. I did cover the different tenses in this post.

What other irregular verbs give you trouble?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Criminal Sentence 413: That Temperature Is Awry

Seen on a business advertisement:

"The hundred's are here."

True. It's going to be 110 today, but there won't be any apostrophes!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Poll Results 94

Here was the question:

Correct or not? "Mel Gibson's Lawyer: Oksana Made Abuse Story Up"

Yes 21 (24%)
No 66 (75%)

Congrats to 24% of you.

"To make something up"/"to make up something" is what's called a phrasal verb. Most of the time, and in this case, you are allowed to split the verb and the other word(s) in the phrasal verb. You can say, for example, "I looked the word up" or "I looked up the word." You may prefer one way over another, but both are correct.

Other phrasal verbs cannot be split. For example, you have to say, "Get on with it"; you can't say, "Get on it with."

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Writer Print Article: "5 Roadblocks to Good Writing"

Check out the August 2010 issue of The Writer, where you can read my article, "5 Roadblocks to Good Writing."

One reader is making her shopping list instead of pondering your plot. Another just slipped your book onto his shelf, thinking, “I’ll try again later, if I can make myself slog through this mess.” If your piece crashed and burned, maybe it’s because one or more traffic cones stood in the way of a good read. Learn how to navigate around them and keep your readers on board.

Traffic cone 1: too jumbled. When writing nonfiction, you must present clear and logical arguments. Readers don’t want to zigzag all over, so use your rough draft to map out the easy-to-follow route you’ll take. It’s natural for first drafts to meander and to repeat or omit information (you should have seen my first draft of this section!). When you arrive at draft two, you’ll know better how to present your material. Fiction gets mixed up, too. Perhaps you’ve described a character or setting twice, two snippets of dialogue are repetitive, or multiple characters serve the same purpose.

Whichever you’re writing, keep like ideas together. Follow an outline if you have to. If you’ve repeated yourself, move sentences about the same topic together and pick which version sounds best. Add missing supporting arguments if you haven’t fleshed out a point. Notice the last sentences of each paragraph in your draft. They may turn out to be good topic sentences (perhaps it took you a paragraph to figure out your point). Comb through your piece to find areas that lack logical organization.

Traffic cone 2: too dull. It’s dangerous to drive with cruise control because it lulls you into a monotonous rhythm. It’s the same situation with sentences that have similar structures. It’s boring for readers. It’s clear by now (if you’ve looked closely at this paragraph) that you shouldn’t start each sentence in the same way.

One time, use a compound sentence with two parts separated by “and.” Begin the next sentence with a long modifier. Sprinkle in the occasional long sentence (not too long, you hear?) and a few short, staccato sentences. Be daring and throw in a fragment to ensure your readers remain interested and awake.

Traffic cone 3: too general. You don’t want to follow the same route as everyone else. Most weak pieces don’t differentiate themselves; anyone could have written them. Think back to grade school, when you had to write a paper about your favorite film. Your teacher probably read multiple essays that began “My favorite movie is X.” Bor-ing! Stand out by avoiding platitudes, clich├ęs, generalities and vagueness. Aim instead for imaginative vocabulary, and fill your work with examples, not generic phrases. Use specific verbs (cut down on “to be”) and precise nouns instead of relying on adjectives and adverbs. Give your work personality by adding your unique voice. (Nobody would mistake a Proust sentence for someone else’s.) Be concrete, and use more imagination.

Traffic cone 4: too inappropriate. You shouldn’t drive with the top down during a rainstorm. Neither should nonfiction writers obfuscate their upshot with an ostentatious lexicon. (That means don’t try to impress your readers by using fancy words or plowing through the thesaurus!) Deliver a nonboring piece tailored to your readers.

Novelists, too, need to pay attention—to their characters’ vocabulary and grammatical patterns. Most modern characters would not say “whom,” but a 19th-century one might. Read your dialogue aloud and ask yourself, “Would a real person with my protagonist’s characteristics say that?” Hey, it might be OK for a character to use improper grammar.

Traffic cone 5: too awkward. No reader wants to be distracted by distorted grammar, punctuation and spelling. Although some stuffy rules have been relaxed (yes, you may end a sentence with a preposition and start one with “because”), don’t veer off the conventional road too much. And don’t rely on your spell-checker to catch all potential errors.

You might have written the most poignant vignette or the most thoroughly researched piece ever, but if faced with syntactical gaffes and incomprehensible sentence structure, readers won’t get past your first page—or paragraph. These days, podcasts, websites and blogs, in addition to traditional books and magazine articles, make it fun to brush up on the rules.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Criminal Sentence 412: Friars

Thanks to ChildsPlay for this silly sentence:

"It only takes about 3-1/2 minutes per pound, and can be done on the driveway with a turkey friar...."

As ChildsPlay wrote, "A turkey friar -- what denomination is that?"