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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, July 31, 2008

Criminal Sentence 67: How Much Is That Burger?

I was watching the ballgame yesterday and a burger ad came up. The printed price of the burger on the screen was .99c (as in less than 1 cent) but the voiceover said ninety-nine cents, which of course is the true price.
I see this mistake all the time. There are three ways to write prices less than 1 dollar:
25c = 25 cents
.25 = 25 cents
$0.25 = 25 cents.
.25c means a quarter of a cent.
So this price for a burger is a super bargain!
I wonder what would happen if I went into the burger joint and demanded the burger for .99c. I do wonder if there would be any legal argument for that price. I asked a lawyer friend of mine. I'll see what she says. Although I don't like burgers I could go to this national chain and ask just for kicks!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Criminal Sentence 66: Hyphens Help Avoid Ambiguity

From an online article:

"I looked at the biggest selling albums of all time in America."

When I first read this, I mistook "biggest" as a description of size, not as it was intended: as an intensifier meaning most. In cases where your sentence could be misread, I recommend using a hyphen to avoid ambiguity:

"I looked at the biggest-selling albums of all time in America."

Another example that could be misleading if you don't use a hyphen:

The man eating lion returned home.

Does this mean that a man who was eating lion went home? Probably not. If you write "man-eating" then you remove all doubt.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Criminal Sentence 65: A Phrasal Verb Workout

From a sign I saw at the gym. The sign was advertising a promotion and this sentence explained one of the benefits:

"Get a free bottle of water every time you workout."

The word "workout" is a noun. The verb "to work out" has a space. This is a classic phrasal verb mistake.

I wrote an episode on this very topic for Grammar Girl:

It's something you should checkout (I mean check out).

Monday, July 28, 2008

Criminal Sentence 64: If "Only"

When we speak, we say things like "I only have one car" and "It'll only hurt for a minute." We use this "only" to emphasize. Only one car. Pain for only one minute. However, the "only"s in these sentences are in the wrong places. Although it doesn't seem natural, we should say, "I have only one car" and "It'll hurt for only a minute." I'm acutely aware of these "only"s but I still find myself saying these kinds of sentences. So I understand that when we speak we will misuse "only." When we write, though, we should be more careful.

Paraphrased from today's paper:

"This offer is only good today."

So where should the "only" go?

Friday, July 25, 2008

Criminal Sentence 63: Give "the Ability" a Rest

From something I edited:

"The software gives parents the ability to support teacher efforts."

Another similar sentence (I made it up):

"I have the ability to burst into flight if I wear this magic cape."

These sentences are perfectly correct, but I hate them nevertheless. Mostly because they are wordy. Here are more concise versions:

"The software allows parents to support teacher efforts."

"I can burst into flight if I wear this magic cape."

I recommend avoiding "the ability." It is a nominalization and leads to wordy sentences.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Criminal Sentence 62: Another Naughty Nominalization

From a magazine I just proofread:

"The archaeologist made a thorough documentation of the ruins and artifacts."

This sentence is grammatically correct but not well written. I object to the phrase "made a thorough documentation of." Why not just say "thoroughly documented"? That saves three words and is much more to the point. "Documentation" is a nominalization, which I rail against in my book and in one of my WD columns.

Please learn what nominalizations are and then please try to avoid them!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Criminal Sentence 61: Doubly Not Proofread

From an article about a local summer storm:

"SRP shut off power the lines so people to escape their vehicles safely."

I don't usually find two dumb errors in one sentence. Bottom line: failure to proofread.

It sounds as if an English learner, not a professional journalist, wrote this sentence. It's criminal!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Criminal Sentence 60: Another Faulty Comparison

From an article about homeowners' associations:

"But, unlike other states where associations may evict homeowners for a few dollars, Arizona associations cannot foreclose until the unpaid assessments have accumulated for more than one year or until the amount owed reaches $1,200, whichever occurs first."

The problem lies in the beginning of this sentence, where "other states" is compared to "Arizona associations."

Anyone want to try to make a correct comparison? (You don't have to continue the sentence past "foreclose" if you don't want to.)

Monday, July 21, 2008

Criminal Sentence 59: But Sometimes Spell Check Is Useful

From the glowing comments from the back of a book I'm reading:

"In this memoir Terri Jentz grapples with the deep subconcious of America..."

This book is turning out to be very good, but the spelling on the back cover is not. In an earlier post, I asked you not to rely on Spell Check to catch mistakes, but that doesn't mean to not use it at all. There really is no excuse these days to have misspelled words.

So use Spell Check as a first line of defense against mistakes but not as your only defense.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Criminal Sentence 58: Who's or Whose?

From a book I'm reading:

"Who's line is that?"

If you spell out the contraction, this question becomes "Who is line is that?" and that doesn't make any sense.

These pairs are easy to confuse if you're not careful:

you're, your
it's. its
who's, whose
they're, their, there

Spell out your contractions to check if your right. (Did you catch that?)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Criminal Sentence 57: Why You Can't Rely on Spell Check

From a book I was reading:

"Trying to asses the impact of the revolt is difficult."

This sentence would pass spell check but wouldn't pass muster anywhere else.

Don't be a bunch of "assess" and rely on spell check!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Criminal Sentence 56: Em Dash or Colon?

From something I recently read for a client:

"We have several core competencies—they are"

I often see em dashes used incorrectly, especially instead of a period. The main use of an em dash is to initiate a break in thought:

"He asked me out—I couldn't believe it—and I gladly accepted."

So, above it would be better to use different punctuation:

"We have several core competencies:"

Monday, July 14, 2008

Criminal Sentence 55: Vague To The Max

From an article about couples counseling:

"Tears are a frequent occurrence."

This is one of the vaguest sentences I've seen in a while. It doesn't state who is crying. Why not just say, "She cried a lot"? Unless you're writing a murder mystery and want to conceal someone's identity, please state who is doing what. Your readers will thank you.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Criminal Sentence 54: Who's Unconscious?

Overheard on a forensics show:

"Once unconscious, he hit her head on the floor."

This was a very sad story of a man who murdered his wife. If this sentence were not part of such a terrible crime, I might laugh. This misplaced modifier suggests that the man was unconscious while he hit her. That would be hard to do. The narrator unfortunately meant that the woman was unconscious. He meant to say, "Once she was unconscious, he hit her head."

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Criminal Sentence 53: Lose or Loose?

From the directions to a game my daughter got for her birthday:

"If the pyramid falls, you loose."

Way to teach those young ones good spelling.

"Lose" means not win. "Loose" means not tight.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Criminal Sentence 52: Oh No!!!!

From a sign in a clothing shop:

Returns on Underwear"

NO!!!!!! There are two problems with this sign. 1) The exclamation points should be at the end. 2) Only one exclamation point is necessary. Two is overdoing it.

By having the exclamation point(s) in the middle, this sign seems to say the opposite of what it means. (It really means that there are no returns on undergarments. An emphatic no, mind you.)

It gave me a laugh. How about you?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Criminal Sentence 51: Dumb Typo

From a Washington Post article in my local paper:

"Ten it changed."

That doesn't make much sense. First you write the sentence; ten (I mean then) you check it!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Criminal Sentence 50: Palette or Palate? (Or Pallet?)

From a Web site about Wimbledon:

"It was like a palette-cleansing sorbet."

This sentence suggests that a paint tray had something to do with this scenario. The writer meant "palate."

I've often seen the words palette (paint tray), palate (used for tasting) and pallet (wooden crates or a makeshift bed) confused.

Try to remember the right spelling you need!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Criminal Sentence 49: Annoying Little Hyphens

From the instructions on a coffee maker I saw while waiting for coffee this morning:

"There are controls on the left and right-hand sides of the machine" (or something to that effect).

In this sentence, the word "left" is sort of hanging there unattached. It goes with "hand" as does "right," which has a hyphen already. When you have more than one word that is part of a compound word, all need a hyphen. So it should be "left- and right-hand sides."

Another example:

"An eight-, six- and five-year-old attended the party."

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Criminal Sentence 48: Tricky Parentheses

When you have a period and some parentheses, how do you know whether the period goes inside or outside of the parenthesis?

Incorrect: I am making you dinner tonight (that's unusual.)
Correct: I am making you dinner tonight (that's unusual).
Correct: I am making you dinner tonight. (That's unusual.)

If the entire sentence is within parentheses, as in the last example, then you put the period inside. In any other circumstance, you put it outside. (Now you know.)