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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, March 31, 2009

Criminal Sentence 193: Can Costs Be Expensive?

From something I recently edited:

"The estimated cost is 15-20 percent more expensive."

A price is high or low; costs are high or low.
Designer purses are expensive; plastic shoes are cheap.
Prices or costs cannot be cheap or expensive; only items are cheap or expensive.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Poll Results 29

This was the question:

How would you make the second sentence clearer? "She drank some coffee. After the sun rose."
Join the two sentences together. 63 (62%)

Add punctuation to the second sentence. 4 (3%)

Reword it completely. 34 (33%)

It's perfectly clear as is. 0 (0%)

Quite a tricky question, actually. The answer I was looking for was what only 4 of you suggested. I was looking for "After, the sun rose." I made up this sentence because I was reading a book and came across a similar sentence that began with "After." I had to read it several times to get the real meaning. If you are going to start a sentence with a preposition, it's often a good idea to put a comma after the prepositional phrase--to avoid ambiguity and confusion.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Criminal Sentence 192: Necessary Hyphen

From something I'm editing:

"This is not the time to have a poor quality inspection."

Unlike yesterday's sentence, which had a less-than-ideal hyphen, this sentence would benefit from a hyphen between "poor" and "quality":

"a poor-quality inspection"

This hyphen makes the sentence smoother for the reader.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Criminal Sentence 191: Awkward Hyphen

From a medical thriller (abbreviated version):

"In addition to the trach, he had a gastric feeding tube in place... and a BOLT pressure manometer that passed through his skull and into the spinal fluid-containing ventricle of his brain."

The original sentence, as you can probably tell, was quite complicated, and having the phrase "the spinal fluid-containing ventricle of his brain" at the end didn't make the sentence any easier to follow. The sentence a bit on the long side (the poor patient needed lots of medical intervention), so it's a good idea to attempt to shorten or simplify it.

"Spinal fluid-containing ventricle" is just too much of a mouthful. I'm trying now to find a simpler way to express this, but it's hard. My best effort is "and into the brain ventricle that contains spinal fluid." I realize that's not perfect. Perhaps "and into his brain" would be best.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Criminal Sentence 190: I Wonder...

From a book I'm reading:

"She wondered fleetingly how many thousands of people heard the same thing from their doctor every day?"

In this sentence, the question mark should be a period. Yes, the statement expresses a questioning thought, but the sentence itself isn't a question. It's the same as if you had a sentence starting "He exclaimed..." You wouldn't put an exclamation point at the end of the sentence. You would put a period.

So when you use the word "wonder," you don't use a question mark unless the whole sentence is a question, as is this:

"What? She wondered outloud about how big his biceps are?"

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Criminal Sentence 189: Can Faces Tell Time?

Read in a book this week:

"[He had a] facial tick."

"Tic" means twitch; "tick" means lots of other things, including pairing up with "tock."

Monday, March 23, 2009

Poll Results 28

Here was the question:
If you are reading a book or magazine article and come across a mistake, does it bother you?
Yes 67 (87%)

No 10 (12%)

I'll be working on you other 12%!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A "Blog" I Like

I enjoy this blog, which features incorrectly used quotation marks. You guys will "probably" like it, too!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Criminal Sentence 188: Skipping Your Period

Lately I've seen several signs (such as one at a restaurant and one at a hospital) that consist of complete sentences but that are missing periods at the end. Even my second grader knows that a period goes at the end of a sentence.

Notice to all sign writers (and regular writers, too): It's best not to skip your period (.) (Period almost intentionally missing but it's hard for the Sentence Sleuth to ignore the conventions of punctuation!)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Poll Results 27

Here was the question:

Do you think it’s OK for songwriters to sacrifice grammar so they can have a good rhyme?
Yes. They’re songwriters, not grammarians. 34 (58%)
No. Songwriters are a bit like poets and should know good grammar. 24 (41%)

I'm surprised so many of you are so forgiving! I'm not!

Use v Utilize/Pled v Pleaded: Grammar Girl Episode

Friday, March 13, 2009

Criminal Sentence 187: Bad Weather

The start of a sentence I edited yesterday:

"Weather you are (this or that)... "

I guess the weather wasn't good that day.

Whether or not you think you know the spelling of something, it's a good idea to look it up, just in case.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Criminal Sentence 186: Singular and Plural

From something I'm editing:

"The surroundings of the house is equally important."

Not much to say about that, except that native English speakers should know that the word "surroundings" is plural.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Your Own Criminal Sentence

Post your own finds here.

Criminal Sentences 184 and 185: Definitely for Men Only

I don't usually pay attention to male-enhancement ads, but this one was in large letters and two enormous (no pun intended) mistakes lurked at the top. I am therefore interested in this ad, but only for its sentence-enhancement purposes:

Headline: "For Men: An Option When Viagra and Cialis Fails"
Subhead: "Once Seen As Miracle Pills, Many Now Scramble For Other Options"

Love the headline. Not. When a and b FAIL. (Subject-verb agreement problem)
Laughed out loud at the subhead: "Many (People)" were once seen as miracle pills?!! (misplaced modifier)
How would we rewrite the MM? "Once seen as miracle pills, V and C often fail, so many now scramble for other options" (initial caps not needed in a subhead usually)

For Writers, Male or Female: Please watch your subjects and verbs, and your subjects and modifiers!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Criminal Sentence 183: Don't Overuse the Dots...

From something I'm editing:

"I've seen more...I know more...I do more."

This writer is mistakenly using the ellipsis (...) instead of periods. A period ends a sentence; an ellipsis indicates an omission. I've also seen em dashes (--) misused this way. When you want to separate sentences, you should use periods, not miscellaneous punctuation marks you find lying about.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Poll Results 26

This was the question:

About how many books do you read a month?
1 18 (32%)
2 13 (23%)
3 6 (10%)
4 or more 18 (32%)

I'm happy to see so many readers here. Keep it up!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Criminal Sentence 182: Creative Verbing

From a newspaper article:

"She didn’t eyewitness the shooting."

And the writer didn't eyewitness the dictionary, apparently. "Eyewitness" is a noun; "to witness" is a verb.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Criminal Sentences 180 and 181: Two of a Kind

Today we have a double dose of the same mistake: one courtesy of Starbucks and the other courtesy of the local paper.

So, Starbucks: Love ya but how is it possible for each of your stores to have one of these signs?

"Purchase a pound of coffee and write a message on the bag. We'll do the rest to ensure our troops gets a special treat from you."

And now for the start of a sad newspaper article about two people who died in a fire:

"The preventable deaths of a father and daughter in a Mesa house fire not only illustrates the importance of smoke alarms, but also a cultural divide that could result in needless loss of life, a relative said Wednesday."

So, have you found the errors? Hint: subject-verb agreement.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Criminal Sentence 179: Gotta Hate Those "Adds"

From a job posting for a marketing copywriter:

"See your Adds on TV."

You don't want to see my subtractions?

And, by the way, you don't need to stick a capital letter in the middle of a sentence. It looks Silly.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Criminal Sentence 178: Student Misplaces Modifier

Yesterday I got a nice e-mail message from a professor who wants her students to read my blog and improve themselves. Excellent idea! She suggested that I look to her students’ blogs if I needed a sample Criminal Sentence. I found one within a minute, and since I dislike misplaced modifiers, I thought I would highlight this sentence.

“The only source I could find online that stated anything about their relationship was the Cromwell Association.”

The “source”—not “online”—states something. Just rearrange it and it’s fixed:

“I could find only one online source that stated anything about their relationship: the Cromwell Association.”

Monday, March 2, 2009

Poll Results 25

Here was the question:

Is this grammatically correct? "If convicted, that gamble could cost her 16 to 22 years in prison."

Yes: 24 (28%)
No: 61 (71%)

28% of you need to read this post.