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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).

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Criminal Sentence 479: Tall Letters on a Hill

From a blog:

"They traveled to Capital hill."

That's not the place in D.C.; that's the hill where runaway tall letters are housed.

The place in D.C. is called "Capitol Hill": two caps and an O.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Poll Results 113

Here was the question:

What's wrong here? "The source of the beliefs are as important as the beliefs themselves."

0 (0%)
Use of reflexive
2 (3%)
Verb agreement
47 (92%)
2 (3%)

You guys are too smart!

"Source" is singular, so "are" should be "is."

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Criminal Sentence 478: MISSING!

From a newspaper article:

"Unless you're running, biking or swimming, it's going to be hard to around town this weekend."

To what, that is the question!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Criminal Sentence 477: Facial-Hair Problem

From a book I read:

"...curling mustach..."

Perhaps this curling mustachE got chopped a bit too much!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Poll Results 112

Here was the question:

Do you chuckle at this or not? "Jazz Men Rice"

Ha ha
13 (41%)
Not ha ha
18 (58%)

Well, is it funny when you hear that it was supposed to be Jasmine Rice?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Criminal Sentence 476: Going back to School

From a newspaper article:

"their freshmen year"

This sentence concerns two people. Had it concerned one person, the correct phrase would have been "his/her freshman year." It's about two, so let's pluralize both words: "their freshmen years."

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Criminal Sentence 475: Which Noun?

From junk mail I received:

"You currently have a $30 credit towards this service which expires 12/31/10."

Question: Does the credit or the service expire at the end of the year?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Reader Question: Subject-Verb Agreement

Here is the question:

I recently came upon this sentence and, though I couldn't figure out why, it rubbed me wrong.

"Profound sadness, grief, and anger are normal reactions to an abnormal event."

My question is, should events be plural (because reactions are plural)? If it was just one emotion, it should read Grief is a normal reaction to an abnormal event. But it is a group of emotions, therefore plural. To me, the subject-verb don't seem to be in agreement.

The short answer is that this sentence is fine. The subject is the plural "Profound sadness, grief, and anger" and the verb is the plural "are." Don't be fooled by other elements in the sentence. You can have one or more reactions to a single event, so this is just peachy.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Criminal Sentence 474: Having a Dialogue with Subject-Verb Agreement

From a Web site:

"The dialogue he had as a child with his family capture the emotional truth if not the factual truth of what was said."

This sentence pairs a singular subject, "dialogue," with a plural verb, "capture." What's strange is that there's no plural noun to pair up with a plural verb. It's also strange that this sentence is rather nonsensical. Let's try to make sense of it:

"The dialogue he had with his family when he was a child captures the emotional truth--if not the factual truth--of what was said."


Monday, November 15, 2010

Poll Results 111

Here was the question:

Correct or not? "More than anything else it has lead to an open mind."

12 (21%)
44 (78%)

Congrats to 78% of you!

The past participle we were looking for is "led"!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Criminal Sentence 473: Being Religious about Grammar

From an insert in today's paper:

What is the problem here? (ha ha)

Beware of a sentence that begins "As a..."; such a beginning introduces a characteristic of a person. For example, "As a mom, I have a lot of experience changing diapers."

You have to ensure that the person follows the "As" phrase, so here, "what" is the problem.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Criminal Sentence 472: Wearing Glasses

From a writing student of mine:

"He was in casual clothes wearing glasses."

Thanks, R., for being a good sport about this. That was a funny sentence! How did the clothes wear the glasses?

How about this less-funny version:

"He wore casual clothes and glasses."

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Criminal Sentence 471: Fearing a Mistake

From a book about POWs in Vietnam:

"Fearing the worse, Dieter rushed over and cradled Duane in his arms."

The worst--with a T--is that only Dieter made it out alive.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Poll Results 110

Here was the question:

Is this right? "What we were discussing were the grounds on which he would make the motion."

14 (28%)
36 (72%)

A tough one. I had to look this up to be sure. Strange as it may seem, this sentence is correct. Pages 103-104 of the Grammar Desk Reference explain that the word "what" is not what the verb agrees with; rather, it's what comes later in the sentence. GDR gives these examples of correct sentences:

What is most essential is a clear explanation.
What are most essential are clear explanations.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Criminal Sentence 470: Comparing Typos

From a Web site:

"My answers is still the same as last year."

What do you get when you cross a typo with an incorrect comparison?


This sentence!

Of course, the second word should be "answer"; the second mistake is just a comparison problem.

Consider this:

My shoes are the same as yours.

This sentence compares "shoes" to "yours" (meaning your shoes). Correct-a-mundo!

Now this: My answer is the same as last year.

This sentence compares "answer" to "last year." Oops. Let's fix-a-mundo:

My answer is the same as last year's.


Hope you have a fun weekend burning off all the Halloween candy you ate.

P.S. What is a mundo, anyway!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Criminal Sentence 469: Two Spellings

From a Web site:

"The linked stories primarily circle out from two principle characters..."

One spelling: principle. Incorrect here.
The other: principal. Correct here.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Criminal Sentence 468: Reflections on a Reflexive

From a book I read:

"In attendance were myself and Maggie."

This is just a bad sentence. "Myself" is called a reflexive pronoun and it refers back to I: "I myself love candy," you might say, or "I gave myself a present." A reflexive pronoun doesn't stand alone.

If we fix the pronoun problem, we get "In attendance were Maggie and I."

Still a terrible sentence. Why not just say, "Maggie and I attended"?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Criminal Sentence 467: Show Me the Past Participle

From a book I read:

"But the photos the lieutenant had showed him ... were troubling."

Had showed? Now that's troubling!

Often, the past-tense verb and the past participle are the same, as in "heard": "I heard the bell"/"I have heard the bell." Other times, they're different, as in "ate" and "eaten."

The past tense of "to show" is "showed." The past participle is "shown."

Monday, November 1, 2010

Poll Results 109

The question:

Is this correct? "As the twins cab to the restaurant, they discuss the law suit."

22 (28%)
54 (71%)

Congrats to 71% of you. "Lawsuit" is one word.