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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).

Monday, December 19, 2011

Poll Results 163

Here was the question:

What's wrong here? "At five fifty one of the kitchen guys reported for work."

The time should be spelled out.
5 (10%)
The grammar is incorrect.
4 (8%)
A punctuation mark might be necessary.
35 (74%)
Nothing is wrong.
3 (6%)

I agree with 74% of you. The sentence is not incorrect, but it could be confusing. I would add a comma:

"At five fifty, one of the kitchen guys reported for work."

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Reader Question: Marc and Jennifer

A question from Stephanie:

This one from Us Magazine online has me puzzled.

Marc Anthony
is up in arms that his ex Jennifer Lopez has moved on since their July split with a much younger man.

Read more:

What's the best place for "since their July split"?

Marc Anthony is up in arms that, since their July split, his ex Jennifer Lopez has moved on with a much younger man.

or maybe

Marc Anthony is up in arms that his ex Jennifer Lopez has moved on with a much younger man.

Do Marc and Jennifer deserve this much sentence parsing?

I know the answer. You?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Criminal Sentence 619: Blemished Sentence

From the school lunch menu:

"Choose clementine's with a uniform orange color, shinny skin, with no blemishes or wrinkles."

First, no apostrophe needed in the plural noun.

Second, I've never heard of "shinny skin"!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Poll Results 162

Here was the question:

Is anything wrong with this sentence? "The district offers many choices in education and welcome open enrollment students from another Mesa school or another district."

57 (96%)
2 (3%)

Guess that was too easy ("welcome" should be "welcomes").

I'm just peeved that the school doesn't proofread all its communications! This month's lunch menu makes me crazy with its explanation of how "clementine's" are nutritious and "clementine's" are yummy. Four cases of "clementine's"!!! Arg!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Interesting Ambiguous Sentence

From today's paper (in a column that answers random questions):

Q: "There was an article in Friday's paper about jaguars in Arizona. The 10th paragraph begins 'The newly spotted cats...' My impression was that jaguars were permanently spotted. Do they develop new spots as the winter hair grows in?"

The answer explained that the writer meant that the cats had been recently seen, not that their spots developed.

Did any of you misread the sentence?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Poll Results 161

Here was the question:

What's wrong here? "Once shipped, a customer will have to wait up to 14 days for the gift card to arrive in the mail."

The number should be spelled out.
4 (5%)
The sentence is wordy.
10 (13%)
The grammar is incorrect.
50 (65%)
The sentence is just fine.
12 (15%)

Congratulations to 65%! A customer--I hope!--doesn't get shipped. This is called a misplaced modifier. Here's a less humorous version of the sentence:

"Once the gift card is shipped, a customer will have to wait up to 14 days for it to arrive in the mail."

Friday, December 2, 2011

Criminal Sentence 618: Ordnance

From an otherwise excellent book I'm reading ("The Killer of Little Shepherds," a look into the birth of forensics in 19th-century France):

"Certain ordnances, such as those against illegal harvesting or poaching, did not earn respect."

"Ordnance" means military weapons; "ordinance" means laws.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Criminal Sentence 617: Agreement Has Changed

From a Web site:

"Maybe some adjustments are in order, especially if your income or expenses has changed."

When you have an "or," you need to make the verb agree with the noun closest: "expenses have changed."

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Criminal Sentence 616: Scone on the Wall

An interesting idea: put a scone on a wall!

I think the company meant "sconce"!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Here was the question:

What's wrong with this sentence? "Citrines whose colors have been produced by artificial means tend to have much more of an orange or reddish caste than those found in nature."

9 (13%)
22 (33%)
19 (29%)
15 (23%)

Congratulations to 29% of you. The spelling of "caste" should have been "cast."

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Criminal Sentence 615: Good Speller Needed

From a LinkedIn post:

"Gostwriters needed!"

Hmm. Is that a new kind of writer?

Hope you all have a happy turkey day tomorrow!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Poll Results 160

The question:

Which sentence is correct?

The turban turned slowly in the wind.
29 (41%)
She earned more then $100,000 last year.
2 (2%)
It's not fare that you get more candy!
0 (0%)
I'll meat you at the mall.
1 (1%)
Two are correct.
10 (14%)
All are incorrect.
28 (40%)

Congratulations to 40% of you!

Here are the corrected sentences:

The turbine turned slowly in the wind.
She earned more than $100,000 last year.
It's not fair that you get more candy!
I'll meet you at the mall.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Criminal Sentence 614: Coupon for Free Grammar Instruction!

From a Web site:

"Using coupons from other sites or forums are not eligible."

Using this incorrect subject-verb agreement are not allowed! ("is")

Plus, this is a weird sentence. I would just state it in plain English:

"No coupons from other sites or forums."

Monday, November 14, 2011

Poll Results 159

The question:

Do you know when to use an ellipsis (...)?

18 (69%)
8 (30%)

I've recently seen ... a lot of extraneous ellipses stuck in the middle of sentences... A little bothersome!

Check out this Grammar Girl episode if you need a refresher.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Criminal Sentence 613: My Birthday Wish

From a blog post:

"Personally, I always fear the shorter revisions, they usually contain the most work."

As a favor to me on my birthday, please use correct punctuation:

"Personally, I always fear the shorter revisions; they usually contain the most work."


Monday, November 7, 2011

Poll Results 158

Here was the question:

Is something wrong here? "Everything else you've got here is set up or description."

16 (57%)
12 (42%)

Congrats to 57% of you. The noun "setup" contains no space.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Criminal Sentence 612: Dictionary Hours

Seen above a door at a restaurant:

"Busines Hours"

It wasn't handwritten; rather, it was one of those pre-printed signs about doors that must be kept unlocked during BUSINESS hours.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Criminal Sentence 611: Suspicious Spelling

I am hereby reporting "suspisious" activity!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Poll Results 157

The question:

Is something wrong here? "The heaviness and depth on his groundstrokes are also impressive, as is his agility and quickness around the court."

50 (84%)
9 (15%)

Congrats to 84% of you! Two problems, actually:

1) "Ground strokes" should be two words.
2) "Agility and quickness" are two separate concepts (as are "heaviness and depth"), so the "is" should be "are."

Shame on Tennis magazine!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Reader Question: "That"

Duncan's question:

I have a question for you.

I spotted this sign at my local Petrol Station today: "The carwash cars love".

The sign was advertising their brushless carwash. It hurts me to read it because I desperately would prefer that they wrote it "The carwash that cars love". So my question, as I'm sure you can guess, is whether or not its acceptable to leave out the "that" in that sentence. Please, break the news to me gently if it is acceptable.

My answer:

The "that" is optional, though I agree with Duncan that the sentence is a little awkward.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Reader Question: Capitalizing Titles

Amber's question:


Hello! I asked you a question the other day on Facebook, but I have yet another question if you don’t mind. For some reason my department has made me the editor! I am currently editing a greeting that will be sent out by our association president. This person is assuming a new role as president. My question is, when are you supposed to capitalize titles? For example, “…it is with great honor that I assume the role of President for the State governing council…” This a quote from the greeting. I am pretty sure none of the titles should be capitalized. Also, I don’t believe state should be capitalized. But, president is being directly addressed so it might be capitalized. Help!

The term governing council is used throughout this greeting as well and a couple of us are arguing if the term should be capitalized at any point in the greeting.

My answer:

Hi. Styles vary, so I would urge you to check the style guide your department tends to use. A general guideline is that if it forms part of a proper name you would capitalize but if it's used in a general sense, then lowercase. As for your examples, I would suggest lowercase "president" and lowercase "state," unless "State Governing Council" is the official name of the organization.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Criminal Sentence 610: Editor Needed!

From a Web site:

"We do have an editor on staff, whom will fix grammatical and spelling errors."

Yikes! Perhaps that editor should have checked the rules about "who" and "whom"!

He/she could have also reduced wordiness:

"Our staff editor will fix grammatical and spelling errors."

Monday, October 24, 2011

Poll Results 156

Here was the question:

Is there something wrong here? Search us on Facebook and "Like" us today!

12 (75%)
4 (25%)

Not too many votes, but I'm not convinced anything is wrong. What do you 12 say?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Criminal Sentence 609: Are NOT!

A sign at a Mexican restaurant:

"First bowl of chips are free."

The word we need to think about here is "bowl." That's singular, so the verb should be "is."

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

New Book I Edited

Here's a fun book I edited: How to Do a Stew. It's a look inside the life of a flight attendant and offers dating tips for single men. I got a few laughs.

Criminal Sentence 608: Who's Drunk?

A potentially ambiguous headline in today's paper:

"Police: Father let child drive while he was drunk"

My first thought was "The child was drunk?" Maybe this is the mom in me. Then I read that the child is a daughter.

Did you find this ambiguous?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Poll Results 155

The question:

What's wrong with this note written by my son? "I love you mom."

10 (13%)
18 (23%)
More than one thing.
13 (17%)
Something or more than one thing, but I will ignore it/them because the note is so sweet.
35 (46%)

I agree with 46% of you. My son was only nine at the time. There are two things wrong:

1) There should be a comma after "you."
2) "Mom" needs a capital M.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Funny Criminal

Check this out and watch your handwriting!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Poll Results 154

Here was the question:

Is something wrong with the text of this sign, seen on a mural at a movie theater? "J. Weissmiller Tarzan the Ape Man"

41 (95%)
2 (4%)


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Criminal Sentence 607: What's Wrong?

From a blog post:

Can you tell me how to "get it out there?"

Can YOU tell me what's wrong here?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Criminal Sentence 606: Brandishing My Horns

From a blog post:

"...she has a legitimate reason for horning in on the case."

I guess an "r" and an "n" next to each other could look like an "m," which needs to be in the middle of the word: "homing." All I can say is, "Weird"!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Criminal Sentence 605: People Are People

From a blog post:

"[The Internet] also allows people to be a jerk."

People are people; people are not a person. This sentence would be better this way:

"[The Internet] also allows people to be jerks."

Monday, October 3, 2011

Poll Results 153

Here was the question:

Do you proofread your own e-mail messages/texts/tweets?

Yes, I proofread everything I write.
36 (80%)
No, I don't proofread anything I write.
1 (2%)
Yes, but I don't worry if something slips through. It's only social media.
8 (17%)

Glad to hear readers of the blog proofread!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Criminal Sentence 604: No More!

From an online article about the Diamondbacks (go, team!!):

"To Gibson, however, none of those stats matter any more."

What's the difference between "anymore" and "any more"?

"Anymore" is an adverb that means "any longer": "I don't want to date you anymore."

You use "any more" alongside a noun: "I don't want to eat any more cake."

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Criminal Sentence 603: Attached to Subject-Verb Agreement

From a comment about a blog post:

"Characters are what attaches me to a story."

Um. Subject-verb agreement is what attaches me!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Misspelled Tattoo!

An interesting article.

Poll Results 152

Here was the question:

How distracted do you get/how do you act when a book is full of typos?

I chuck it as soon as I see an error.
3 (6%)
I write corrections in the book but keep reading.
9 (19%)
I wince but read on.
32 (68%)
I don't let it bother me. No one's perfect.
3 (6%)

I recently read a non-fiction book filled with typos but I had to keep reading because I needed the information!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Criminal Sentence 602: LA Times Uh Oh Times Two

Thanks to Stephanie for pointing these two errors out.


Here's a sentence from an LA Times article dated September 21:

A law enforcement investigation tracked a delivery of potent marijuana from Northern California to a home in Kentucky where two NFL players were at when the package arrived, according to a report by California Watch.

The yellow highlighting is mine. "Were at" is my question. It sounds bad and I would rephrase it, but is there a rule against using this construction? Do you need the word at?

You definitely don't need the word "at."


Dear Bonnie,

I couldn't resist sending you this second sentence by another LA Times reporter:

Three Covina men are behind bars after they allegedly stole a 30-pack of Tecate beer from a market and attempted to escape but crashed a car and hit an employee who chased them, then one ran through a car wash and another left behind his ID.

What's wrong with the LA Times?

Good question, Stephanie!! That sentence is a disaster!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Criminal Sentence 601: Poor Girls

Seen on a sign at the local junior high:

"Girl's Softball..."

Too bad the school could find only one girl to play. Hope the team doesn't have to forfeit. (Oh, I guess they do have more players. That would be "Girls' Softball.")

If my kids were at that school, would I have a right to complain about this or would the staff just see me as an uptight parent?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Criminal Sentence 600: Feeling Threatened by an Apostrophe

Am I naughty if I hope the sign writer got a little bite from a rattlesnake because of this apostrophe error?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Poll Results 151

The question:

Which new officially acceptable Scrabble word do you agree should be allowed?

1 (2%)
1 (2%)
1 (2%)
13 (27%)
None should be allowed.
30 (63%)
All should be allowed.
1 (2%)

I think "blingy" is OK, but not the others.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Criminal Sentence 599: I Object!

From a Web site:

"This is not a hard and fast rule an many other factors need to be considered."

Um, it might be a good idea to proofread before posting!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Criminal Sentence 598: Clinky Link

From a blog post:

"'s been a truism that most agents won't clink on a link..."

Interesting typo there. I've never clinked on a link!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Criminal Sentence 597: Need Another "And"

A subhead in today's paper:

"U.N. summit to focus on cancer, diabetes, heart and lung disease"

I understand there's a space issue here, but this list is not parallel. Here are the four diseases they're talking about:

heart disease
lung disease

The third one in this list as written seems to be just "heart." If there had been more space, the subhead writer could have written "diabetes, heart disease and lung disease."

Monday, September 12, 2011

Poll Results 150

Here was the question:

How many people are in the picture described in this sentence? "I am looking at a photograph of Dominic and Rowan's mother."

28 (46%)
14 (23%)
It could be one or two.
18 (30%)

Thanks to a reader for asking me this question. He correctly noted that the sentence is ambiguous, so congratulations to 30% of you. The photo could be of a man, Dominic, and a woman, Rowan's mother. Or, the photo could be of one person, a woman, who is the mother of both Dominic and Rowan. When you share the noun, you share the apostrophe, so if the woman is the mother of both boys/men, you need only one apostrophe.

To make certain this was not ambiguous, you would have to rewrite the sentence.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Poll Results 149

The question:

Which is incorrect?

I feel like it looks fantastic.
21 (25%)
I feel like sleeping more.
5 (6%)
I feel like you're not listening.
4 (4%)
None is incorrect.
21 (25%)
More than one is incorrect.
31 (37%)

Congratulations to 37% of you. The first and third answers are incorrect. You need to use "as if" instead of "like." For more info, check out this Grammar Girl episode.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Criminal Sentence 595: Not on Good Tems

From a Web site:

"We'll occasionally email you places matching your search criteria and will never share your email without your consent. Tems of Use"

I do not accept these tems!!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Criminal Sentence 594: Hurtful Sentence

From a book:

"Clinging to your anger and resentment only huts you."

Ouch. That hurts!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Criminal Sentence 593: Baseball Knowhow

The D-Backs are doing well on the field, but the graphics person needs to read my blog! Check out answer A. That would be "every day," meaning each day, not "everyday," meaning ordinary.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Criminal Sentence 592: Bad Bread

From the label of some bread I bought:

"Moms White Bread"

Yummy but not so correct!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Poll Results 148

Here was the question:

What is wrong with this (from a novel)? "Which I wasn't saying to be nice, it's completely true."

You can't start a sentence with a "Which" clause like this.
43 (60%)
You can't use contractions like this.
2 (2%)
The punctuation is incorrect.
21 (29%)
Nothing is wrong.
5 (7%)

Congratulations to 29% of you.

You can start a sentence with a "Which" clause. For more info, see this Grammar Girl episode.

As for the contractions, they're fine.

The punctuation, however, is not fine. You can't just add a sentence to another. You have to add a period after "nice."

Friday, August 26, 2011

Criminal Sentence 591: Can Facts Play?

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows I'm anti-misplaced modifier. I could point out at least one a day if I wanted, but that would be boring. I do want to point this one out, though; it comes from Tennis magazine, which you'd think would be more with it:

"After years of playing and coaching tennis, two facts emerge."

Fact 1: This sentence is incorrect.
Fact 2: This sentence is annoying!

Who wants to rewrite it for me and make me feel better?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Criminal Sentence 590: Bestselling Author Needs capital Letter

From an article about Stephenie Meyer:

"The woman who would publish meyer, Megan Tingley, was handed the manuscript in November 2003, right before she got on a cross-country flight to California."

The woman has sold almost 100 million books. Let's give her a capital letter!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Poll Results 147

Here was the obviously too easy question:

If your sentence ends with "etc." or something else with a period, do you add another period?

3 (3%)
75 (92%)
It depends.
3 (3%)

The next question will be harder!!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Criminal Sentence 589: Whose Got a Dictionary?

From something I edited:

"...a doctor who's mission is the health and well-being of children"

"Whose"/"Who's" is one of those pesky pairs of sound-alikes that can confuse your little brain if you're not careful!

So be extra careful!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Criminal Sentence 588: Never Seen That!

From a blog post:

" discover there's a way to die that she hasn't yet scene..."

Perhaps the writer was thinking about scenes, but she hasn't seen her error!

Let's just blame it on her brain. I'm sure she knows the difference between the two words.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Criminal Sentence 587: Here Comes Agreement

A headline in today's paper:

"Here comes 18 months of wasted time"

I would say, "come," since "18 months" is plural. Did the headline writer think of "18 months of wasted time" as a single idea? Seems like a stretch to me! You?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Poll Results 146

Here was the question:

If you see a sign with incorrect grammar or punctuation, what do you do?

You surreptitiously change the sign with a pen, if possible. If it's not possible to change it, you seethe.
21 (36%)
You ignore it.
5 (8%)
You feel upset but control yourself.
29 (50%)
You likely don't even notice it.
3 (5%)

Let's work on those 13% of you who aren't anal about grammar!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Criminal Sentence 586: Money Talk

From a book I'm reading:

"We'd spent all but a few of the $250 with which we'd begun the night."

Something about this is off. "Few" goes with countable nouns, such as dollars, but it doesn't seem to work in this sentence. It's almost as if the writer is suggesting he had 250 $1 bills and only a few were left.

I would go with "little" here. Your opinion?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Criminal Sentence 585: Books for Childrens

I wasn't planning to do a double dose of punctuation mayhem today, but I just visited a blog where I saw an unforgivable (at least in my universe) error. The writer asks, "What is the best childrens book of all time?"

I would say the children's version of Eats Shoots and Leaves, an amusing book about CORRECT PUNCTUATION!!! Eats, Shoots & Leaves: Why, Commas Really Do Make a Difference!

Criminal Sentence 584: I'm Going to "Rest" Now

I know that the word "restroom" is a euphemism "bathroom." No one really rests there; we do other business. Although we sometimes use quotation marks if we're being sarcastic (e.g., I just "love" sausages [hate 'em]), no quotation marks are necessary here.

I would like to peer into the brains of people who like to add quotation marks "here and there."

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Criminal Sentence 583: Bowling for Apostrophes

I'm not fond of this gutter ball from the bowling alley. When I mentioned it to the cashier, he didn't bite my head off. Victory!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Poll Results 145

Here was the question:

What's wrong here? "Amy Winehouse was in the process of adopting a girl from St Lucia, it has been reported."

33 (41%)
2 (2%)
39 (48%)
6 (7%)

Hm. A little teeny period is missing in "St," an abbreviation of "Saint." That's it as far as I can tell!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Criminal Sentence 582: Juvenile Dad

Heard on a TV show (a father was talking about discovering his daughter's blindness):

"At three months old, I began to notice something."

Now that's a young father! "At three months old, I ..." The "I" of this sentence (the father, who is speaking) is not that age!

A better way:

"I began to notice something when she was three months old."

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Criminal Sentence 581: Not So Criminal, Perhaps?

From a blog post on an agent's blog:

"You need to get used to the idea that people will use your words either intentionally or un."

Technically, you can't just stick in a prefix and use it as a whole word. That said, I kind of like this illegal prefix at the end. You?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Poll Results 144

This was the question:

What's wrong with this, seen on a sign at a baseball game? "Put me in coach."

3 (5%)
Word choice
3 (5%)
46 (79%)
More than one of these
6 (10%)

I laughed when I saw this sign, so "Nothing" is definitely wrong.

Consider "Put me in coach" and "Put me in first class." Without the comma, the sentence seems to refer to airplane seating.

Yes, you guessed it: A comma is missing, because the sign writer was addressing the baseball coach and requesting to be put into the game.

"Put me in, coach" is correct. Here's another example of this comma, called a comma of address:

"Give me a dollar, coach."

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Criminal Sentence 580: Jumbo Boo-Boo

From the jumbo screen at the baseball park:

"the Rockie's"

Does anyone root for the Colorado Rockie or is it the Rockies? :)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Poll Results 143

Here was the question:

What's wrong here? "In addition to eating calcium-rich foods, she also takes daily calcium pills."

14 (32%)
4 (9%)
9 (20%)
16 (37%)

Well, I agree with 37% of you. It's wordy because you don't need "In addition" and "also" in one sentence. Just one gives off the impression of plurality.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Criminal Sentence 579: Run-on Question

From a baseball Q&A in today's paper:

"Last year you were in the All-Star Game, do you rather participate in it or relax during the break?"

I'll bet that when the reporter asked the player this question, the journalist paused for a few beats after saying, "All-Star Game." That's because this is the end of a sentence, and it needs a period; this first part is just a statement. The question actually begins with the "Do you" part. Here's the correct punctuation:

"Last year you were in the All-Star Game. Do you rather participate in it or relax during the break?"

I guess I won't comment on the oddness of "Do you rather participate." "Do you prefer participating ... relaxing ..." would be better, don't you think?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Criminal Sentence 578: Help Me, Verb. Help, Help Me, Verb.

From today's paper:

"Maybe older people have more experience and been burned a few more times."

This sentence made me sing that old Beach Boys song "Help Me, Rhonda," though I substituted the word "verb" for the lady's name. An additional helping verb, otherwise known as an auxiliary verb, would be very helpful in this sentence.

The original is not wrong, but it made me do a double take when I got to "been." I was expecting another present tense verb: "have more experience and do such and such," for example. Just add another "have" and we're set:

"Maybe older people have more experience and HAVE been burned a few more times."

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Criminal Sentence 577: Bad News

From a Facebook post ( FB is a gold mine!):

"That's great new's."


Monday, July 18, 2011

Poll Results 142

Here was the question:

What is wrong here (from a book on 18th-century medicine)? "Not only could hospital surgeons earn fees from teaching apprentices and house pupils; their private practice benefited from their leap in status."

2 (4%)
27 (60%)
0 (0%)
16 (35%)

Congratulations to 60% of you. The semicolon in the middle of the sentence should be a comma. One use of semicolons is to separate two complete sentences, but the "not only" part is not a sentence.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Criminal Sentence 576: Now That's Dumb!

A reader's comment about an article on results of a standardized writing test:

"We always knew the west side was dumber then dirt..."

Who's the dumb one here, dear commenter?

("Then" should be "than.")

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Criminal Sentence 575: Competing for Spelling Champion of the World

From today's paper (about what to expect in the second half of the baseball season):

"Starting pitchers have collected 11 compete games..."

I hope the pitchers compete while they compLete games!

P.S. This is an example of why Spell Check doesn't wok--I mean, work!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Criminal Sentence 574: A Personal Adverb

A quote from All-Star MVP Prince Fielder:

“I didn’t take it too personal.”

Great at hitting home runs. Not so great at adding that "ly," which would turn "personal" into "personally."

I won't take it personally.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Criminal Sentence 573: Alrighty Then

A text I received:


Good for texting. Not good for real writing. "All right" would be correct.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Poll Results 141

Here was the question:

What's wrong with this sentence? "The most interesting third person narratives jump into character's heads to show their thought processes."

Verb problem(s)
2 (2%)
Punctuation problem(s)
35 (46%)
Grammar problem(s)
18 (23%)
More than one of these problems.
21 (27%)

Congrats to 46% of you. The main error is that "character's" should be "characters'," since you are talking about more than one character. A minor error is another punctuation problem, a missing hyphen in "third-person narratives."

Friday, July 8, 2011

Nice Recommendation of "The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier"

Check out this article that recommends my book! It's reviewed in the last paragraph under "Grammar and Writing."

Criminal Sentence 572: Word Order Crime

A caption from today's paper:

"Casey Anthony will be freed July 17 after she was acquitted of first-degree murder."

Someone needs to be arrested for this sentence! I had to read it several times because it was so weird. Let's banish the word "after":

"Casey Anthony, who was acquitted of first-degree murder, will be freed July 17."

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Criminal Sentence 571: Clothing at the Airport?

A sign (at an airport) shown on the cartoon my son is watching:

"Hanger 25"

Although I'm not following the plot, I'm pretty sure it was supposed to say "Hangar 25."

A hanger goes with clothes but a hangar goes with airplanes!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Criminal Sentence 570: Repetitive Fruit

From a grocery ad:

"Sale on cantaloupe melons"

As opposed to cantaloupe cucumbers?

The word "melons" seems unnecessary here. The only reason to use the word "melons" seems to be to explain what kind of fruit a cantaloupe is. Anyone other than ESL students not know this?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Friday, July 1, 2011

Criminal Sentence 569: Stationary Equals Non-Moving

Fuzzy spelling here. Those items that you write letters on are called stationery ("letters" contains the letter "e," as does the word "stationery"). "Stationery" is a noun. "Stationary," on the other hand, is an adjective that means not moving, as in a stationary bicycle.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Criminal Sentence 568: From and To

From a blog post:

"The event draws anywhere from 90-150 people."

Of course we understand this sentence, but since I'm picky, I need to say something about it!

If you have a "from," then you need a "to":

"The event draws anywhere from 90 to 150 people."

Another option is just a hyphen:

"The event draws 90-150 people."

You get to choose which one you like, but you can't mix them as in "from 90-150."

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Criminal Sentence 567: Those "That" Clauses Are Causing Trouble

From an online Q&A with an agent:

"What's something you've sold that comes out soon that you're excited about?"

This sentence piles on the "that" clauses: two are easy to see but one is hiding.

The obvious ones are "that comes out soon" and "that you're excited about." The hidden one is "you've sold" (just add an imaginary "that" before it: "...something that you've sold...").

You can't have three clauses modifying one noun/pronoun, "something" in this case.

It's an awkward mouthful, so let's rewrite it:

"Which of your recent sales comes out soon and makes you excited about its debut?"

This isn't perfect so if anyone wants to try, please go ahead!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Criminal Sentence 566: Alot of Incorrectness

From a message I received:

"I need alot of help."

Yep. You need A LOT of help! Two words, my dear!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Poll Results 140

Here was the question:

What's wrong with this sentence? "He was brown haired, clean shaven, and had an engaging smile."

One or more hyphens is missing.
27 (42%)
A comma is incorrect.
10 (15%)
A word is missing.
10 (15%)
Nothing is wrong.
16 (25%)

Congratulations to 15% of you. The word "was" is missing before "clean shaven." This keeps the sentence parallel: verb, verb, verb ("was," "was," "had").

No hyphens are required because the adjectives come after the verb. They would be necessary if they came before the verb (e.g., The brown-haired, clean-shaven man was cute).

No comma error, either.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Criminal Sentence 565: Wanted: Insect Experience

From a job description online:

"1-3 moth experience required"

It might be hard for this company to find someone with this specific experience!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Criminal Sentence 564: Questionable Punctuation

From a Web site:

"I don't think your question is premature at all, but very relevant."

I don't think this punctuation is optimal. I kinda think a semicolon would be good, if we reword the end:

"I don't think your question is premature at all; rather, it's very relevant."

A comma in the original sentence makes the sentence too run of the mill, in my opinion. The semicolon in the rewrite adds emphasis to the fact that the question is relevant.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Criminal Sentence 563: Comma Hibernation

We have a pet bearded dragon, and my son wanted to know if it will hibernate. We learned this from the Internet:

"Dragon hibernation, which we call brumation is a semi-dormant state they may have for a few weeks to a few months, but only in winter."

The clause "which we call brumation" needs a closing comma. It is extra information, as discussed in this post.

So, the sentence should read "Dragon hibernation, which we call brumation, is ..."

Time to feed our dragon some crickets!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Poll Results 139

Here was the question:

What's wrong with this? [Narrator thinks to self about baby names] "I like Emma. And Ella. And Hannah." [Second character says] "Does every baby name have to be a palindrome?"

21 (44%)
3 (6%)
Word use
15 (31%)
8 (17%)

Congratulations to 31% of you. The source of the error is the word "palindrome," a word that is spelled the same both forwards and backwards. "Hannah" is an example, but "Emma" and "Ella" are not palindromes.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Criminal Sentence 562: College Error

From a Web site:

"I'm an alumni."

We don't speak or write much Latin these days, but this is a Latin error. It's the equivalent of saying "I'm a people."

"Alumni" is the masculine plural. The feminine plural is "alumnae." The singular words are "alumnus" (male) and "alumna" (female).

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Criminal Sentence 561: Your OWN Typo

I was watching a show on OWN, and this typo flashed on the screen! My heart rate skyocketed (I mean, skyrocketed)!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Poll Results 138

Here was the question:

This is part of the first sentence of a middle grade novel: "Each type of substitute teacher had its own special weakness…" Your opinion?

I want to read more because this really grabs me.
1 (2%)
I need to read more to see if I want to give this book a chance.
14 (33%)
I do not want to read more because this sentence is awful.
27 (64%)

Seems that few people like this beginning. The "its" threw me the most.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Criminal Sentence 560: An Apostrophe in Paris

From a review of Woody Allen's latest film, "Midnight in Paris" (which I liked):

"...its a bit thin and glib to call a masterpiece, but it's still a delicious trifle..."

Which its/it's is incorrect, apostrophe and film buffs?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Criminal Sentence 559: A State of Repetition

Heard on the Diamondbacks' broadcast last night:

"He's from Bremerton, Washington, in the State of Washington."

Thanks for clearing that up!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Criminal Sentence 558: Questionable Age

From a blog post:

"Seventeen years old Andra’s life is full."

This sentence is not a good way to start a query letter!

When you have multiple words that combine to describe a noun (called a compound adjective), you need to add hyphens to join them up together. So it would need to be "Seventeen-year-old Andra." But this sentence has too many words describing "life," so we need to rearrange it. One option is this:

"The life of seventeen-year-old Andra is full."

That's not so wonderful. How about this:

"Seventeen-year-old Andra has a full life."

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Poll Results 137

Here was the question:

What is wrong with this headline? "Terrifying videos emerge of deadly tornado"

Absolutely nothing!
12 (16%)
Word order
46 (61%)
Noun choice
2 (2%)
Adjective choice
3 (4%)
Verb choice
12 (16%)

Well, I take issue with the word order. The prepositional phrase "of deadly tornado" goes with "videos," but it is next to "emerge." It would be much better to write "Terrifying videos of deadly tornado emerge"

Ah. That word order is no longer terrifying!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Reader Question

Kurt asks this:

Is this a bad sentence?

"A pilot's final words before his doomed private jet plunged into a house in Kent have been replayed at an inquest into the deaths of its five occupants."

Well, it's grammatically correct, at least. The phrase "before his doomed private jet plunged into a house in Kent" separates the noun "words" with the verb "have been replayed."

As far as is it bad, you could argue that it's long and slightly awkward. Perhaps breaking it up into two sentences would be good.

Anyone want to try?

Monday, May 30, 2011

Poll Results 136

Here was the question:

Which word is used incorrectly here? "While I spent over two years querying agents and small presses, my manuscript laid dormant."

4 (5%)
3 (4%)
46 (65%)
More than one is incorrect.
9 (12%)
The sentence is just fine as is.
8 (11%)

The pesky verb "to lie" is the source of the error here. The simple past tense of "to lie" is "lay"; the past participle of "to lie" is "laid."

Monday, May 23, 2011

Poll Results 135

Here was the question:

Which is correct?

It's a matter of principle. 3 (4%)

There was no way to tell what
organizational principal was at work. 0 (0%)
The principal was mad. 1 (1%)

The principle on my loan is $100,000. 0 (0%)

More than one is correct. 61 (91%)

No answer is correct. 2 (2%)

Guess that was too easy!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Criminal Sentence 557: Listening to Yourself Make a Mistake

From today's Sports section (in an article about a struggling baseball player who had a key hit):

"...when listening to him talk, he doesn't seem to have lost much confidence."

Someone has lost his sense of grammar!

The problem lies in the word "listening." The "he" of the sentence--the baseball player--is not the one listening, so we need to specify:

"...when I listen to him talk, he doesn't seem to have lost much confidence."

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Reader Question: "More Than One"

Irfan has a good question:

The problem that I am having concerns the use of 'More than a certain value' and then the use of the appropriate form of the verb to be; in case of the latest poll, the statement would be: More than one is correct.

According to my understanding, More than one translates into, or should translate into, at least two and possibly more; now if that interpretation of the phrase before the auxiliary is correct, then how can we justify the use of 'is' instead of 'are' as the correct form of the verb.

Sentence Sleuth here:
According to Bryan Garner ("Garner's Modern American Usage," p. 779), "The phrase 'more than one' generally takes a singular verb, not a plural one ... even though the sense is undeniably plural."

Garner goes on to explain some nuances, but the bottom line is that you use a singular verb.

Reader Question: "Embiggen"

From Chad:

I keep seeing the word "embiggen" on tech blogs that I read (example below). I can't find it in the dictionary. Should I chalk it up to writing style or call the cops (or, more appropriately, the dict-tectives)? I humbly submit "embiggen" for your rogue's gallery (unless I've got it all wrong).

Here's a reference.

"While you were at home wondering how to get into one of those Oprah Winfrey-style Google keynotes where electronics are given out like Halloween candy, one of our developers was in the audience playing with his new Special Edition Google IO Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1.

Yeah, that's a mouthful.

We stole borrowed the Galaxy and forced it to take pictures with our Wi-Fi+3G iPad 2.

Check out the photos in the gallery below. You can click on any photo to embiggen."

Sentence Sleuth here:

I personally have never heard that word before (if it even is a word). My vote? Not a word! Yours?