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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).

Monday, January 31, 2011

Poll Results 119

Here was our question:

Is this sentence incorrect? "They crashed to the ground, taking all fourteen crew to their death."

Definitely yes
44 (48%)
Definitely no
33 (36%)
14 (15%)

Tricky. I would go with maybe. "Deaths" sounds better, but it's not wrong to say "death." For more info on this topic, see here.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Criminal Sentence 503: Blockhead Headline

A headline in today's paper:

"Space blocks them off, but the sun does make sounds"

Don't put the cart before the horse. In other words, don't put the pronoun before its antecedent! You can't replace something that hasn't been mentioned yet!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Criminal Sentence 502: Fiction on Fire

An odd sentence from a blog post:

"Many of the books have a flare of women’s fiction in them..."

I think the writer meant "a hint of women's fiction." She probably didn't mean something that is lit.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Criminal Sentence 501: Being of the Grammatical Persuasion

From today's paper:

"Being of the male persuasion, it is hardly in my interest to make men look dumb. Or at least dumber than we are."

I won't argue with you. "Being of the male persuasion, I..."

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Criminal Sentence 500: My Name Is Boring

One of my writing students had to write a one-page essay about herself and her career goals.

She began "My name is."

Criminally uninteresting! I helped her rewrite it, and it turned out very well.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Poll Results 118

The question:

How many errors, if any, does this pair of sentences contain? "Some of the girls ask her who she likes. She demures and instead directs her gaze at me."

9 (15%)
17 (29%)
24 (41%)
8 (13%)

The answer:

Error 1: Our friend "whom" is missing in the first sentence: "Some of the girls ask her whom she likes." Now, I know that "whom" is becoming unfashionable, but it does have its uses, as in "To whom it may concern."
Error 2: The verb "demures" (not a real word) should be "demurs." "To demur" means to object or take exception to something. The adjective "demure" means reserved.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Criminal Sentence 499: Un-princely Error

From an AP story about Prince Charles and the succession:

"Any legal change would not effect Prince Charles."

Does poor spelling affect the monarchy?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Criminal Sentence 498: Word Invention

A headline in today's paper (for an article about legalizing gambling at horse and dog tracks):

"Measure would legalize racinos"

Will this word be a real word in the future?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Criminal Sentence 497: Calling All Sailors

From a book:

"He swaggers back to his fellow naval-baring delinquents."

At least it didn't say "naval-bearing."

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Check out this headline!

Criminal Sentence 496: I Want to Close My Eyes

From a book:

"You kind of get sick of the site of them."

My site is my location; my sight is my ability to see.

I'm kinda sick of the sight of typos!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Poll Results 117

Here was the question:

Is something wrong here? "I stepped over the tangle of black chords on the floor."

50 (71%)
20 (28%)

Congrats to 71% of you. "Chords" should be "cords."

Friday, January 14, 2011

Criminal Sentence 495: Not Your Standard Sentence

From a book:

"It is your standard stationary shop."

So the shop is stationary--does not move?

Stationery--with an e--refers to paper on which you write letters. I remember that it has an e because letters contains only e's.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Criminal Sentence 494: Bear with Me

From a book I read:

"My classified ad has born fruit."

"to be born" = to come out of mama: I wasn't born yesterday.
"to bear" = to manage/deal with: I have borne many tragedies.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Criminal Sentence 493: A New Instrument

From a book I just finished:

"There were glittery girls waving, as well as an accordian player."

But was there a dictionary?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Criminal Sentence 492: This Site Make Me Complain

From a newsletter for paralegals:

Grammar Tips — Grammar is Fun

Well it should be and this site make it just that.

Maybe they should check their subject-verb agreement before they mention grammar!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Poll Results 116

Here was the question:

What's the error in this sentence called? "That's free money take advantage of it."

Comma splice
14 (21%)
Run on sentence
50 (76%)
Incomplete sentence
0 (0%)
Overly long sentence
0 (0%)
I call it just fine.
1 (1%)

I guess that was too easy. It's not a comma splice because there's no comma!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Guest Post: Verbification

This is a guest post from Daniel Koontz, author of Quick Writing Tips and Casual Kitchen:

Don't tase me bro!

Sentences like this explain why grammarians suffer.

Of course, the verb to tase is a textbook example of a verbified noun. A strict grammarian would prefer shocked by a taser or subdued by a taser instead.

Unfortunately, both substitutes are wordy and unwieldy, and neither improves upon the original. It's also questionable whether tase is even incorrect. After all, common usage allows the word gunned or knifed, both of which are examples of verbified nouns.

So what's the rule? There isn't one--at least not a clear one that shows the boundary between proper grammar and sounding like a tool. You must rely on your own ear.

Many nouns have lately been pressed into service as verbs. Not all are bad, but all are suspect.
--Strunk & White, The Elements of Style

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Another Writing Blog to Investigate

Just reconnected with a friend who does a writing blog: Check it out!

Criminal Sentence 491: Frequent Error

From today's newspaper (about Southwest's new frequent-flier program):

"Cashing in an award will become drastically different under the new program and will look more similar to other airlines' programs."

What exactly is this sentence comparing?

Cashing in an award

will look more similar to

other airlines' programs

Let's just scrap this icky sentence. Anyone want to try to rewrite it?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Criminal Sentence 490: Under a Proofreader's Care

During the Christmas holiday, I spent way too much time (thanks, kids) at the Natural History Museum's live bug area. I got to see two tarantula feedings. Anyway, to distract myself from seeing my daughter sidling up to a live bug, I looked for typos. Voila.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Criminal Sentence 489: Faux Fo

I am not one of them, they who don't proofread their headlines.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Poll Results 115

Here was the question:

What's wrong here? "Cave bears began to move from their old territories, according to a DNA analysis led by researchers at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig of teeth found near the Danube River."

0 (0%)
Misplaced Modifier
26 (78%)
Verb Use
2 (6%)
None of the Above
5 (15%)

Congrats to 78%. I hope it was obvious that this was a very awkward sentence!