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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, 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?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Criminal Sentence 556: Why Deny Correct Punctuation?

From a book I'm reading:

"It was that secretive quality that drew her to him in the first place, why deny it?"

This is an example of two sentences smushed into one.

Sentence 1: "It was that secretive quality that drew her to him in the first place."
Sentence 2: "Why deny it?"

You can't just put a comma wherever you want, there are things called periods, they separate sentences. (Ooh, that was painful--using incorrect punctuation!!)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Poll Results 134

Here was the question:

Is this right? "The CIA and Pakistan's spy agency, known by the acronym ISI, have worked uneasily together."

45 (36%)
57 (45%)
It's possible.
22 (17%)

At issue is how you pronounce "ISI." If it's "ee-see," then ISI would be considered an acronym, which is "a word formed from the initial letters or groups of letters or groups of letters of words in a set phrase or series of words" ( If you say each letter individually, and not as a word, as in "I-S-I," then it would be considered an initialism, "a set of initials representing a name, organization, or the like, with each letter pronounced separately, as FBI for Federal Bureau of Investigation" (

I think the "It's possible" answer is correct, because I'm not sure if ISI is an initialism or an acronym (I don't know how it's pronounced). One problem with my answer is that, in definition 1 of 2, lists "an acronym" as a definition of initialism, so perhaps they are interchangeable.

Here's Grammar Girl's take on the issue.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Criminal Sentence 555: Weird Library

I wonder if they have a dictionary at this "Experess" library...

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Criminal Sentence 554: Palate or Palette

Seen on a TV commercial for a lawyer's office:

"Cleft palette"

Is this a new disease that painters get? No, a sad birth defect: cleft palate. Your palate is in your mouth; your painter's palette is in your hand.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Criminal Sentence 553: Don't Be Cheap

From a Web site:

"Prices in many areas are now cheap."

This isn't quite right. Products are cheap or expensive, but prices are high or low.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Criminal Sentence 552: Giving Birth to Good Spelling

From a book I'm reading:

"She had even born her lover twins."

"To bear" is a weird verb (I mean, irregular). Here are the tenses/forms:

I/you/they/we bear children.
He/she/it bears children.
I bore two children.
I have borne several children.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Poll Results 133

Here was the question:

Is this correct? "As strawberries grow and ripen, they turn from green to white to red--just like the Italian flag!"

36 (48%)
38 (51%)

I'm with the 51%. This comparison doesn't quite work. I don't think the Italian flag turns from green to white to red. Anyone want to rewrite it?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Criminal Sentence 551: Bad Lump

Seen on a TV ad:

"... get a lumpsum."

That sounds to me like an odd disease. Doc, help! I have an unidentified lumpsum on my neck!

Just me being weird, I guess.

(Of course, it should be two words: "lump sum.")

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Criminal Sentence 550: Icky Colon

Wording of a very interesting (sarcasm) ad seen on TV (for the product "Colon Flow"):

"Without normal bowel movements, toxins can cause..."

I know this is icky, but the grammar is icky, too.

This is a classic misplaced modifier. "Toxins" are not having number 2's!

"If you don't have normal ... , toxins..."

Ah, relief.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Criminal Sentence 549: Inferior Size

From a book I read (said by one character to the other):

"We were renting a place, down in Castello. Forty-one square meters..."

No problem there. The problem came in something in the next paragraph:

"...a forty-one-meter apartment..."

Now that's small!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Criminal Sentence 548: Nonsensical Nonsense

An IM I received while playing an obviously younger player at online Scrabble:

"Aye you play me harder then a fat kid playing xbox or ps3 dang lol."

I never would have thought to compliment another player that way.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Poll Results 132

Here was the question:

Is there something wrong with this? "I grit my teeth and punched the wall again, hammering it over and over until my hand throbbed red."

57 (82%)
12 (17%)

Congratulations to 82% of you. The entire sentence is past tense, so "grit" should be "gritted."