Archive for the ‘pronouns’ Category

WHO addition confuses sentence + Answer to participle question

Monday, April 18th, 2011

I apologize for the unscheduled hiatus this week. I made the grave mistake of going out of town with my IPad and without my password codes.

Now, back to the Grammar Glitches. Today's Glitch comes from an article in Sunday's The Birmingham News about the devastating storms that raged across the South. I offer sincere condolences to all who were affected, including the families of seven people killed here in Alabama.

#1–Here is a 40-word sentence that became quite confusing because Associated Press reporter Tom Breen inserted the word WHO in a place that didn't make sense:

In the town of Sanford in central North Carolina, what could have been a deadly catastrophe was averted when a Lowe's hardware store manager who saw the approaching storm and corralled over 100 people to the back of the store.

The simplest fix for this sentence is to remove the word WHO. Then the sentence makes sense. If I were editing, I would suggest another change to improve the sentence even further. It is always a good idea to avoid passive voice when possible. Here we have COULD HAVE BEEN followed by WAS AVERTED for a double helping of passive voice. I'd suggest making the store manager the subject for a more direct approach and the elimination of one passive voice verb.

Here is my revision:

In the town of Sanford in central North Carolina, a Lowe's hardware store manager averted what could have been a deadly catastrophe when he saw the approaching storm and corralled over 100 people to the back of the store.

Hats off to this quick-thinking manager who probably saved many lives.

#2–Here is the participle question from last week: What is the difference between "All chairs are taken" and "All chairs were taken"? The reader wanted to know why ARE could be used with TAKEN if TAKEN is the past participle. I am sure this is confusing for non-native speakers of English.

Here is my answer: Both ARE TAKEN and WERE TAKEN are passive voice, and both are correct. ALL CHAIRS ARE TAKEN would be used in the present progressive sense. At the time (in the present) that I enter (present tense) the room, no chairs are available, so ALL CHAIRS ARE TAKEN. 

WERE TAKEN is past tense and would suggest that, when I entered (past tense) the room at a time in the past, ALL THE CHAIRS WERE already TAKEN.

 

Stop by again tomorrow to consider the latest epidemic of subject/verb agreement Glitches.


Does the FDA clean produce on their website??

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Here is the second Grammar Glitch I promised yesterday.  It has to do with placing prepositional phrases in the proper order to keep meaning clear.  Here is the sentence:

The Federal Drug (sic) Administration has guidelines for properly cleaning produce on their website.

Whoops! The prepositional phrase ON THEIR WEBSITE should be placed next to GUIDELINES.  Otherwise, it sounds as if the FDA has gone into the business of cleaning produce on their website.

A second comment: The FDA is one group, so I would choose the possessive ITS instead of THEIR to refer to the website.

As I pointed out yesterday, FDA stands for FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION, not Federal Drug Administration.  An important part of proofreading is verifying sources and proper names.

I would rewrite the sentence this way:

The Food and Drug Administration has guidelines on its website for properly cleaning produce .

Speaking of proofreading, stay tuned for tomorrow's post when I will poke fun at myself for sending an email too early in the morning and committing the grave error of not proofreading properly. I will also post a reminder of the difference between COMPLIMENT and COMPLEMENT.

 


EVERYTHING is singular (whether it sounds that way or not)!

Friday, March 11th, 2011

Last time I checked, the word EVERYTHING was still taking a singular verb.  The idea is that you are referring to each individual one of something.  When you add items between the subject and verb, it is even more difficult to keep this straight.

Here is a sentence from the front page of yesterday's The Birmingham News:

Shoppers are feeling the squeeze in their grocery budgets these days, particularly at the meat counter, where everything from T-bone steaks to pork chops and hamburger patties are getting pricier.

Whoops! The word EVERYTHING is treated as a singular pronoun.  It does not matter how many steaks, chops, and patties are mentioned after the preposition FROM.  It should still be EVERYTHING IS.

The sentence should read this way:

Shoppers are feeling the squeeze in their grocery budgets these days, particularly at the meat counter, where everything from T-bone steaks to pork chops and hamburger patties is getting pricier.

I have definitely noticed the higher meat prices, and I imagine you have, too.  Time to get creative with other proteins in the kitchen!


Was the giant renown? Or renowned?

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

I always enjoy reading Leonard Pitts Jr.'s column, and Tuesday's on "Americans evolving in wrong direction" was exceptionally good.  He noted that most science teachers (60 percent) "cheat controversy by such stratagems as telling students it does not matter if they 'believe' in evolution, so long as they understand enough to pass a test."  He went on to tell a great story about a giant who had once been intelligent but had become stupid.  Whatever your personal opinions on this subject, his column is worth reading.  You can find it at www.miamiherald.com/leonard_pitts/

Pitts is an excellent writer, and I have never before noticed a Grammar Glitch in his column.    Tuesday, however, a couple of things caught my eye and seemed worthy of comment.  First, there was this sentence:

Indeed, the giant was renown for an ingenuity and standard of living that made it the envy of the world.

I admit I had to check several sources on this one.  It didn't look right, but I wasn't positive it was wrong.  It turns out that RENOWN is a noun, as in "The white crystalline marble of Sylacauga, Alabama, has achieved great RENOWN."  RENOWNED is an adjective, as in "The RENOWNED marble of Sylacauga is the focus of the April festival."  Therefore, Pitts' sentence should read this way:

Indeed, the giant was renowned for an ingenuity and standard of living that made it the envy of the world. ( The adjective RENOWNED comes after the verb but still modifies the GIANT.)

 

My second comment has to do with parallel structure.  Consider this sentence:

Or they teach evolution on a par with creationism and encouraging students to make up their own minds.

As written, this sentence suggests that teachers put evolution on the same level as creationism AND on the same level as encouraging students to make up their own minds.  I suspect what Pitts meant was that these teachers teach both evolution and creationism and THEN encourage students to make up their own minds.  Because the structure is not parallel, the sentence is misleading.  The two verbs that need to be parallel are TEACH and ENCOURAGE.  Therefore, the sentence should read this way:

Or they teach evolution on a par with creationism and then  encourage students to make up their own minds. 

ADDITIONAL NOTE: One of my readers has pointed out that the parallel structure of the first sentence could also be improved by inserting the word A in front of STANDARD. I agree, especially because INGENUITY takes AN while STANDARD takes A. When I checked on that, I also noticed that the pronoun IT is used to refer to the GIANT when HIM would probably be more appropriate. So here, hopefully, is a final edit of that sentence:

Indeed, the giant was renowned for an ingenuity and a standard of living that made him the envy of the world.

 

 

 

 


Use the THAT pasture to improve writing style.

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

When I teach workshops on business writing, I often suggest the use of what I call the THAT pasture.  As a writer myself, one of the first things I do when I edit copy–mine or someone else's–is to look for all the uses of THAT.  Many of them are not necessary, and that is where the THAT  pasture comes in.

Here is a sentence from an article by Birmingham News staff writer William Thornton about possible solutions for the clogged Highway 280 traffic conditions.  It illustrates exactly what I mean:

Mountain Brook Mayor Terry Oden said he hopes that once the Bentley administration gets going in Montgomery, that it will take a look at the 280 project.

This is a frequent grammar swamp–using THAT twice when once will do.  There is also a problem here with commas.  What should be set off by commas (on both ends) is the inserted clause ONCE THE BENTLEY ADMINISTRATION GETS GOING IN MONTGOMERY.  The writer puts a comma at the end of this inserted clause but not at the beginning.  Here is how I think the sentence should read–with the second THAT put out to pasture:

 Mountain Brook Mayor Terry Oden said he hopes that, once the Bentley administration gets going in Montgomery, it will take a look at the 280 project. 


End-up? Or end up? There IS a difference.

Monday, December 27th, 2010

When to hyphenate and when not to.  This is a common issue.  Here is a sentence from an article about an art show:

Artists that make their living this way generally end-up with pieces that have been nicked or otherwise damaged in the constant load and unloading that they do.

In this example, END is a verb, and UP is an adverb.  They should not be connected by a hyphen.  END UP should be treated the same as TWO YEAR OLD.  The hyphen would only be used if you were creating an adjective to go in front of a noun, as in A TWO-YEAR-OLD CONTRACT or AN END-UP something or other (I cannot think of a good example for this usage!).

 

BONUS COMMENT #1: I would suggest changing THAT to WHO when referring to the ARTISTS. (Use WHO for people and THAT for "non-people" things.)

 

BONUS COMMENT #2: Because UNLOADING ends in ING, I would use parallel structure and use LOADING as well.

 

Here is my edit for this sentence:

Artists who make their living this way generally end up with pieces that have been nicked or otherwise damaged in the constant loading and unloading that they do.

 

If you would like additional information about correct hyphen usage, run a Search (lower right corner) for "Hyphen," and see all the posts that come up.  Among them should be my posts for November 23, 2010 and March 5, 2009 and October 30, 2008.  This is definitely at least an annual issue.


A skunk and its smell? or Skunks and their smell? Agreement again!

Friday, November 19th, 2010

The article "Smells Like a Polecat" in the current issue of Senior Living is a fun read.  Inez McCollum writes about the skunks that were attracted to her husband's parents' property.  (And yes, she does get both those pesky apostrophes in the correct locations!)  I enjoyed the read, but one sentence bothered me:

Skunks were always getting into the well house and would have to be gingerly shooed away so as not to trigger release of its foul smelling liquid.

 

  • The writer refers to SKUNKS (plural), so the pronoun used to refer back to THEM should be THEIR, not ITS. (Yes, the possessive ITS without the apostrophe because that foul smelling liquid definitely belongs to those skunks.)

 

  • The writer uses the past tense WERE when writing about skunks getting into the well house, so I think HAD TO BE (not conditional) is the better verb choice than WOULD HAVE TO BE.

 

  • This is not an absolute rule, but I have always thought it better to avoid separating parts of the verb with LY words.  I would move place GINGERLY after AWAY.

 

Here is my edit of this sentence:

 Skunks were always getting into the well house and had to be  shooed away gingerly so as not to trigger release of their  foul smelling liquid .


It’s or Its–Not that difficult to keep straight.

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

After several posts on this subject, I am still discouraged that writers cannot keep ITS (without the apostrophe) and IT'S (with the apostrophe) straight.  Here is a sentence from Jim Hickman's article in the recent issue of Senior Living:

By the time you read this a very important election is past with it's  bombardment of truth and fiction, blabber and bluster !

I do agree with the sentiment of this sentence, but IT'S (with the apostrophe) is a contraction of IT + IS, and Jim is not meaning to say IT IS BOMBARDMENT.  What he means is that the bombardment of truth and fiction, blabber and bluster belong to the election, so he wants ITS (without the apostrophe) which shows possession or belonging to in the same way that HERS, OURS, YOURS, THEIRS do (all without the apostrophe).

I would make two more changes to this sentence.  First, the introductory phrase that comes before the subject (BY THE TIME YOU READ THIS) is 6 words long.  There should be a comma after THIS in order to point the reader to where the main idea begins, which is A VERY IMPORTANT ELECTION.

Second, because the sentence begins with BY THE TIME YOU READ THIS, it is talking about a point in the future.  Therefore, IS PAST needs to be changed to something that fits the future time frame.

I would reword the sentence this way:

 By the time you read this, a very important election will have passed by with its bombardment of truth and fiction, blabber and  bluster!

Now that we have that straightened out, onward and upward to 2012–with more blabber and bluster!


Putt Like a Pro Needs some Pro Grammar!

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

Joe Kruse writes an interesting and informative golf tips column for Shop280.com & Beyond.  I love golf, and I enjoy his tips.  However, as a grammar pro, I do find his writing frustrating.  Here is one example sentence:

For all of you, like me, who demand perfection especially on the putting green its time to relieve the stress of putting.

The Grammar Glitch in this sentence is ITS.  Here, it could be replaced by IT IS, so the contraction needs the apostrophe.  The other problem is punctuation.  In my opinion, the phrase that needs to be set off by commas is ESPECIALLY ON THE PUTTING GREEN.  I also don't like the way LIKE ME is dumped in.  I would rewrite this sentence as follows:

For all of you who (like me) demand perfection, especially on the putting green, it's time to relieve the stress of putting.

 

There is also the question of the word PROS.  If you read this blog often, you know that one of my pet peeves is the use of an apostrophe to create the plural.  Joe's column is titled "Why You Need to Putt Like the Pro's."  WHOOPS.  The column also includes these two sentences:

What do the pro's practice?

Go ahead and putt like the pr o's .

I checked the Internet to be sure I was correct about this one.  If you Google PROS, you will find a number of sites about PROS (plural).  If you Google PRO'S, you will find sites like THE PRO'S TABLE or THE PRO'S CLOSET (possessive), so I am not just being picky here.  These should read as follows:

Why You Need to Putt Like the Pros.

What do the pros practice?

Go ahead and putt like the pros.

 

In another part of the column, Joe talks about the importance of practicing Alignment and Distance Control.  I had to read part of this several times to figure out what he wanted me to learn:

The most important of the two is Distance Control.  Because distance controls direction example if you hit too hard or long it will go through the break and if you hit it too soft or short it will break too much.

Great advice, but very difficult to decipher.  First of all, if you are talking about TWO things (Alignment and Distance Control), use the comparative form MORE rather than the superlative form MOST.  Second, the first part of the sentence that begins with BECAUSE should be part of the previous sentence.  The example illustrations should be a separate sentence with clarifying punctuation.  I would rewrite it this way:

The more important of the two is Distance Control because distance controls direction.  For example, if you hit too hard or too long, the ball will go through the break, and if you hit too soft or too short, it will break too much.

 

Where I live, this is great golf weather.  Hope my golfing readers get to enjoy the links this fall.  If you'd like to view Joe Kruse's Putting Video Tip, go to www.timberlinegc.com.

 

 


Pronoun Problems with HE and HIM

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

Today's local newspaper carries an article about an agreement with a suspended football coach.  The following sentence has a pronoun problem:

Craig said Shores' duties still have to be worked out between he and Shores.

First, let's get the grammar corrected.  BETWEEN is a preposition, and that means that a pronoun used with it should be in the OBJECT case (HIM rather than HE in this case).  The grammatically correct sentence would read this way:

Craig said Shores' duties still have to be worked out between him and Shores.

 

I do think this sentence can be improved a little more, perhaps by eliminating the "between" phrase altogether.  I would suggest something like this:

Craig said he and Shores still need to work out what Shores' duties will be.

 

The following Grammar Glitch rule applies in the above example:

RULE #1: IF YOU CORRECT THE GRAMMAR OF SOMETHING YOU HAVE WRITTEN AND THEN DON'T LIKE THE RESULT, FIND ANOTHER CORRECT WAY TO MAKE THE SAME STATEMENT.