Archive for the ‘pronoun’ Category

Muddled sentence has multiple problems.

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

Here is a badly muddled sentence that appeared in a Birmingham News article last week.  A substitute teacher did not report the spill of a large vial of mercury in a school chemistry lab, and officials were concerned about exposure.  Here is the sentence:

Birmingham city school officials will get results from mercury tests it conducted Friday on Putnam Middle School students and faculty in about a week, but don't expect to find anything problematic after a spill shut down the school this week.

Oh my! Where do I begin to correct this? First, the pronoun IT is not clear.  What does it refer to?  If the BIRMINGHAM CITY SCHOOL OFFICIALS (plural and human) are going to get the mercury test results, then it seems logical that THEY (not IT) conducted those tests.

Second, the phrase IN ABOUT A WEEK is way out of place in this sentence. It needs to be much closer to what it refers to, which is the MERCURY TESTS. 

Third, as worded, this sentence makes it sound as if the verb phrase DON'T EXPECT is directed as a command or imperative to the reader, but I think the reporter meant to suggest that those Birmingham school officials at the beginning of the sentence are the ones who DON'T EXPECT to find anything problematic.  The simple fix for this is to use the pronoun THEY a second time to refer back to the officials.

Fourth, I think the information in this sentence should be reversed, putting the expectations of the officials before the BUT.

Here is my suggested rewording:

Birmingham city school officials don't expect to find anything problematic after a spill shut down Putnam Middle School this week, but they will get results in about seven days from mercury tests conducted Friday on students and faculty.

 

A NOTE OF WELCOME to new readers from my Grammar and Usage workshops in Mobile and Montgomery this week.  Please feel free to comment or ask questions, and don't forget to use the Search slot on the Home Page to find other blog posts that interest you.


Apostrophe epidemic continues with YOU’RE for YOUR.

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

As part of an email discussion about an upcoming workshop, I received this question yesterday:

Can you let me know what you're daily rate is?

Whoops! As I have "preached" before, YOU'RE is a contraction of the two words YOU and ARE.  It can only be used where the words YOU and ARE (subject and verb) would fit in a sentence.

This writer needed the word YOUR, which is a possessive pronoun that describes something (in this case, DAILY RATE) that belongs to YOU. The sentence should read this way:

Can you let me know what your daily rate is?

 

EASY REMINDER: YOUR and YOU'RE are not interchangeable. They have different meanings and different functions.


Ostrich farm doesn’t have IT’S head in the sand!

Monday, June 6th, 2011

The Birmingham News has a Sunday column titled "Outside Looking In: What They're Saying About Us." I was quite surprised to discover, when reading this column last Sunday, that Michael Hastings (Hastings Ostrich Farms in Australia) thinks everyone in Alabama wears boots. He does sell his ostrich leather boots in Alabama, but I believe his opinion is slightly exaggerated.  Perhaps he has Alabama confused with Texas?

Anyway, Greg Richter put this sentence in the column and gave me the opportunity to remind readers once again about the difference between ITS (possessive, as in belonging to an ostrich farm) and IT'S (contraction of IT + IS, as in IT'S an exaggeration to say that everyone in Alabama wears boots.)

Ostrich leather is the second most durable, behind kangaroo, they say down under, and Hastings Ostrich Farms doesn't have it's head in the sand over the opportunities that entails.

This sentence needs the possessive ITS (without the apostrophe) to show that the HEAD belongs to the HASTINGS OSTRICH FARMS. The sentence should read this way:

Ostrich leather is the second most durable, behind kangaroo, they say down under, and Hastings Ostrich Farms doesn't have its head in the sand over the opportunities that entails.


Pronoun Carelessness: Which of two women actually appeared in “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman”?

Friday, May 6th, 2011

The latest Hollywood death headline tells of a 1950s era Playboy playmate who appeared in several cult movies back in the 1950s. Her name was Yvette Vickers. An Associated Press article by Greg Risling (and quoted in The Birmingham News) contains an interview with one of Vickers' neighbors. The article uses the pronoun SHE in a confusing way. Here is the paragraph:

" There is a feeling of safety on this street," said author Terri Cheney, who has lived there since 1994. She was born Yvette Vedder on Aug. 26, 1928, in Kansas City, Mo. She took up acting and, in the 1950s, appeared in 'Attack of the 50 Foot Woman' and other cult films." 

 

Whoops! A pronoun takes the place of a noun, and the noun it replaces should not be far away. I'm sure the author Terri Cheney, a bestselling author and former entertainment attorney, would be surprised to find someone describing her as a cult film actress! It is the woman who died–Yvette Vickers–who was born Yvette Vedder in Kansas City, and it is Yvette Vickers who appeared in cult films in the 1950s. However, her name (which should be the antecedent noun for SHE) does not appear anywhere in this paragraph, which should read something like this:

"There is a feeling of safety on this street," said author Terri Cheney, who has lived there since 1994. Cheney's neighbor, Yvette Vickers, whose body was found this week, was born Yvette Vedder on Aug. 26, 1928, in Kansas City, Mo. She took up acting and, in the 1950s, appeared in 'Attack of the 50 Foot Woman' and other cult films."

Whenever you use a pronoun (SHE, HER, HE, HIM, for example), make sure its noun/antecedent is close by enough that the pronoun reference makes sense. Meanwhile, I'm wondering where the idea for a 50 foot woman came from–a wimpy man's nightmare, perhaps? SHE must have been quite a sight.

 

 


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.

 


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.