Archive for the ‘sentence structure’ Category

Weird Wording #1 and #2: Proofread!

Thursday, April 2nd, 2015

Although grammar and usage standards are important for good writing, so are common sense and logic. Often, what your mind sends to your fingers is not exactly what you meant to say. That is one more reason why proofreading–with your brain in gear–is so important. You might think your message is clear, but when you go back and proofread, you can see that the wording needs tweaking.

Here are two examples of illogical statements written by people who did not go back and tweak;

PTDC0006 Why would the US want to beef up the vulnerability of its satellites? Most likely,  what this headline creator meant to suggest was that the US would beef up its  SATELLITE SECURITY in order to avoid VULNERABILITY. A quick proofread  before hitting "Send" should have caught this.

 

 

 

 

 

And a second illogical statement. This one appeared in the AL.com article I mentioned recently–the one with 17 errors in it. Here is the sentence:

The waste is mostly dry, the wetter waste, known as "cake" is scraped out during the 14-day span between the departure and arrival of the new flock.

This is a terrible sentence for several reasons. Let's begin with the logic. How can there be a 14-day span between the departure and arrival of the new flock? What this AL.com reporter is trying to convey is that there is a 14-day span between the departure of the previous flock (the one now on its way to dinner tables) and the arrival of the new flock (which will actually live for only six weeks before meeting the same fate).

 

So now the logic has been dealt with. Next up, the run-on sentence. THE WASTE IS MOSTLY DRY should stand alone as a separate sentence.

 

The reporter places a comma after WASTE, suggesting that what comes next is an inserted phrase (KNOWN AS "CAKE"), but he fails to place a second comma after CAKE to indicate the end of the insert.

 

All three of these things make for a sentence that causes the reader to utter a mental "Huh?" Here is a clearer, smoother version.

The waste is mostly dry. The wetter waste, known as "cake," is scraped out during the 14-day span between the departure of the previous flock and the arrival of the new one.

 

I hope these details did not ruin anyone's appetite. Happy proofreading.


Two spaces after a period? Kelly Kazek column has great answer!

Thursday, March 26th, 2015

Kelly KazekDuring business writing workshops, I am often asked about the proper number of spaces after a period at the end of a sentence. There is usually disagreement among the participants. Some say two spaces, absolutely. Others say one is enough.

The simple answer in 2015 is that one space is enough. Unlike typewriters, word processors automatically apportion the correct amount of space between letters and punctuation marks. If you doublespace after the period in something you've keyed in on a word processor, the receiver might have to make adjustments in the copy for your extra space.

In her column in The Birmingham News on Sunday, March 22, 2015, Kelly Kazek, who writes for Al.com from her base in Huntsville, offered a humorous look at this dilemma as well as some good examples of how that doublespace after a period is often viewed:

  • It makes you look older than carrying an AARP card in your wallet.
  • People will know you are now old enough to be a Walmart greeter.
  • Some HR folks use this to screen job applicants.
  • It is obsolete. No one teaches typing anymore.
  • Editors have to rekey copy submitted with two spaces after the period.
  • It is a "travesty" that bugs Kelly Kazek.

If you'd like to read Kelly's complete column, which is as hilarious as it is informative, you can find her on Pinterest at "Odd Travels" or "Real Alabama." Kelly says she writes about "the quirkiness of human nature from a humorous point of view," and this column is a perfect example. You can contact her at kkazek@al.com, find her on Facebook, or use this link to read her actual column: http://www.al.com/living/index.ssf/2015/03/for_the_love_of_punctuation_st.html. If you follow this link, you can also read the amazing array of comments.

Speaking of Facebook, please check out my post from March 25, 2015, which chastises Birmingham News reporters for using an apostrophe to form the plural of a word. As of this afternoon, this has been my most popular Facebook post yet at Grammar Glitch Central. That apostrophe error bugs me as much as the extra space after the period bugs Kelly.


ONTO or ON TO? Use your head about the meaning.

Monday, February 16th, 2015

Here is a sentence I came across in an Associated Press release about FBI Director James Comey's comments on race relations and law enforcement:

"Answering questions after a speech at Georgetown University, he noted that there was 'a tendency to move onto other things as busy people.'"

Whoops #1: There is a difference in meaning between ONTO and ON TO. ONTO involves motion to the top of something, as in jumping ONTO the top of a picnic table or gluing glitter ONTO a greeting card. ON TO uses ON to suggest going forward, as in moving ON or getting ON and TO to indicate which direction the subject is heading. 

Whoops #2: AS BUSY PEOPLE is in the wrong location for the meaning.

This sentence should read as follows:

Answering questions after a speech at Georgetown University, he noted that there was, among busy people, "a tendency to move on to other things."

 


Commas are like breadcrumbs: They mark the trail through a sentence.

Friday, December 6th, 2013

When I teach business writing workshops, I like to explain commas as trail markers through the meaning of a sentence.One important trail marker is the comma at the end of an introductory clause or phrase. If it is left out, the reader can get lost trying to find the main subject and the focus of the sentence.Hansel and Gretel

A recent newsletter from the Gulas group makes some good points about email clutter and how to avoid it, but several of the sentences are difficult to read because this important trail marker has been left out. Take a look at these examples:

"Armed with this knowledge you will make better decisions."

"Set correctly your Calendar view will show your appointments,…."

"As more and more people synchronize their smartphones and mobile devices they are being distracted by email alerts, meeting reminders at all sorts of inconvenient times."

Each of the above sentences is difficult to read because of the missing comma, which would point out the location where the main clause begins. Here is how these sentences should be punctuated–with a comma after the introductory phrase or clause:

Armed with this knowledge, you will make better decisions.

Set correctly, your Calendar view will show your appointments.

As more and more people synchronize their smartphones and mobile devices, they are being distracted by email alerts (and) meeting reminders at all sorts of inconvenient times.


Even cartoonists need to proofread.

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

From time to time, one of my readers (who goes by the nickname "Bob the Bookworm") spots and shares useful Grammar Glitches. This week he focused on the funnies and sent me two glitches from "Blondie."

Here is the first one:

After noticing that his neighbor is selling a house bought just six months earlier, Dagwood says to Blondie, "Just once, I'd like to be the first one to get new information about the economy on this block!"

Whoops! Dagwood doesn't want information about the economy on HIS block. He wants to be the first on his block to get information about the economy in general. It should read this way:

"Just once I'd like to be the first one on this block to get new information about the economy!"

 

Here is the second one:

Dagwood is sitting at the lunch counter and tells his favorite cook about a newspaper article he is reading. "Scientists say they'll be able to replicate a synthetic meat in the laboratory."

Whoops! REPLICATE means to copy or make a duplicate of. SYNTHETIC refers to an artificial version of something natural, like meat. The scientists are not going to copy the synthetic meat. They are going to create a synthetic version of real meat. The sentence should read this way:

"Scientists say they'll be able to CREATE a synthetic meat in the laboratory."

 

Bob the BookwormThanks, Bob!  Keep up the good work!

 

 


Without commas, three-year-old follows boss’s orders for his mom.

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

Here is an interesting sentence from an article about ongoing gambling issues in Alabama:

Spina said he will argue that Pouncy is a hardworking mother and wife with a 3-year-old son who reluctantly followed her boss' orders because she feared losing her job.

 

As written, this sentence makes it sound as if the three-year-old son reluctantly followed the boss's orders. Two well-placed commas would clear up the confusion.  Here is a clearer version of the sentence:

Spina said he will argue that  Pouncy, a hardworking mother and wife with a 3-year-old son,    reluctantly followed her boss' orders   because she feared losing her job.

Putting commas around the phrase A HARDWORKING MOTHER AND WIFE WITH A 3-YEAR-OLD SON lets the main clause of the sentence (POUNCY RELUCTANTLY FOLLOWED HER BOSS'S ORDERS) stand out and make sense.


One article okay for two nouns? It depends.

Monday, April 30th, 2012

I came across this caption under a photograph in the local newspaper this week:

A  Canadian investment firm and entrepreneur  have acquired Eastwood Festival Centre and intend to add a police sub-station to the shopping center, as well as making other changes.

One thing or another has to be incorrect in this sentence. The verb is HAVE, which suggests that the subject is two separate entities (one CANADIAN INVESTMENT FIRM and one ENTREPRENEUR). However, if that is the case, the word AN should appear before ENTREPRENEUR, and it does not. As written, it sounds as if one entity–A CANADIAN INVESTMENT FIRM that is also an ENTREPRENEUR–HAS ACQUIRED the shopping center.

When I read the first paragraph of the article, it became clear that two entities are involved in the project. One is a CANADIAN INVESTMENT FIRM, and the other is an ENTREPRENEUR.  Therefore, the verb HAVE is correct, but the second entity requires its own article, AN.

I was also bothered by the lack of parallel structure between TO ADD in reference to the POLICE SUB-STATION and MAKING in reference to OTHER CHANGES.

In addition, I do not use a comma before AS WELL AS in the phrasing of a sentence.

Here is my suggested rewrite for this caption:

A Canadian investment firm and an entrepreneur have acquired Eastwood Festival Centre and intend to make changes to the shopping center, including the addition of a police sub-station.

 

A WORD OF WELCOME TO ALL THOSE TAKING MY ADVANCED BUSINESS WRITING WORKSHOPS DURING APRIL AND MAY.  I HOPE YOU WILL VISIT GRAMMAR GLITCH CENTRAL OFTEN.  PLEASE USE THE COMMENT SECTION FOR QUESTIONS AND OBSERVATIIONS.  YOU CAN ALSO INDICATE IF YOU WISH TO SIGN UP FOR EMAIL NOTIFICATION OF FUTURE POSTS.

 


Who is doing what–and when? Word order matters.

Monday, November 21st, 2011

I came across this sentence this morning in an Associated Press article about the accused al-Qaida sympathizer arrested yesterday in New York City:

He was under surveillance by New York police for at least a year who were working with a confidential informant and was in the process of building a bomb.

What was that again? When a reporter creates a prepositional phrase like FOR AT LEAST A YEAR, it is important to place it close to what it modifies, in this case UNDER SURVEILLANCE.  The subordinate clause WHO WERE WORKING WITH A CONFIDENTIAL INFORMANT refers to NEW YORK CITY POLICE, so it should be close to them.

Finally, it is the terrorist who WAS IN THE PROCESS OF BUILDING A BOMB, certainly not the NEW YORK POLICE, but when the reporter puts the word AND between WERE WORKING and WAS IN THE PROCESS, it sounds as if the police are doing both things.

This sentence needs a complete overhaul.  I would suggest writing it this way:

He was in the process of building a bomb and had been under surveillance for at least a year by New York police who were working with a confidential informant.

I hope you will agree that this is much clearer.


Use of FROM requires TO.

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

When you write about a range of items in a series, use of the word FROM should lead to the word TO.  The writer of this sentence did not proofread well or forgot this usage point:

Once again GLC would like to thank the designers of the unique tablescapes whose themes ranged from the beach, fiestas, children's fancy, football, fall and holiday elegance.

The tablescape themes ranged FROM a group of things TO another group of things.  Without the word TO, the sentence is awkward and seems to leave the reader hanging. I'd suggest rewording it this way:

Once again GLC would like to thank the designers of the unique tablescapes whose themes ranged from the beach, fiestas, and children's fancy to football, fall and holiday elegance.


Benefits only available on Monday? Plus an ambiguous “it.”

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

WHERE you place a phrase in a sentence could make a huge difference in meaning.  Take a look at this sentence that appeared in the national news feed this morning:

A federal judge temporarily blocked Florida's new law that requires welfare applicants to pass a drug test before receiving benefits on Monday, saying it may violate the Constitution's ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.

 

Whoops #1: As worded, the phrase ON MONDAY sounds as if it refers to when the welfare applicants will receive benefits.  i seriously doubt that would happen only on a Monday. ON MONDAY needs to be placed closer to TEMPORARILY BLOCKED because it refers to when the judge did this.

 Whoops #2: Grammar Glitch has mentioned before the importance of making sure a pronoun (IT in this case) is close enough to its antecedent (what IT refers to) for clear meaning.  In this sentence, IT is supposed to refer to Florida's new law, but the pronoun is too far away from FLORIDA'S LAW for that to be clear. In this sentence, it is probably simpler to repeat THE LAW instead of trying to decide where to place IT.

This sentence should read as follows:

On Monday a federal judge temporarily blocked Florida's new law that requires welfare applicants to pass a drug test before receiving benefits, saying the  law  may violate the Constitution's ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.