Posts Tagged ‘pronoun’

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.


Reporter names bar manager’s cocktail for contest?

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

The Hot and Hot Fish Club is a great Birmingham restaurant, and the bar manager there recently won the local round of a contest for inventing an original cocktail.  Feizal Valli, who was born in Nairobi, does not name his wonderful cocktail in the local newspaper article, BUT the Birmingham News staff writer who wrote the article gives it an odd name by using the pronoun IT'S in the wrong place.  Take a look at these two sentences:

Last month, Valli won the Birmingham round of a contest sponsored by Bombay Sapphire Gin and GQ for inventing an original cocktail.  It's called the Nationwide Most Inspired Bartender Search, and the winner last year got a cover on the sponsoring magazine. 

A major rule of good pronoun usage is that the pronoun must refer to the previous noun closest to it.  Here, IT is the pronoun, so it should refer to COCKTAIL.  However, NATIONWIDE MOST INSPIRED BARTENDER SEARCH is the name of the contest, not the name of the cocktail.  The way to correct this is to replace the pronoun with THE CONTEST.

Last month, Valli won the Birmingham round of a contest sponsored by Bombay Sapphire Gin and GQ for inventing an original cocktail.  The contest is called the Nationwide Most Inspired Bartender Search, and the winner last year got a cover on the sponsoring magazine.

In case any of you are interested, this original cocktail contains two ounces of Bombay Sapphire Gin, a half ounce of lime juice, three muddled blackberries, and a half ounce of sumac simple syrup. (Sumac is an herb common in the Middle East.)

 


New York Daily News headline uses IT’S where ITS should be.

Friday, August 19th, 2011

An online headline for New York Daily News caught my eye on Tuesday.  Here it is:

Whoops!  IT'S with an apostrophe is always the contraction of IT + IS or IT + HAS.  The copy editor should have corrected to ITS without the apostrophe to show that the 'wealthy economy' belongs to the U.S. (Or so we continue to hope!)  This headline should read as follows:

Fitch Ratings: U. S. and its 'wealthy economy' still AAA.

FOOTNOTE: To the credit of New York Daily News, when I searched for this article again this morning, the headline had been corrected.

My sincere thanks to Michelle Baker for her two guest posts last week, which I'm sure you enjoyed.

 

 


WHO? WHOM? Bristol Palin article gets it wrong.

Monday, July 4th, 2011

Twenty-year-old Bristol Palin visits Birmingham this week to promote her memoir.  I doubt I had enough experiences or enough perspective at age twenty to write a memoir, but then, I'm not Bristol Palin.  (NOTE: The photo here shows Bristol at age 17, with her brother Trigg–not her son Tripp.)

Alec Harvey interviewed Bristol about the writing of the book and included this sentence in his comments:

In "Not Afraid of Life," Palin recounts her distrust of Meghan McCain, whom, she writes, wore thousand-dollar dresses and constantly complained about her treatment."

Whoops! Whether to use WHO or WHOM depends on the part the word plays in its own private clause.  In this sentence, WHO is the subject (WHO wore thousand-dollar dresses…).  Here are some examples of how WHOM (object) and WHO (subject) should be used in similar sentences:

Palin says she distrusted Meghan McCain, from WHOM (object) she heard constant complaints.

To WHOM (object) was Palin referring when she wrote about the thousand-dollar dresses?

WHO (subject) wore thousand-dollar dresses on the campaign trail?

Bristol Palin and Meghan McCain are both children WHO (subject) have politicians for parents.

 In "Lifestyle" writer Alec Harvey's sentence in The Birmingham News, WHO would be the correct choice.  The sentence should read as follows:

In "Not Afraid of Life," Palin recounts her distrust of Meghan McCain, who, she writes, wore thousand-dollar dresses and constantly complained about her treatment."


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.


“Ladies happens”…”cash balances lags”…”gas prices pushes”…Agreement epidemic continues.

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

The subject/verb agreement virus struck again with vengeance this week. I will share three examples from among those I spotted. The first appeared in this online Associated Press headline on April 14:

Rising gas prices pushes wholesale costs higher

Whoops! I clicked to the story itself to see if the online headline was just a momentary glitch, but the story headline contained the same error.  The subject of this sentence is PRICES, not GAS.  Therefore, the verb should be plural, which is PUSH rather than PUSHES. The headline should read this way:

Rising gas prices push wholesale costs higher

The second example appeared in a Business section news story by Birmingham News staff writer Russell Hubbard who created this sentence:

The cash balances at metro-area companies lags  that  of the country's largest publicly traded corporations, some of which hold tens of billions.

Whoops again! The subject of this sentence is BALANCES, not CASH. Therefore, because BALANCES is plural, the verb should be LAG, which is plural. There is also a problem with the pronoun THAT, which is singular. It is supposed to refer back to BALANCES, not CASH, so the correct pronoun choice is THOSE, which is plural. Here is the correction:

 The cash balances at metro-area companies lag  those  of the country's largest publicly traded corporatiions, some of which hold tens of billions  .

The final example appears in Alene Gamel's "Weddings 911" column in a discussion about the difference between a bridal shower and a bridal tea:

If there happens to be a few ladies who are invited to both a shower and the tea, it will not be a major faux pas.

Whoops for the third time! As I have mentioned in previous posts, when the word THERE appears before the verb, the actual subject (in this case, LADIES) comes after the verb. LADIES is plural. Therefore, the verb should be HAPPEN, which is also plural.

I don't object to using THERE as a sentence construct, but I don't believe it is the best choice in this sentence. I would simply put it this way (with the plural verb ARE):

If a few ladies are invited to both a shower and the tea, it will not be a major faux pas.

That seems much simpler and more direct to me.


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!