January 27th, 2015
The first 2015 issue of The Pest Bulletin arrived with my pest control bill this week. In its article about bed bugs (Ugh!), I came across this sentence, which is a classic example of how to muddy your writing by avoiding parallel structure:
"The study found that bed bugs can both transmit to mice the parasite that causes Chagas disease–they can also pick up the disease from infected mice."
BOTH followed by a dash is not the way to word this. AND might work (BOTH TRANSMIT AND…), but it doesn't create the correct relationship. My choice would be the phrases NOT ONLY and BUT ALSO, which work well in this type of situation:
The study found that bed bugs not only can transmit to mice the parasite that causes Chagas disease, but they can also pick up the disease from infected mice.
Sorry for the "Ugh!" factor in this post. If you'd like to see how "whether stripping" not only keeps out cold air but also reduces the number of pests coming into your home, please see my Grammar Glitch Central Facebook page for January 26.
January 20th, 2015
My thanks to regular Glitch reader Joe C. for sharing this hilarious example. Yes, even rugs need proofreading sometimes! My friend Linda Beam, who blogs at www.writetothepoint.net and has a Facebook page called Write to the Point, also shared this example.
Take a close look at this rug, which graced the floor of the Pinellas County (Florida) sheriff's office for several months before a deputy noticed that the phrase below the state insignia reads, "IN DOG WE TRUST."
The error is a simple reverse of letters, but it is a big Whoops!
Joe reports that the rug will now be auctioned off, with proceeds going to a local animal rescue entity.
Hopefully, a new position–Pinellas County Proofreader–will be established soon.
January 16th, 2015
Regular Grammar Glitch reader Joe C. shared this "fast fact" about the state of New Jersey and pointed out that the Glitch in this description highlights "the classic disagreement between subject and verb." He commented that many people have trouble with "tricky collective nouns" like COLLECTION, LAUNDRY, MONEY, and other "lump sum" items that cannot be counted individually.
In the sentence at left, COLLECTION is the subject, not SPOONS. No matter how many spoons are in the collection, it is only one collection that IS DISPLAYED. I would add that good professional writing style would use the words MORE THAN rather than OVER in this instance. The sentence should read this way:
A collection of more than 5,400 spoons is displayed at the Lambert Castle Spoon Museum in Paterson, New Jersey.
To see another example of poor subject/verb agreement, scroll back two posts to January 5 (titled "INFORMATION is like LAUNDRY, MONEY or SAND.")
January 10th, 2015
Mary Sanchez, opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star, could have benefited from a quick edit of her recent column about the new U. S. policy on Cuba. Using comparative and superlative forms like MORE and MOST can be tricky.
Take a look at this sentence:
"Our country's stand against the Castro regime was always mostly about the geopolitical threat to us, our country, than it was about the oppression of the Cuban people."
Good point, but MOSTLY is the superlative form (like GREATEST, FINEST, COSTLIEST). It does not imply a direct comparison between two things–in this case, THE GEOPOLITICAL THREAT TO OUR COUNTRY and THE OPPRESSION OF THE CUBAN PEOPLE. It does not fit with THAN. What is needed here is the comparative form, which would be MORE ABOUT….THAN…. The sentence should read this way:
Our country's stand against the Castro regime was always more about the geopolitical threat to us, our country, than it was about the oppression of the Cuban people.
We all make these mistakes as we commit our thoughts to paper. The solution is to spot and correct them by going back and editing the wording for clarity.
NOTE: Welcome to any of my Mobile workshop participants who may be reading this blog for the first time this week. I hope you find it useful and will visit often.
January 5th, 2015
Even experienced writers like long-time columnist Cal Thomas mess up subject/verb agreement sometimes. Here is a sentence from his excellent Christmas column, "What if the greatest story ever told is true?" A quick proofread by him or his editor would probably have caught this.
"The information provided by witnesses to these events are either true, or not."
Whoops! INFORMATION is a collective noun like LAUNDRY, MONEY, SALT, or SAND. These things are lump sums. We don't count them individually when we write or speak about them. In other words, people do not say that they have several LAUNDRIES to do today or that they have only one MONEY in the bank. They don't try to describe how many SALTS are in the shaker or how many SANDS are on the beach.
Therefore, these nouns are treated as singular and take a singular verb. Cal Thomas's sentence should read this way:
The information provided by witnesses to these events is either true, or not.
On the other hand, nouns that are not collective refer to things that can be counted, and people do say that they have several SHIRTS to wash or several DOLLAR BILLS on the table. They do describe the number of BEACHES in a state or the number of SALT SHAKERS in the cupboard.
The way to avoid this Glitch is to consider whether or not the noun you want to use refers to something that can be counted or not. Here are some sentences that illustrate this point:
1. The LAUNDRY is piling up this week.
The TOWELS are ready to be washed.
2. My MONEY is tied up in real estate.
There are three dollar BILLS on the counter.
3. The SAND on Gulf Coast beaches is bright white.
GRAINS of sand are in my shoes.
4. Is there enough SALT in the soup?
Three different KINDS of salt are on the shelf.
December 28th, 2014
I am about to finish a great first novel by Pauline Livers. Titled Cementville (Counterpoint Press) and set in rural Kentucky during the Vietnam War, it tells the story of a town that loses seven young National Guard soldiers in one brutal overseas attack. There is much more to it, but that is where the story begins.
I love the writing and the characterization, but I keep coming across sentences using LAY where LIE would be correct. Here are two examples:
from page 72: "…she lays staring at the brown stains in the ceiling, raggedy islands in a dirty sea."
from page 98: "They lay by the water on a soft bed of storm-tossed leaves,…"
Whoops! Both of these sentences are in the present tense, which means that a form of LIE is the correct choice. Here is why: LIE is an intransitive verb describing the act of reclining. It does not take an object. LAY is a transitive verb describing the act of putting or placing something. It does take an object (the thing being put or placed.)
Here is how these two sentences should read:
from page 72: "…she lies staring at the brown stains in the ceiling, raggedy islands in a dirty sea."
from page 98: "They lie by the water on a soft bed of storm-tossed leaves,…"
NOTE: For another example of how to use LIE and LAY correctly, please see my most recent Facebook post on the Grammar Glitch Central page. (December 28, 2014)
Please do not let these minor corrections keep you from seeking out and reading this excellent novel. If you like southern fiction that calls to mind writers like William Faulkner or Ron Rash, you will find Cementville to be a good read.
August 2nd, 2014
A letter to the editor in The Birmingham News last week included an odd, unintended perspective on war. The writer wanted to compare the current Israel/Palestine conflict to issues in the Korean War and made this statement:
In one of the most brilliant military strategies in the annuls of war, Gen. Douglas MacArthur landed behind enemy lines at Inchon and could have destroyed the North Korean Army and perhaps the Chinese Army.
Whoops! Much as I'd love to see war ANNULLED as a strategy for solving problems, the word this writer wanted is ANNALS (a chronological record of events). ANNUL is a verb (to make or declare invalid).
Personally, I rather like this incorrect usage. I pray regularly for the ANNULMENT of war and would rejoice in seeing the ANNALS of war be nothing but history, never to be repeated. What an idiotic, wasteful, and destructive way to resolve conflict!
June 9th, 2014
Parallel structure helps the reader move smoothly through a sentence because the reader does not have to keep "changing horses" or "switching gears" as far as the pattern is concerned. Once a writer sets a pattern for a series of items, he should stick to that pattern throughout the series. Consider this sentence from an excellent article about bullying that appeared recently in The Birmingham News:
Jefferson County Sheriff Mike Hale; rising Ramsay High School senior Brianna Gilbert; Christopher McCauley, the executive director of the David Mathews Center for Civic Life; and Birmingham Board of Education member Lyord Watson also said there needs to be better communication….\
The first, second, and fourth items in this series are in the same pattern: title, then name. For some reason, the writer jumps to a different pattern for the third item, giving the name first and then the title. Not only does this jar the pattern, it creates the necessity for semicolons between items because the title (coming after the name) must be set off by commas.
It is simpler to write and to read this way:
Jefferson County Sheriff Mike Hale, rising Ramsay High School senior Brianna Gilbert, David Mathews Center for Civic Life executive director Christopher McCauley, and Birmingham Board of Education member Lyord Watson also said there needs to be better communication….
May 22nd, 2014
I recently finished a wonderful historical novel, The Lavender Garden, by Lucinda Riley. Set during WWII, the story involves an aristocratic French family and their efforts to thwart Nazi aggression. Alternating scenes between a French chateau and an English country estate, the author introduces intriguing characters, several intertwined love stories, a winery, hidden rooms, the underground, and, of course, a lavender garden.
Although I loved the story and it kept me turning page and page to see what would happen next, I was jarred several times by grammatical errors that should have been caught either by the author or by an editor at Simon & Schuster. Here are three of them:
Whoops #1: A Dangling Participle Issue:
Plucked from different walks of life due to their particular suitability for the job in hand, she chatted to Francis Mont-Clare and Hugo Sorocki, both, like herself, half-French, James, and of course Henry the fighter pilot, the heartthrob of the group.
The main subject of this sentence is SHE (16 words into the sentence). Everything before SHE is an introductory participial phrase that should modify or describe SHE. However, the phrase describes all of the new underground recruits, so it is out of place and confusing. Here is a suggested rewrite that I think is clearer:
The members of the group had been plucked from different walks of life due to their particular suitability for the job at hand. She chatted with all of them–Francis Mont-Clare and Hugo Sorock, both, like herself, half-French; James; and, of course, Henry the fighter pilot, the heartthrob of the group.
Whoops #2: Who or Whom?
A few seconds later, a tall, dark-haired man whom, with his fine, chiseled bone structure, could be taken for nothing but French, emerged from the room in full dinner dress.
To make the correct choice here, the author needs to determine the subjects of both clauses in this sentence. The first subject is MAN. A tall…MAN EMERGED FROM THE ROOM…. The second subject should be WHO…WHO COULD BE TAKEN FOR NOTHING BUT FRENCH. The choice could only be WHOM if the word was supposed to be an object in the sentence. It should read this way:
A few seconds later, a tall, dark-haired man who, with his fine, chiseled bone structure, could be taken for nothing but French, emerged from the room in full dinner dress.
If I were editing this, I might suggest it would be more effective broken into two sentences this way:
A few seconds later, a tall, dark-haired man emerged from the room in full dinner dress. With his fine, chiseled bone structure, he could be taken for nothing but French.
Whoops #3: Subject/Verb Agreement
Alex's mention of his brother's mood swings were all she could find to comfort her.
MENTION (singular), not MOOD SWINGS (plural) is the subject of this sentence. Therefore, the verb should be WAS (singular) instead of WERE (plural). It should read this way:
Alex's mention of his brother's mood swings was all she could find to comfort her.
As editor, I think I would suggest reversing this sentence for smooth wording:
All she could find to comfort her was Alex's mention of his brother's mood swings.
Please don't let these Grammar Glitches keep you from reading this excellent novel. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
April 14th, 2014
Kim Komando's April 11, 2014, Special to USA Today offers good advice on 4 places not to swipe your debit card. However, Komando could benefit from some good advice about two common Grammar Glitches. One is subject/verb agreement, as seen in this sentence:
It's not widely appreciated that consumer responsibility for debit-card charges are different than they are for credit cards.
Whoops! The subject in the second clause of this sentence is RESPONSIBILITY (singular). Therefore, the verb should be IS not ARE. The verb is not affected by the prepositional phrase FOR DEBIT-CARD CHARGES. Often, as is the case here, it is necessary to make other adjustments when you correct a verb agreement problem. THEY ARE must now be changed to IT IS. The sentence should read this way:
It's not widely appreciated that consumer responsibility for debit-card charges is different than it is for credit cards.
If you would like to see the Komando's other Grammar Glitch and its solution, please check out today's entry on Facebook's Grammar Glitch Central page.