This material falls into the category I call The Hard Part of Writing. It’s not hard, but you have to think about what you’re writing, which is easy to be careless about. The principle here is to use common sense, not grammar.
Rule: Write what you actually mean to say.
One of the main things I do when I’m editing someone else’s writing is look for this kind of mistake. In fact, the best way to notice this error is to put some time between the writing and the proofreading.
Here’s an example of someone not writing what they really mean: It’s from a pretty good online drawing program called Cacoo. It’s not unlike Visio in operation, and you can’t beat the price; it’s free.
Currently we support 20 languages but we want to increase the languages we support in order to make it easier for people to use Cacoo.
Here’s the problem: they don’t want to increase the languages themselves, they want to increase the number of languages they support. Since that’s what they mean, that’s what they should write. (Yes, I noticed that they should have written “to make it easier…” instead of “in order to make it easier…” I hope you did, too.)
Another example, this one from an animated talk given under the sponsorship of the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce).
It’s a shame that poor children’s lives are ruined because of an operation that costs only $20.
I rather suspect that the meaning was a lack of the operation, not the operation itself.
An HR professional wrote an article about what makes a strong candidate in a hiring interview. Here’s the link: http://lifehacker.com/5874647/why-i-wont-hire-you. The context of this statement was what to do when you find a strong candidate you don’t need.
I also tend to recommend these people to others who are hiring as strong candidates.
This sentence doesn’t quite make sense because the phrases are in the wrong order. Here’s what the writer meant:
I also tend to recommend these people as strong candidates to others who are hiring .
The “strong candidates” refers to ‘these people,” so that’s where the phrase should go. Next to what it refers to.
In a debate about healthcare for the poor, this misshapen pronouncement came out:
They deserve not to die because they can’t afford to catch their cancer early.
How would you re-word it so it makes sense?
Try your hand at these two, too:
Her legs were crossed over each other.
The two blocks were piled on top of each other.
(Those last two are tricky because was say them wrong so often.)