A Really Common Mistake

rogersgeorge on February 22nd, 2017

I suppose we’ll lose this battle, but “snuck” is incorrect. It’s “sneaked“!

Curtis - 02/14/2017

I suppose Ray Billingsley can be forgiven for wanting to make Curtis idiomatic, but don’t you ever use “snuck” in your writing. I suppose it’s imitative of sing, sang, sung. Except ever try saying “snack” for the past tense of “sneak”? Doesn’t work, does it? So we went with the perfect, and now we say “sung” when we mean “sang.” Sigh. I’m such a curmudgeon, wanting to get language right…

It’s spelled “meow,” by the way, and the sound kittens make is “mew.”

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rogersgeorge on February 20th, 2017

(I wrote about parallelism at least twice before. Follow the links.)

Parallelism in your writing is a good thing. Parallelism means that when you compare two (or more) ideas, the writing should have the same structure. Here are two sentences from an interesting Quora article that don’t have parallelism, but they should. So I’ll fix them.

 In many cases, it was starting to look like it would be cheaper to scrap some aircraft than trying to fix them.

The more aircraft they inspected the red flags were hoisted ever higher.

First sentence: (We’ll ignore that the “like” should be “as if.”) We’re comparing cheapness. The first part of the comparison is “…to scrap.” So far so good. But the second part is “trying to fix.” An infinitive and a present participle; not parallel. Our aircraft engineer has a couple options. He could write “…than (to) try to fix them.” Or he could write “…than to fix them.” (The “to” in parentheses is implied, so grammatically it’s there.) Anyway, now both parts of the sentence have infinitives, so now they match. Nice and parallel. Yes, he could change the first part, too: “Cheaper scrapping the planes than fixing them,” but I think the infinitives work better.

Second sentence: Here we’re comparing degree—the number of aircraft, and the height of the flags. “More” is the comparative form of “much,” and it comes first. “Higher” is also comparative, but it’s last! Put it first: The more aircraft they inspected, the higher the red flags were hoisted. Now the sentence has a nice parallelism.

Go thou and do likewise.

Let’s Practice being concise

rogersgeorge on February 16th, 2017

Being concise means you leave out unnecessary words. It also means choosing the shorter of two (or more) equivalent ways of saying something. Here’s a sentence from an interesting article in The Washington Post that’s nice and grammatical, but I’d say it’s a bit wordy. Unless I’m being paid by the word. (Which I’m not.)

This is primarily due to the fact that the low-level winds that blow from east to west across the tropical Pacific are at their weakest during this time of year, and consequently, small atmospheric changes can cause significant cooling or warming of the tropical Pacific.

Clear enough, and nice and chatty. Actually not too bad, and I wouldn’t be ashamed of it, but the sentence jumped out at me as a good example of how to be more concise. A lot of times you need to be concise, especially if the subject is complicated or boring. Here’s my take:

This is primarily due to the fact that because the low-level winds that blow from east to west across the tropical Pacific are at their weakest during this time of year right now, and consequently, so small atmospheric changes can cause significant cooling or warming of the tropical Pacific.

Here it is without the markup:

This is primarily because the low-level winds that blow east to west across the tropical Pacific are weakest right now, so small atmospheric changes can cause significant cooling or warming of the tropical Pacific.

That cut it about in half, and you get the same content. How much time would you save if your reading took half as long without losing any content? How much time would your readers save?

Okay, I just ran into a Dustin comic that mentions being concise. It’s a different kind of concise, though. But the principle applies, I think.

Dustin - 02/10/2017

Grammar and Motorcycles

rogersgeorge on February 14th, 2017

I happen to own a motorcycle, and I like motorcycling, so I guess that’s as good a reason as any to feature a motorcycle comic on Valentine’s Day. It was sent by my biker friend Jonathan Burt. I’m not sure where he got it.

The comic touches on a thought I’ve been meaning to post about for some time, but I’ve been waiting for a good example to make my point. This is it.

You can easily have more than one modifier in a sentence, and have them all refer to the same thing.

It can be tricky to decide what order to put those modifiers in. In fact the sentence above is an improvement over the first version of it that I wrote, which was

You can easily have more than one modifier in a sentence that refer to the same thing.

Does “that refer to the same thing” modify “sentence,” or does it modify “modifier”? It’s sitting right next to the word “sentence,” and the rule in English is that modifiers go as close to what they refer to as possible. But “sentence” is singular, and “refer” is plural. That can’t be right. I could have swapped the two modifying phrases and written:

You can easily have more than one modifier that refer to the same thing in a sentence.

But that still has the problem of “refer” being a plural verb sitting right next to a singular noun, “modifier.” It doesn’t sound right even though it is. (“More than one” is a plural.) So it’s a bad sentence either way. I solved the problem by making a compound sentence and doing some rewording.

Okay, that was a complicated example. Let’s go to the comic.

I saw a man riding a motorcycle with a broken leg.
I saw a man with a broken leg riding a motorcycle.

The rule about putting the modifier close to what it modifies works well with this sentence.

SO—when you have more than one modifier in your sentence, and they refer to the same thing, THINK!


Good Grammar, Bad Driving

rogersgeorge on February 12th, 2017

Mom’s bad driving and correcting of peoples’ grammar are running jokes in JumpStart.

Okay, I’ve never heard the thing/think mistake myself, but it must happen or Robb Armstrong wouldn’t have made the joke. She’s correct, though. The other joke in the strip is that he’s not exaggerating; he does mean “literally,” not “figuratively.”

And to add my own note of grammatical pedantry, when you exaggerate, you’re speaking hyperbolically.