Archive for the ‘clear sentences’ Category

Numbers, Baby!

Numbers

If a number is one or two words, or begins a sentence, spell it out. Otherwise, use figures.

Wrong:

For 13 tortuous dates I had to listen to Tiffany’s inane chatter about her ex-boyfriend, her manicures, her hemorrhoids, and I had to watch her light up the hash pipe before we boinked, But those 13 tortuous dates are over. I am free! Free! Free!

Right:

For thirteen tortuous dates I had to listen to Tiffany’s inane chatter about her ex-boyfriend, her manicures, her hemorrhoids, and I had to watch her light up the hash pipe before we boinked, But those thirteen tortuous dates are over. I am free! Free! Free!

A sentence starts with a number. You have two choices: spell out the number or rewrite the sentence.

Wrong:

125,000 parasitic worms were living in my intestinal tract, causing me nausea, weakness, insomnia, and pain.

Better:

Doctors estimated that 125,000 parasitic worms were living in my intestinal tract, causing me nausea, weakness, insomnia, and pain.

Use figures for addresses, dates, percents, fractions, scores, decimals, statistics, exact money amounts, divisions of books and plays, pages, ID numbers, and time.

Addresses: I grew up at 45 Gurley Road, Stamford, Connecticut, a street that dead-ended on the Long Island Sound.

Dates: On September 11, 2001, I witnessed the catastrophe from my rooftop in Brooklyn.

Percents: After my visit to Yankee Stadium, I concluded that 72% of Yankee fans are dicks; the remainder are mentally ill.

Fractions: I added ½ a cup of Coca Cola to the pot roast, a move of such utter genius that my family, some 22 years later, still begs me for the recipe.

Scores: The Mets whipped the Yankees 10-2, whipped their sorry asses so severely that those pinstriped cry babies couldn’t sit or shit for a week.

Decimals: It’s a sad fact that 0.82 of all men who shoot their wives do so after the divorce, while .73 of women who shoot their husbands do so while they are still married. No woman, however, has ever shot her husband while he’s doing the dishes.

Statistics: The average brain weight of a human brain is 3 pounds; average weight of Yankee fan brains is 1.3 pounds.

Exact money amounts: In 2001, I made $42,383.15 after I had my teeth laser-whitened, my skin tanning machine bronzed, and my posture straightened by 30 sessions with an Alexander Technique specialist.

Divisions of books: In volume 8, chapter 1, page 702, I learned that the closest thing to a Japanese wife is a Jewish husband.

Divisions of plays: In Shakespeare’s Othello, act 5, scene 2, Othello says, “I took by the throat the circumcised dog and smote him thus,” just before stabbing himself.

ID numbers: After the fire, all that was left was a tattooed serial number 32455500921, and a stick of Wrigley’s Big Red, cinnamon-flavored chewing gum.

Time: At precisely 4:30 a.m., I pulled my Checker cab onto the Queensborough Bridge, carrying two strippers from Scores, three sticks of dynamite, four tabs of windowpane acid, five filter-less Camels, six xiao long bao dumplings from Joe’s Shanghai Dumplings in Chinatown, seven double cheeseburgers from White Castle, eight AirLight, Rimfire, Model 10, 600 Series. Smith & Wesson revolvers, nine Trojan ultra-ribbed ecstasy condoms, and ten rotten teeth.

Verb Tenses

Verbs.

Simple present:

I hate me We hate me

You hate me. You hate me

It hates me They hate me

Simple present with irregular verb.

I do me We do me

You do me You do me

He does me They do me

Simple past:

I despised your socks

We despised their kids

You despised my scrambled eggs

You despised his last girlfriend

She despised our relationship

They despised Halo II

Past Perfect

By the time I arrived home, I had driven to The Bronx and back.
By the time you woke, you had realized the relationship was a sham.
By the time the eggs were cooked, her grandfather had died.
By the time we fell in love with her, she had fallen in love with Brian.
By the time you left the movie, the meteor had slammed into the Empire State Building.
By the time they finished college, the economy had collapsed.

Fix:

1. Her lipstick discombobulate his brain.

2. Last week, we visit a nice cave, find a nice club, and kidnap a nice wife.

3. By the time we arrived at 23rd Street, we have been on the subway for 23 hours.

 

Write about fiction and fictional events in the present tense:

In love with the pyrokinetic, Liz Sherman, Hellboy covertly follows her and FBI agent John Myers.

In Grand Theft Auto IV, Niko Bellic comes to New York City, searching for the American Dream, but quickly becomes enmeshed in a seedy mix of dames, drugs, and deli food.

It is my sad duty to report that in the final volume, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry Potter does not die.  Instead, he defeats Voldemort and—this is a wild guess—gets his first kiss from Hermione.

 

hellboy and Liz

 

Fix:

1. Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio), sank into the icy waters of the North Atlantic as Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet), debated whether, upon reaching New York, she would buy a Whopper or a Big Mac.

 

2. At the Battle of Waterloo, the Duke of Wellington, allied with the Prussian army under the command of Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, defeats Napoleon Bonaparte, who makes a number of tactical errors.

 

Pronoun Reference Problems

Pronoun references must be clear. Each pronoun must have a clear antecedent. The antecdent is the noun to which the pronoun refers. When it is not clear who or what or where the antecedent is, the reader starts thinking about lunch. In the following sentence, it is unclear whether the pronoun he refers to Kane or to Abel.

After Kane slew Abel, he just lay there, not moving.

One possible revision:

Kane murdered Abel, then, realizing he had killed his own brother, collapsed on the grass, crying.

In the above example, Kane apparently lays on the ground after murdering his brother.
Another revision:

Kane killed Abel, then lay down beside his dead brother and didn’t move.

Both revisions eliminate the pronoun, making it clear that we are talking about Kane.

Wrong:

Before Julie hid the bomb’s detonator in the suitcase, she discreetly caressed its rubber buttons.

Right:

Julie discreetly caressed the bomb detonator’s rubber buttons before hiding it in the suitcase.

In the above sentence, we can easily tell that the pronouns she and its refer to Julie and her detonator.

Remote reference. The pronoun occurs way too long after the antecedent, confusing the reader.

Again, after midnight, my mother stomped into my room and began to scream at me. Instead of listening, I watched the wonderful witch’s white lips berate me for not taking my anti-depressants, for not doing my French homework, for not reconciling with Brad, for not wearing the Ann Klein sweater she’d picked out, for not paying as much rent as my sister paid. I hated her.

The pronoun her refers to “my mother.” which occurs several sentences before.

Below are four common ways that pronouns cause confusion.

Avoid broad reference of this, that, which, and it.
Do not use a pronoun to refer to an implied antecedent
Avoid the indefinite use of they, it, and you.
To refer to persons, use who, whom, or whose, not which or that.

Excercises: Fix the following sentences so their pronouns agree with the antecedents.

1. Andre the Giant began to see what I saw and realized that he not only could finally overcome my physicality and artiness and speed in the ring, as well as steal my wife, but that he could do it by taking more pastry cooking classes.

2. Her main course was a chewy disappointment while her dessert was a torrid swath of licorice and confectioners sugar. They should acknowledge that the meal was out of control.

3. They insist that a good romp in the hay adds thrill juice to even the driest marriage.

4. She had adorned her skin with tattoos of human cannonballs and trashy portraits of Harley choppers. This led her students to believe she was a biker chick. In fact, she adored Martha Stewart.

Fragments and Run-ons

two-scoops.jpg

Fragments and Run-ons

A sentence fragment, or incomplete sentence, is not a sentence, though sometimes it looks like one.

On Christmas morning, when she came to my room to wake me with a delectable slice of cheesecake and two scoops of vanilla ice cream. She wore a big smile.

Viewed alone, the fragment is easier to spot:

On Christmas morning, when she came to my room to wake me with a delectable slice of cheesecake and two scoops of vanilla ice cream.

Fragments are incomplete sentences. To tell if a sentence is incomplete—if it lacks a subject, for example—examine it outside of its paragraph.

Example:

As was the case with the aromatic sauna. everyone in there stared helplessly at the brilliant brunette. Even scientific Cinderella.

Here are the sentences alone:

As was the case with the aromatic sauna.
Everyone in there stared helplessly at the brilliant brunette.
Even scientific Cinderella.

Some sentences are so long, by the time we get to the end, we are unable to see
their incompleteness.

The starved Gazillionaire, having gulped two glassfuls of the cloyingly sweet
Nestles Quick, having done battle with the buttery basket of bagels, and having
tasted fresh-whipped cream as soft as a kiss.

Do not confuse a participial phrase with a complete sentence. (A participial phrase includes the participle and the object of the participle or any words modified by or related to the participle.

Benny, shaking like jelly as he walked to and from school each day, through
wind and rain.

Sentences without subjects are often incomplete:

Eating both the wrapper and the candy. Rebecca did that a lot.

Exercises. Sentence fragments
1. Bink Hammerstrom, wearing his loud new cowboy boots, which he purchased with his last paycheck.
2. It is wrong to kill another human being. Except Yankee fans.
3. Growing up with a mom who wears a thong is hard for a young person. Especially when she also dons a tutu.
4. Corey once licked the lobe of her ear. A gesture that earned him a brutal face-slap.
5. She is a fine woman. Someone you can depend on. No matter how many Celine Dion records she owns.
6. She also sent my friend Debra the same thing. Which had Debra’s mother frothing at the mouth.
7. I hated my neighborhood. Due to a confrontation over loud music with a head-case named Charles who lived in the basement of his apartment building.
8. There would have been no divorce. If it hadn’t been for my older brother Kareem, who happened to walk in and catch my father.
9. It turns out that Saul and his girlfriend were offered money. And were moved into a witness protection program for testifying against Dag.
10. If they are unhappy in their marriages, they will have a temporarily joyful fling. Like Myrtle who looked to Tom as a way to escape her husband.

Run-on Sentences.

Run-on sentences are improperly joined independent clauses. An independent clause is a group of words that could stand alone as a sentence. When you’ve got two independent clauses in the same sentence, you must join them, with a coordinating conjunction or a semi-colon. There are two kinds of run-ons: a fused sentence (when two independent clauses run together without punctuation), and a comma splice (when two independent clauses are joined with a comma.

A fused sentence:

I kissed her neck I spilt my drink in her lap.

Fix #1:

I kissed her neck, and I spilt my drink in her lap.

Fix #2:

I kissed her neck; I spilt my drink in her lap.

A comma splice:

In the fall, ducks fly south, I go to Macy’s.

Fix #1:

In the fall, ducks fly south; I go to Macy’s.

Fix # 2:

In the fall, ducks fly south, and I go to Macy’s.

Examples:
1. There was one reason my head got stuck, someone had painted the wall with glue.

2. I’m going to count to three, and if you’re not doing homework I call off your birthday party okay, I’m going to count to three again.

Subject-Verb Agreement

eyebrows.jpg

Make verb agree with its subject, not with a word that comes between.

Wrong:
The overplucked brows on that face needs serious eyebrow penciling.

Right:
The overplucked brows on that face need serious eyebrow penciling.

The word “and” makes the subjects plural

Wrong:
His broad soft belly and glassy grey eye scares me to my bones.

Right:
His broad soft belly and glassy grey eye scare me to my bones.

If you join subjects with “or” or “nor” make the verb agree with the part of the subject nearer to the verb.

Wrong:
If a cigarette or a doobie are what you need, call me after midnight and I’ll be right over.
Right:
If a cigarette or a doobie is what you need, call me after midnight and I’ll be right over.

Wrong:
Neither Belasco nor his five girlfriends was capable of listening to advice; they were too drunk with passion.

Right:
Neither Belasco nor his five girlfriends were capable of listening to advice; they were too drunk with passion.

Indefinite pronouns are singular

Examples of indefinite pronouns:

Anybody, anyone, anything, each , either, everybody, everyone, everything, neither, nobody, no one, nothing, somebody, someone, something.

Wrong:

Everyone on the battlefield during a missile barrage know that death is near.

Right:
Everyone on the battlefield during a missile barrage knows that death is near.

Most collective nouns are singular

Committee, jury, audience, family, troop are examples of collective nouns. Unless the meaning is obviously plural, treat them as singular.

Wrong:
The audience detested Good Charlotte’s top ten hit “The Anthem,” so they pelted the band with chewing gum and used Tampons.

Right:
The audience detested Good Charlotte’s top ten hit “The Anthem,” so it pelted the band with chewing gum and used Tampons.

Verb must agree with the subject even when subject follows verb

Wrong:
There was a 3-foot tall lunatic dressed as Puff Daddy and a 10-foot laughing clown who made the children cry.

Right:
There were a 3-foot tall lunatic dressed as Puff Daddy and a 10-foot laughing clown who made the children cry.

Who, which, and that, need verbs that agree with their antecedents.

Wrong:
My ability to lie is one of the things that make me a better guy than you.

Right:
My ability to lie is one of the things that makes me a better guy than you.

Many words look plural—measles, mumps, athletics, mathematics—but are singular.

Wrong:
Mathematics are my favorite subject because Professor Lobachevsky is cuter than Sponge Bob Squarepants.

Right:
Mathematics is my favorite subject because Professor Lobachevsky is cuter than Sponge Bob Squarepants.

sponge-bob-in-panties.jpg

Exercises.

1. The friendship of the lame little balloonman and the bubblelicious teacher’s pet have, over the past decade, meant a great deal to me.

2. Her breasts swings lightly as she bend; she is a woman in the prime of life.

3. Young, hot, and divorced, Ashley and her sisters dates only tawdry and tacky fellows.

4. Waiting in the dugout, chewing tobacco, was a Bolshevik Jew and a blood-thirsty blob of mozzarella sticks.

5. Neither the naked truth nor the huge mothers was able to force him to confess.

6. Bink and Pepper make out until their lips turn to mush.

7. Scarlett Johansson and Pete Yorn is singing a duet tonight at the Pimple Pop Café.

8. If a pair of Levi’s skinny or two pairs of Calvin Klein copper wash is needed, then spend what you must.

9. Arnold and I believes that shopping for a Hugo Boss suit should be as uncomplicated as buying a dirty water hotdog.

10. Steve Phillips, former general manager of the New York Mets and fired ESPN analyst, and his ex doink buddy, shlubby seductress Brooke Hundley, is not in love.

shlubby seductress