Archive for the ‘Sentence Problems’ Category

Coordination and Subordination (main and subordinate clauses)

Independent clause: A clause—a grammatical construction containing a subject and predicate (basically, a verb) that can stand by itself as a sentence.

Dependent clause: A dependent clause cannot stand by itself as a sentence, and functions as a noun, adjective or adverb.

Begonia should stifle her lunatic impulses and stop drinking.

Dependent clause: Begonia should stifle her lunatic impulses.
Independent clause: and stop drinking.

Compound sentence
A compound sentence contains two or more coordinate independent clauses but no subordinate clauses. “Coordinate clause” means the main clause.

I love crack, but I hate Camel filters.
I love sweet dreams, so I treasure my Swedish massage bed.

“but” and “so” are coordinating conjunctions (along with and, or, nor, for, and yet), often used to introduce independent clauses.

Complex sentence
A complex sentence contains one independent clause and one or more subordinate clauses. A subordinate clause is an independent clause that modifies the main clause.

Although my eyes had serious dark circles, I celebrated Mark’s birthday by going with him to the secret place under the stairs.

Whenever I clip my toenails and floss my molars, I think of Zelda.

Although and whenever are two examples of subordinating conjunctions—conjunctions that introduce subordinate clauses.

Compound-complex sentence (contains two or more independent clauses and one or more subordinate clauses)

Although her lips put me in a state of white heat, I vowed to escape her clutches, and I shredded her phone number.

Next to each of the following sentences, write compound, complex, or compound-complex.

a. Although RBD started out as a Mexican soap opera, it evolved into a group of six, sickeningly cute Latin pop singers.

RBD

b. She was modeling a Dior dress made of ruffled tulle and sheer gossamer and ostrich feathers, and she looked like a turkey wrapped in aluminum foil.

Beyonce in Dior

c. Because I am trying to drop seventy pounds, I am giving up candy forever, but I must eat one of these limited-edition Hershey Kisses.

d. Alladin had a lamp, but even he couldn’t make me fall for Calixta.

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Variety

1. All sentences do not have to begin with a subject and verb. You can place an adverb modifier at the beginning.

One way:

I often think of the twin towers when I visit downtown Manhattan.

Another way:

Often, when I visit downtown Manhattan, I think of the twin towers.

manhattan-batteryparkcity.jpg

One way:

The actress Ellen Barkin will eventually unload the $1 million, 15-carat diamond ring she got while married to Revlon boss Ron Perelman.

Another way:

Eventually, the actress Ellen Barkin will unload the $1 million, 15-carat diamond ring she got while married to Revlon boss Ron Perelman.

barkin.jpg

Exercise: Turn the following sentence around:

Katie Holmes ran incognito in the New York City Marathon until hubby Tom Cruise sprang from the crowd and planted, quickly, a big wet one on the Dawson Creek star’s saliva-speckled lips.

2. Vary sentence types. Too many compound sentences in a row—or too many of any sentence type—can be monotonous.

The following paragraph is made up of a simple sentence, a compound sentence, a complex sentence, and a compound-complex sentence.

Simple sentence.

Frequently, Robert Violante thinks of the day he was shot by David Berkowitz.

Compound Sentence

He was sitting in a car with Stacy Moskowitz, and he didn’t see the Son of Sam killer approaching.

Complex Sentence

Although Moskowitz was shot in the head and died the next day, Violante survived.

Compound-Complex Sentence:

Whenever Violente thinks of what happened to him and Stacy on July 31, 1977, he gets mad, and he hopes that Berkowitz never gets paroled.

Exercise: Take the following simple sentence and turn it into a compound sentence, a complex sentence, and a compound-complex sentence:

The film American Gangster glorifies drug kingpin Frank Lucas.

3. Invert Sentences. You don’t always have to follow the subject-verb-object order.

Subject-verb-object:

Rebekah Johnson pumped  Gannas commune leader Jeff Gross with six .38-caliber bullets.

Inverted sentence:

Six .38-caliber bullets did Rebekah Johnson pump into Gannas commune leader Jeff Gross.

Subject-verb-object:

After taking LSD and staring at the sun for hours, fifteen hippies are totally blind.

Object-verb-subject

Blind are fifteen hippies after taking LSD and staring at the sun for hours.

Invert the following sentence:

I am in the money after sinking $10,000 into various real estate investment trusts.

4. Add a question or quotation.

Online dating sites are a joke. I saw this ad where the woman wrote that she was looking for an “honest” guy with a “positive outlook on life” who is into “fine dining” and “long walks on the beach at sunset” and who “knows himself.” I hate fine dining and long walks on the beach, and I don’t know myself. And, given my negative outlook on life, how the hell I am going to get her to answer my ad if I’m the least bit honest?

Exercise: Write a three-sentence paragraph that ends with a question.

Emphasize Key Ideas. Experiment with techniques for emphasis

End sentences with kickers. You can withhold the important information until the final word.

With a great deal of kindness and hospitality, “Fat” Nick Minucci welcomed Glenn Moore to Brooklyn with a baseball bat to the head.

Periodic sentences

The periodic sentence creates emphasis by piling modifiers and descriptions before the main subject and verb:

Before she wrecked Christie Brinkley’s marriage, before she began a torrid affair with Brinkley’s philandering hubby Peter Cook, before Cook lured her from a dead- end toy store job to work in his architectural firm at double the salary, even before the toy gig, teen stunner Diana Bianchi wanted to be a pop singer.

bianchi_fox_2.jpg

Cumulative sentences begin with the subject and verb, then add modifiers:

Ex-supermodel Christie Brinkley discovered her husband was having a fling with a teenager who worked in his firm, a short walk from her home in the Hamptons, a place accustomed to spectacular affairs, but rarely one that generates this many juicy headlines, unless you take into account Brinkley’s divorce from singer Billy Joel.

Parallel structure for emphasis

Hardly had Wendi Deng, Rupert Murdock’s current wife, left China and started sleeping with married executive Jake Cherry, before she left Cherry and started sleeping with another man.

Use punctuation for emphasis

Use a dash or a colon for emphasis.

My trainer says if I spend two hours a day on the treadmill, and if I give up pasta—that is, if I torture myself—I will lose forty pounds.

At a corner table in Café Reggio, I anxiously awaited the arrival of my blind date: she was 300 pounds.

Use Active Verbs

Replace “be” verbs with verbs that are more dynamic.

Not so good:

Angel Quinones is in jail for killing his fiancée’s parents.

Better:

Yesterday, police arrested Angel Quinones for killing his fiancée’s parents.

Not so good:

Last week, the bodies of Cecelia and Carlos Ruiz were in their apartment, and their daughter’s fiancé Angel Quinones was a suspect.

Better:

Last week, police discovered the bodies of Cecelia and Carlos Ruiz in their apartment. They immediately suspected Angel Quinones, the dead couple’s future son-in-law.

Fix:

Quinones was a suspect because he was allegedly in the Ruiz’s apartment the night before and was not at work the next day.

Choose subjects that names a person or a thing doing action

Bad:

The next day, the suspect turned himself in at the local precinct and was charged with two counts of murder.

Better:

The next day, Quinones turned himself in at the 7th Precinct and was charged with two counts of murder.

Bad:

The victims had been brutally beaten, and police think the suspect may have used a weapon to bludgeon them before choking them.

Better:

The couple had been brutally beaten, and police think that Quinones may have used a cooking pot to bludgeon them before choking them.

Fix:
Insert the following in the appropriate places: “Amber Sadiq,” “wrongful death.”

The family of an 8 year old girl who was killed by a runaway school bus in May, will file a lawsuit against the city.

Avoid passive constructions.
Use active verbs whenever appropriate.

Poor:

A sixth straight Mustard Belt was won by Takeru “The Tsunami” Kobayashi after 53.75 hot dogs were chowed down. Kobayashi was called the “Bun-Zai” Warrior by the New York Post while it was reported by the Daily News the second place finish of hot dog scarfer, American Joey Chestnut who ate 52 hot dogs, was blamed on the Coney Island humidity

Better:

Takeru “The Tsunami” Kobayashi won his sixth straight Mustard Belt, after chowing down 53.75 hot dogs. The New York Post called Kobayashi the “Bun-Zai Warrior” while the Daily News reports that second place hot dog scarfer, American Joey Chestnut, who ate 52 hot dogs, blamed the Coney Island humidity on falling back.

the-tsunami.jpg

Fix:

1. Enron was built by Ken Lay into a high-profile, widely admired company, the seventh-largest publicly traded in the country. But Enron collapsed after it was revealed by auditors that the company’s finances were based on a web of fraudulent partnerships and schemes.

2. As we walked around the gallery, was treated politely by Brad and his girlfriend, but I was sure that I was secretly hated by them and that was being given this tour because it was hoped by them to see me separated from my money.

Wordiness and Economy

Same thought, different words

Bad:

McDonald’s new spicy premium chicken has a rich satisfying flavor and it also tastes good.

Better:

McDonald’s new spicy premium chicken has a rich, satisfying flavor.

Bad:

Anthony Kiedis, lead singer for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, always poses for photos without his shirt and bare-chested.

Better:

Anthony Kiedis, lead singer for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, always poses for photos without his shirt.

kiedis.jpg

Fix:

A four-year-old boy who fell from his 11th floor apartment, bounced off an awning like a trampoline, and landed on the sidewalk and concrete below.

Circumlocutions

Try to avoid the phrases the fact that and there is and the words field and character.

Bad.

Because of the fact that a woman fell from the roof of a building at 49 East 192nd Street, she died from injuries to her head and torso.

Better.

A woman who fell from the roof of a building at 49 East 192nd Street, died from injuries to her head and torso.

Bad:

In the field of police work, he excels at solving crimes of a homicidal character.

Better:

The police officer excels at solving homicides.

Bad:

I believe there is someone in Brooklyn who is as beautiful as Angelina Jolie, but because of the fact that I am short, fat, bald and broke, will never date me.

Better:

I believe someone in Brooklyn is as beautiful as Angelina Jolie, but because I am short, fat, bald and broke, she will never date me.

Overweight Constructions
Sometimes it’s better to use verbals rather than finite verbs.

(Two definitions of a verbal: (a) of, pertaining to, or derived from a verb. used in a sentence as or like a verb, as participles and infinitives. (b) a word, particularly a noun or adjective, derived from a verb.

Examples:
Dumped wives go crazy insane when they discover your hotel room charges.

My mother lives to torture me and my current girlfriend.

Bad:

The first frat boy who finishes ten whiskeys will win a bottle of Jack Daniels .

Better:

The first frat boy finishing ten whiskeys will win a bottle of Jack Daniels.

Bad:

While I was ripping off the cash register, I decided I would take a nap.

Better:

While ripping off the cash register, I decided to take a nap.

Add Needed Words

To make sentences concise, cut words. Your cuts, however, should not make the sentence ungrammatical.

Bad:

The women in the rahab program are Chinese immigrants whom we saw at the brothel or shopped at the supermarket.

Better:

The women in the rahab program are Chinese immigrants whom we saw at the brothel or who shopped at the supermarket.

Bad:

Rap diva Foxy Brown never has and never will assault a manicurist.

Better:

Rap diva Foxy Brown never has assaulted and never will assault a manicurist.

Fix:

German-born stunner Heidi Klum believes and lives by the laws of fashion.

Modifiers

Dangling Modifiers.
A modifier, whether word or a phrase, is supposed to refer to something else in the sentence. A dangling modifier refers to nothing in the sentence, although, sometimes, the reference is implied.

Wrong:

Being arrested, hand-cuffed, mug-shotted, and thrown in a cell with mother-rapers, the cops also refused to give me my phone call.

Better:

After I was arrested, hand-cuffed, mug-shotted, and thrown in a cell with mother-rapers, the cops also refused to give me my phone call.

Wrong:

Over eighteen years of marriage, being refused sex, my self-esteem was damaged by  my beautiful, Chilean wife.

Better:

Over eighteen years of marriage, my beautiful Chilean wife, who refused to doink me, damaged my self-esteem.

Fix:

Being one of the ten richest men in New York, the kitchen in my penthouse apartment has a 36-inch Sub-Zero refrigerator, a 36-inch Wolf gas range and charboiler, an Imperial stainless steel range hood and backsplash, and a built-in coffee and espresso maker.

Misplaced Modifiers

A misplaced modifier is a modifier in the wrong part of the sentence. You can correct this by changing its position.

Wrong:

The unlucky bridegroom was poisoned while eating dinner with a vial of strychnine which mysteriously was mixed with his after-dinner liquor.

Better:

While eating dinner, the unlucky bridegroom was poisoned with a vial of strychnine, mysteriously mixed with his after-dinner liquor.

Wrong:

Friends is one of the most racist shows because the main cast does not include a single black, Hispanic, or Asian actor on TV.

Better:

Friends is one of the most racist shows on TV because the main cast does not include a single black, Hispanic, or Asian actor.

gq-jennifer-aniston.jpg

Fix:

Last night I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas I’ll never know.

–Groucho Marx

elephant.gif

Being stuffed with chunks of candied pecans, dinner ended with a giant barfothon.

barfathon.jpg

Parallelism

Faulty:

I hated my girlfriend’s mother, and the requirement to eat three heaping platefuls of turkey made me sick. (shifts from noun object to noun phrase)

Parallel:

I hated my girlfriend’s mother and the requirement to eat three heaping platefuls of turkey.

Faulty:

If I am having sex in Antarctica, then gravitational forces and below-zero temperatures should be taken into consideration. (shifts from active to passive)

Parallel:

If I am having sex in Antarctica, then I should take into consideration gravitational forces and below-zero temperatures.

Faulty:

One day I discovered a box in my father’s bedroom that was small, smooth, and a mystery, and it changed my life forever. (shifts from adjectives to a clause)

Parallel:

One day I discovered a box in my father’s bedroom that was small, smooth, mysterious, and life-changing.

Balance ideas in a series

Faulty:

Wives usually solve boredom with one of the following methods: joining a knitting circle, starting an exercise regimen, seduction of the Con Ed man.

Better:

Wives usually solve boredom with one of the following methods: joining a knitting circle, starting an exercise regimen, seducing the Con Ed man.

Use coordinating conjunctions to balance parallel ideas

Faulty:

The wedded state can either be described as sensual bliss or feeling that you are miserable and stuck in prison.

Better:

The wedded state can either be described as sensual bliss or miserable incarceration.

Use correlative conjunctions to balance parallel ideas

Faulty:

Angelina Jolie not only possesses strong acting skills but she also has fat lips.

Better:

Angelina Jolie not only possesses strong acting skills but also fat lips.

Repeat words to balance parallel ideas

Faulty:

Many daughters torture their parents by dating thugs or through the use of drugs.

Better:

Many daughters torture their parents by dating thugs or by doing drugs.

Fix:

Wile E. Coyote should not only sue the Acme Company for selling him a faulty Acme Rocket Sled but also shoot Road Runner with a .44 Magnum.


Examples of parallelism in Advertising

If you can imagine it, we can get you there.

300 ports of call, 150 countries, 1 address

sensuous, elegant, magical

What moves you? Climbing a mountain, fording a stream, being master of all you survey?

The longer we kissed, the Frencher it got.

Your towels—personally monogrammed
Your bathrobe—pure silk
Your spa products—French lavender

Bring out the skewers, the shrimp, and the only mayo that will make them disappear.

Your life, your car. Connected.

Four wholesome grains. One great-tasting snack

One little serum. Three big results.

Good morning. Your eggs are frying, your bacon is crisp, and you’ve just traveled 400 miles.

Pinot Grigio?
Poached lobster?
Surf lesson?

Two parts luxury, one part flip-flop

A week, a month, a lifetime.
Parallelism problems:

1. Shifted construction

Not good:
I knew she was crazy, sexy, cool, and the wiggling of her hind end thrilled me. (shift in subject).

Better:
She was crazy, sexy, cool, and thrillingly endowed in her hind end.

Not good:
If she wants her brownies just slightly gooey, then flour should be added to stiffen them. (subject and voice shifts)

Better:
If she wants her brownies just slightly gooey, then she should add flour to stiffen the batter.

2. Careless use of correlatives

Wrong:
They indulged either themselves with premeal nibbles or gorged on M&Ms till dawn.

Correct:
They either indulged themselves with premeal nibbles or gorged on M&Ms till dawn.

Fix:

1. She performed flawlessly both because she was well-trained and pumped on steroids.

2. Baked on OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet, I learned that there is nothing more painful than getting up in the morning, getting dressed, and I don’t have to mention the experience of the New York City subway system.

3. After playing Halo 3, Grand Theft Auto IV,  and Gears of War 2, Zar ran naked from the house, ran screaming down Broadway, and five restaurants.

4. At Big Momma’s house, leaving the toilet seat up and result in a beat-down or even dying.

5. Most girls are trying to date me they hope I’ll give them my phone number.

6. I would rather chew ground glass than reading another Harry Potter book.

Faulty Comparisons

Incomparable terms

Do not compare items that are incomparable.

Wrong: The girls of Manhattan are far sexier than Brooklyn.
(We do not want to compare girls with a borough)

Right: The girls of Manhattan are far sexier than those in the Bronx.

(Now we are comparing one group of girls with a pronoun—“those”—representing another group of girls).

Make sure the meaning is complete:

Wrong: I love French fries more than you.
Right: I love French fries more than I love you.

Or: I love French fries more than you love crystal meth.
french-fries.jpg

Fix:
1. The number of abandoned children in Queens is higher than the rest of the city.

2. Britney gave me more than Kevin.

3. Mini cream-filled bon bons thrill me as much as bums who suck crack pipes in the basements of abandoned buildings.

Incomplete comparisons

Wrong: Donna kissed me better than Karen.

Right: Donna kissed me better than Karen did

Right: Donna kissed me better than she kissed Karen

Fix:

1. Bobo is smarter.

2. Dr. Jackson is richer.

3. Our love for cheating on each other is as great as the big coconut layer cake shimmering with eat-me whiteness on the top shelf of our Sub-zero refrigerator.

coconutcake.jpg

Emphasis

Isolation.

Isolating a short sentence either at the beginning or end of a paragraph can be an effective use of emphasis:

Spurred by the kidnapper’s note, we grabbed shovels and took the train to Woodlawn Cemetery in Queens. We arrived, hoping that despite being buried for ten days with only Gatorade and Wonder Bread for sustenance, she would still be alive. She wasn’t.

Position:

Without emphasis:

My youngest sister Nina is the demon seed to me, but to my parents she is an angel.

With Emphasis:

To my parents, Nina is an angel; to me, she is the demon seed.

“I love Christmas,” says Shmulee. “It’s so…Jewish.”

Nothing says I love your cooking like a bucketful of vomit.

My mother’s new boyfriend was as handsome as a prince and as faithful as a rabbit.

Repetition:

Although sometimes monotonous, repetition can build emphasis.

I did not trust the teeny-weeny robot. I did not trust how he whistled when he rolled on silent wheels beneath the couch. I did not trust his smile when he told us he had been out all night searching for loose change that he would donate to The Home for Old Robots, his favorite charity. Above all, I did not trust his explanation for stringing wire across the sidewalk between 79th and 80th Streets, wire that sent a businessman in a silk, pin-striped suit sprawling face first into a steaming pile of dog shit.
son-of-sam.jpg
(excerpt from Son of Sam’s note to The Daily News)

Hello from the gutters of N.Y.C. which are filled with dog manure, vomit, stale wine, urine and blood. Hello from the sewers of N.Y.C. which swallow up these delicacies when they are washed away by the sweeper trucks. Hello from the cracks in the sidewalks of N.Y.C. and from the ants that dwell in these cracks and feed on the dried blood of the dead that has settled into these cracks.

Use The Active Voice

woman-on-bed-screaming.jpg

A Very Passive Murder (John Vorhaus)

The room was walked into by a man by whom strong, handsome features were had. A woman was met by him. The bed was lain upon by her. Then the bed was lain upon by him. Clothing was removed from them both. Sex was had. Climax was achieved. Afterward, cigarettes were smoked by them. Suddenly, the door was opened by the husband of the woman by whom the bed was lain upon. A gun was held by him. Some screams were screamed and angry words exchanged. Jealousy was felt by the man by whom the gun was held. Firing of the gun was done by him. The flying of bullets took place. Impact was felt by bodies. The floor was hit by bodies. Remorse was then felt by the man by whom the gun was held. The gun was turned upon himself.

Verbs in the above paragraph are in the passive voice.
Technically-speaking a passive verb construction comprises the following:

Form of a “be” verb + past participle.

The woman was shot by her jealous husband.

“Woman” is the subject, “was” is the be verb, “shot” is the past participle.

Active voice:
The jealous husband shot his wife.

“Woman” is the subject, “was” is the be verb, “eaten” is an irregular past participle.
Passive:
The woman was eaten by her jealous shark

Active:
The jealous shark ate the woman.

In both examples, the active voice uses fewer words (that’s a good thing), and they are easier to read.

Use the active voice unless you have a good reason to you the passive voice.

Passive:
After bagging six chicks, syphilis was caught by Jacobo.

Active:
After bagging six chicks, Jacobo caught syphilis.

The second one is better because it is shorter and more direct.

Sometimes it’s appropriate to use the passive voice:

In order to control the jerk population, many Yankee fans are destroyed each year.

Her husband was sure of a couple of things: the condoms under the bed were used, and all of her text messages had been erased.

In both sentences, the subjects are more important than who is doing the destroying or stuffing.

Exercises: Convert the following sentence to the active voice.

1. The gazillionaire was surprised by Professor Tashman’s deep knowledge of hedge-funds and French fries.

2. He was cooed at by the crazed beauties, by the housebroken starlet, by the distraught girleen.

3. In hot July and cold February, baby-doll dresses and buttocks-baring trousers are worn by Broadway actresses with matchstick bodies.

4. When I strolled into his kitchen, muscles, cockles, and clams were being steamed in pungent, garlicky broth.

5. A storybook wedding was dreamed of by the ugly bride-to-be