Monday, February 07, 2011

sentencing

I was grading papers this past weekend. Many of them were really good, which made it all the more enjoyable for me. As always, I came across quite a few writing errors; this is understandable in students whose first language is not English, but even verbose writers with large vocabularies can make some pretty big mistakes. Here are a few of my favourites (mistakes, not verbose writers). May they bring a smile to your face as they sometimes do to mine. And yes, I have made pretty much all of these myself at one time or another. That's why I do something called 'proofreading.'

1. The split personality subject: This is when the beginning participle, which is supposed to describe something about the subject, does not match the subject found in the main clause of the sentence. Here are some examples that I wrote:
a. Thinking that the chocolate cake in the fridge was the perfect way to end a long evening of studying, the kitchen became my destination. (My kitchen does a lot of thinking, obviously.)
b. After conquering the enemy in a brutal and lengthy war and taking many of them as captives, they were confined to prison and later forced into manual labour. (War really sucks when you win and still have to go to prison.)

2. I don't need no stinkin' subject: This is where the writer neglects to use a subject at all. They assume that you will remember who or what they were talking about from the previous sentence, paragraph, page, or chapter. Also known as a dangling participle, just left hanging out there....
a. Hurtling towards the earth at ever-increasing speeds which made it hopeless for anyone to stop the catastrophe. (If the previous paragraph was about meteors, this makes sense. If it was talking about cats and dogs, that's a whole other thing.)
b. When all the countries' leaders held a council to decide whether or not they would agree to use a common currency, establishing a link not only for ease of commerce but to simplify cross-border travel. (It's a cliffhanger: what happened next?)

3. The Fluid Tense: Some writers like to time travel, mixing past, present, future, and all kinds of other tenses.
a. Smith wrote about exactly such a scenario when he says in chapter three that even if we will be able to harvest all the gold in the world, it wasn't going to make everyone rich. (I don't understand when I won't be rich.)
b. Later that evening, Samantha is meeting Bob for dinner who would be early. (Oh Bob, you're in trouble.)

4. Who needs a verb? Participles and descriptive clauses look a lot like main verbs, so why bother with the real thing?
a. By citing McIntyre, who was a renowned author and historian from the nineteenth century, and Brown, later to be known for his innovative work in the area of molecular biology for which he was nominated for a Nobel Prize. (By doing this, nothing happened, I guess, so why do it?)
b. Nevertheless, no one that participated in the demonstration, even though they managed to avoid being arrested, despite some minor injuries from crowding, trampling, and just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. (So what happened to no one? After the trampling, that is.)

5. Does punctuation make my sentence look fat? Some writers don't want to weigh the sentence down with unnecessary punctuation marks. Or they just don't know where they go, so they leave them out to avoid making a mistake. It makes for fun reading sometimes.
a. Every time the monkey considered by many to be too attached to his master stopped reading the book The Bear the bell was rung not to be silenced until the master always sleeping nearby awoke. (Tell me you didn't have to read that more than once.)
b. The cat a very clean animal coats its fur with saliva when licking a cleaning ritual thereby producing dander this when dried is a substance that many humans are allergic to.

6. The Test: what's wrong with these sentences?
a. Driving to the end of the world, it was flat.
b. Grading hundreds of papers over the past few months, many of which contained at least one or two of the errors mentioned above nevertheless revealing most of the students to have at least a working comprehension of the subject being studied.

Remember: If it doesn't make sense the first time you read it, it probably needs to be rewritten. Or you need to go to bed.

This is a photo of one of the essays I wrote last term, along with some remarks from my professor. I chose to show you a part without grammatical errors.

1 comment:

Terry T. Jackson said...

Welcome to my world, Matte.

-ttj