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Compounding the Problem

The compound sentence …

Hardly a day goes by, it seems, without a certain grammatical error appearing in the local newspaper.

What is it? Hint: It’s associated with the compound sentence.

Still don’t know what I’m talking about? Okay, here’s an example: “Because of numbness in his fingers, I had to button up his shirt, jacket and place on his tie.”

gone awry

Can’t see the problem? It’s a humdinger. The way it reads, the person speaking had to button three pieces of the guy’s apparel:

  1. his shirt

  2. his jacket

  3. some mysterious place on his tie.

Is that the meaning the speaker intended? Of course not – unless the tie’s designer was smoking something really strange during the creative process.

Fixing it


and

And the word “and” IS God.


The problem here is easily solvable by moving the comma a little to the right and adding a word that is perhaps one of the two most common in the English language: “and.” Thus, the sentence becomes: “Because of numbness in his fingers, I had to button up his shirt and jacket, and place on his tie.” (Actually, the sentence would read even clearer as, “… and put his tie on.” But that’s a whole other issue.) The issue presented here is that the speaker has erred in trying to create a compound sentence. The sentence is compound because it has two verbs: “button” and “place.”

That makes it two sentences in one:

  1. The speaker buttoned the guy’s shirt and jacket.

  2. The speaker placed the man’s tie on.

The same subject is associated with each verb: “I.” In a compound sentence, it is not necessary to repeat the subject, which is understood.

Happens a lot

Here’s another doozie: “More of us need to re-examine our bills, spending habits and get a retirement rainy day fund.” Again, what we have is two sentences in one: More of us need to re-examine our bills and spending habits, and get a retirement rainy day fund. The two verbs are “re-examine” and “get,” and the subject is “More.”

Likewise: “The geographic footprint of the Central Palm Beach County Chamber stretches from Belle Glade, across The Acreage, Wellington, Royal Palm Beach and includes Manalapan, Palm Springs, South Palm Beach and West Palm Beach.” Here’s the way it looks when the first sentence in that compound sentence stands alone: “The geographic footprint of the Central Palm Beach County Chamber stretches from Belle Glade, across The Acreage, Wellington, Royal Palm Beach.” The word “and” demands to be included: “… Wellington and Royal Palm Beach.” The second sentence in that compound sentence, if the understood subject phrase is included, reads: “The geographic footprint of the Central Palm Beach County Chamber includes Manalapan, Palm Springs, South Palm Beach and West Palm Beach.”

One more example, from the syndicated column of Dr. Mehmet Oz and Michael Roizen, The You Docs: “But taking HGH supplements can cause swelling in arms and legs, joint and muscle pain, breast enlargement in men, heart disease and diabetes, and may trigger growth of cancer cells, not to mention suspension from the team!” Wow. That’s a hard one to digest. What the grammar-challenged docs are saying is that HGH supplements can cause a potpourri of problems (first sentence), and they may also trigger cancer and a benching by the coach (second sentence).

The handy “and”

Decades ago, a bizarre movie showed at your neighborhood theater: The Story of O. This movie has a different name: The Importance of And. Omitting it in particular instances calls up a line from another movie, Cool Hand Luke: “What we have here is a problem to communicate.”

There’s a reason that little word “and” is used so often: It’s necessary. In fact, in some situations it’s not used enough.

#localnewspaper #misplacedcomma #CoolHandLuke #TheStoryofO #grammaticalerror #and #DrMehmetOz #compoundsentence

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