The Confounded Compound Sentence
Former Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley
In the opinion of this humble scribe, the most common writing error involves the compound sentence. It’s ubiquitous, pervasive, omnipresent – even, to borrow a Mayor Daley-ism, frequent (“They have vilified me, they have crucified me; yes, they have even criticized me”). I don’t read a single issue of my daily newspaper without encountering it, usually several times.
Here’s an example in an Associated Press story about the social media: “The short-messaging service can bring fleeting fame, instant ignominy and can get you fired.”
What we have here is two sentences in one: The first is apparent, and the second is, “can get you fired.” The noun is the same as in the first sentence: service. But the verb is not the same as in the first sentence. “Can bring” is the verb in the first sentence, and “can get fired” is the verb in the second sentence. There are two objects of the verb “can bring”: “fame” and “ignominy.” Putting a comma between the two implies that another object is forthcoming. But there isn’t, and the conjunction “and” should replace the comma, which should be demoted to an ignominious spot after “ignominy” to show that the first part of the compound sentence ends there.
Putting it all together: “The short-messaging service can bring fleeting fame and instant ignominy, and can get you fired.” That’s smoother and more clear.
This morsel is from a booklet promoting a fish oil for the immune system: “Super Pill (or so we’ll call it) is currently recommended by thousands of doctors worldwide, supported by rigorous clinical testing, and represents one of the most important medical breakthroughs of the century.” Jerky, right? Kind of makes you stumble when you read it. This example is a little different. It consists of three sentences, but the first two have the same main verb. The first sentence is: “Super Pill is currently recommended by thousands of doctors worldwide …” The second sentence is: “(Super Pill) is supported by rigorous clinical testing …” Those two sentences need to be connected with “and” because they are the only items to which the verb “is” applies, and omitting “and” gives the impression that another item that “is” applies to is forthcoming. But what is forthcoming is a third sentence, with a different verb, “represents.” The verb in that part of the compound sentence is “represents”: “(Super Pill) represents one of the most important medical breakthroughs of the century.” At least the writer correctly placed a comma after “testing,” plus the word “and,” to indicate that what followed was a new sentence with a new verb.
Here, then, is how this compound sentence should read: “Super Pill is currently recommended by thousands of doctors worldwide and supported by rigorous clinical testing, and represents one of the most important medical breakthroughs of the century.”
It’s such a simple concept, but it is violated constantly. Even often.