Wednesday's are for Grammar

Your Homework, such as it was, was to tell us all what is wrong with this sentence.

One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I'll never know."(Groucho Marx)

Those Who get the Coveted Grammar Button

Lisa DG
Sweet Camden Lass

The Shiny Red Pencil for Keeners

Now, I will grant class, that this was a hard button to assign. Only JamieD got the answer correct, and correctly identified the grammatical issue, using grammar words; however, she got the button last week. So, Jamie, you get to keep your button for an extra week, and Sweet Camden Lass, because you were both funny, and came very close to identifying the issue, you can have the keener button for this week.

The Lesson:

Martha, Lisa and Heidi suggested there were not enough commas in the sentence, which is a great start to solving the problem. It shows me you are thinking about how sentences read, which is an important part of figuring out if they are grammatically correct or not.

This sentence is actually my favourite form of mangling the English language. If you have to mangle a sentence, a misplaced modifier is the best way to do it. We can, at least, all laugh at the strange concoction that has come out of your mouth or pen.

So, if you will remember back into the recesses of earlier grammar lessons: when I talked about the roles of adverbs and adjectives, I said that an adjective modifies the noun, providing more information about the noun. An adverb on the other hand, provides more information about the verb. As a multipurpose word, it can also modify another phrase or clause.

Remembering 2 weeks ago, when I told you that sentences that aren't complete sentences are sentence fragments - we could also call them phrases or clauses.

In a sentence with a misplaced modifier, the adjective, the adverb, or the prepositional phrase is modifying the wrong part of the sentence or clause.

There are 3 types of misplaced modifiers:

1. Ambiguous placement
In this case, the modifying adjective, adverb or preposition is placed in such a way that it is not clear what it is modifying. Ambiguous placement very often involves words like: only, just, almost, hardly, nearly, merely, simply, even, scarcely, exactly.

Consider the following example, and how changing the word only affects the entire meaning of the sentence.

Only knitters say that good quality wool matters in the quality of the finished garment.

Knitters say only that good quality wool matters in the quality of the finished garment.

Knitters say that only good quality wool matters in the quality of the finished garment.

Knitters say that good quality wool only matters in the quality of the finished garment.

When a modifier is placed in such a way that it could cause a person to question whether or not the it modifies the information before or after the modifier, that is called a Squinting modifier.

2. Wrong Placement

In this case, the modifying adverbs, adjectives or prepositions are misplaced in the sentence, resulting in utter gibberish. Which is what happened to Mr. Marx, who suddenly, by grammatical accident, found himself shooting an elephant; likely after discovering that the elephant had stolen his PJ's.

3. Awkward Placement

Split Infinitives

An infinitive is a verb that requires the form "to verb". Examples include to convince, to create. When you split the to and the verb, confusion ensues.

Knitters managed to, on June 13, 2008, convene on the world, for World Wide Knit in public day.

Now, this isn't a hard and fast rule. Anyone here remember Star Trek? To boldly go? Now, how should that be written - that's right, it should be "to go boldly", which doesn't have quite the same ring to it. . .

Splitting Verb Phrases or Compounds

I have to put this in, because it's a rule. People get very worked up about this. So, here we go: a verb phrase is a group of words that function as a verb. Examples include things like "was kissed", "had been kissed". When you split these phrases up, it's hard to make sense of the sentence. As my grammar book phrases it, the sentence lurches forward.

Mrs. Spit had, in a most delightful way, been kissed. (This sentence is wrong. I had to look at three times to determine that I was splitting my verb compound. It's wrong. It still looks fine, doesn't it?) Correctly, it is written:

Mrs. Spit had been kissed in a most delightful way. (Because that looks so much better, doesn't it?Pbfft)

Your Homework:
A prominent public person has read this sentence in a speech. Clearly, he has not read my grammar column. (Or, possibly any other grammar column). See if you can fix the sentence and help a politician out.

"We're concerned about AIDS inside our White House - make no mistake about it."*

*You can also send your responses to: The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC, 20500