Grammar Media Watch: Pronouns, Prepositions, Danglers and More |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Media Watch: Pronouns, Prepositions, Danglers and More

Here is another set of recent flubs and fumbles from usually dependable journalists.

• “Yet my relationship with the game was simple and uncomplicated.”

How did this one get by the editors? One of those two adjectives has to go.

• “He is accused of fleeing to London in March while owing more than $1 billion dollars to Indian banks.”

The dollar sign means “dollars,” so “$1 billion dollars” is as redundant as “simple and uncomplicated.”

• “The vessels have the capacity to carry about 2½ times the number of containers than held by ships now using the canal.

Why would anyone put than in that sentence?

• “The outpouring of anger and concern show that California wants vital and vigilant coastal protections.”

The subject is the singular noun “outpouring,” so the verb should be shows.

• “To get in, I waded through a throng of protesters gathered around the entrance … A few protestors got close enough to snap pictures.”

The Associated Press Stylebook and many dictionaries accept only protester. Other dictionaries list protestor as an alternative spelling. But no authority alive recommends spelling the word both ways in the same paragraph.

• “It is an important fact ignored—or maybe unknown—to the candidate.”

The writer wanted to say that the “important fact” was either ignored by the candidate or unknown to the candidate. Here’s how to make it work with the dashes: It is an important fact ignored by—or maybe unknown to—the candidate.

• “The outcome is a major win for public employee unions, who would be weakened if members didn’t pay for representation.”

The word after “unions” should be which, not who. Despite being made up of people, a union is a thing. Writers should limit their use of who to humans.

• “Born in Brooklyn in 1922, stage fright steered Mr. Bauersfeld away from Hollywood.”

The dangler is alive and thriving in the twenty-first century. Did you spot it? To sticklers and other careful readers, this sentence is sheer nonsense: it states with a straight face that stage fright was born in Brooklyn in 1922. We could write  Stage fright steered Mr. Bauersfeld, who was born in Brooklyn in 1922, away from Hollywood. But now the reader wonders what being born in Brooklyn in 1922 has to do with stage fright and avoiding Hollywood. Year and place of birth are irrelevant here. The writer was trying to cram too much into one sentence.

If the article or the existing discussions do not address a thought or question you have on the subject, please use the "Comment" box at the bottom of this page.

9 responses to “Media Watch: Pronouns, Prepositions, Danglers and More”

  1. Jean Peacock says:

    Here in Phoenix we have many newscasters who start sentences with a phrase like “the president, he gave a speech today” or “the sheriff, he held a press conference.” Does that set anyone else’s teeth on edge?

    • The term for the error is left dislocation. It is usually not recommended in formal contexts.

      • Brian F Kent says:

        Left dislocation has been popularized by sportscasters–most notably Phil Simms, who started using it in his standard parlance less than ten years ago. It seems to have spread like wildfire among NFL analysts, and it sets both my father and me to grinding our teeth.

  2. Chris says:

    A better version of that last one might be, “Born in Brooklyn in 1922, Mr. Bauersfeld was steered away from Hollywood by stage fright.”

  3. Jeremy says:

    One of my pet peeves is when headline-style phrases are passed off as complete sentences.
    “Youths leaving social media.”
    “Shark threatening beachgoers.”
    “Reporters setting bad examples.”
    It’s irresponsible and lazy. They’re all so close to being sentences.

  4. Cristofer Gross says:

    I find myself changing “that” to “who” when it refers to a person. I have read the various entries on this and see that sometimes that is allowed (perhaps preferable) to that. Word rejects WHO in the following sentence and accepts THAT. …

    Among the prominent musical figures that knew and admired Bernstein is IPO Music Director for Life Zubin Mehta.

    I would think “musical figures” are human and therefore the one among them WHO … Of course, Word may REALLY be asking me to invert the sentence to “IPO MDFL ZM is one of the musical figures who knew and admires LB.” But, I hope that is not where this is leading. Thanks.

    • You must be on your toes with grammar and spell checkers (see our post Spell Check Overreach). Word is just inanimate software. Of course “prominent musical figures” are people, but Word doesn’t know what kind of figure you’re talking about. You are perfectly correct in using “who” in that context.

  5. Jim Lynch says:

    Your answer to question 10 is incorrect. There is no correct answer since in the question you have a comma before “that.”

    • You are referring to question 10 in our subscribers-only Bonus Quiz Who vs. Which vs. That, Quiz 1. The sentence choices are:
      A) Acme Tires is a company, that everyone should visit at least once.
      B) Acme Tires is a company whom everyone should visit at least once.
      C) Acme Tires is a company that everyone should visit at least once.
      D) A, B, and C are all correct.

      The correct answer is C.

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