Thursday, September 27, 2007

Bad Sentence: The Sequel

I'm actually beginning to enjoy editing these sentences. Here's one I stumbled through last Thursday in The Honolulu Advertiser: “This constant misreporting works to confuse people trying to understand the scope of the homeless problem and effective and practical solutions—one of which the “homeless ship” is not.”

First of all, the misreporting doesn't work to do anything, and it requires a complementary infinitive to make sense—needless clutter. It would be more accurate (and more concise) to say that misreporting confuses people. Next, there are way too many “ands” here. We can eliminate one by getting rid of the word “effective” or the word “practical,” since either one is a precondition to the other. Finally, we come to my favorite part, the clause after the em-dash. Here's a simple test you can use to judge whether a sentence needs revision: if it sounds like something Yoda would say, rewrite it.

Normal English: subject, verb, object (he is a Jedi; the “homeless ship” is not one of [them])
Master Yoda: object, subject, verb (a Jedi, he is; one of which, the “homeless ship” is not)

So, with some rewriting, we've got a pair of sentences: "This constant misreporting confuses people who are trying to understand the scope of the homeless problem and practical solutions to it. The “homeless ship” is not such a solution."

One thing I'm not really sure of is whether there's a problem with "and" in the first sentence, and which two noun phrases it's joining: "people who...homeless problem" and "practical solutions to it," or "the scope of the homeless problem" and "practical solutions to it." Suggestions, anyone? =\

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