?

Log in

entries friends calendar profile rictus.com Previous Previous
interestingly ungrammatical sentence - nj
tritone
tritone
interestingly ungrammatical sentence
I unconsciously copyedit books as I read them, and I'm often dismayed at the shoddy punctuation, style, and grammar in many otherwise fine books. But today is the first time in a long time that I've run into a sentence that seemed ungrammatical in a way that wasn't instantly obvious; I had to stop and think to figure out exactly what the error was. (I'm sure anyone who does linguistics for a living could figure it out immediately, but I'm rusty enough that it took me a minute.)

The sentence is in the prologue of Fordlandia, a book about Henry Ford's attempt to build a rubber plantation-cum-Pleasantville in the depths of the Amazon jungle. Describing a set of twisted railroad tracks left in the ruins of Fordlandia, the author writes:

[...] it's bewildering to think what force of nature or how the passing of time could have produced their current mangled state.

When I read this, it seemed like the sentence contained an error in parallelism, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. The intended structure seems to be:

It's bewildering to think [[what force of nature] or [how the passing of time] could have produced X].

which looks reasonable at first glance; placing what force of nature and how the passing of time in parallel makes sense on the surface, since they both introduce relative clauses with the same verb phrase:

It's bewildering to think [what force of nature could have produced X] or [how the passing of time could have produced X].

After thinking about it a little longer, though, I'm convinced it really is wrong. Can you figure out the error?

In [what force of nature] could have produced X, the phrase what force of nature acts as the subject of could have produced. But [how the passing of time] could have produced X is actually the wrong structure; it should be how [[the passing of time] could have produced X]. So you can't cut away how the passing of time from its verb phrase in the same way you can cut away what force of nature.

A more correct parallel phrasing would be:

It's bewildering to think how the forces of nature or the passing of time could have produced X.

Tags:
Current Mood: picky

Link / 9 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
(Deleted comment)
tritone From: tritone Date: July 26th, 2009 10:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think the argument for "how" rather than "what" is that there's no question about which stretch of time caused it; the question is in what way the natural passage of time caused it. But the repetition does sound better.
nothings From: nothings Date: July 27th, 2009 11:38 am (UTC) (Link)
Yes, I agree with your analysis, although not your rewrite, which loses the actual question pondered.

One way to phrase "how" is "in what manner" (you actually said 'in what way' in a comment above), offering an alternative rewrite: "It's bewildering to think what force of nature or in what manner the passing of time could have produced X." This still has the same grammatical failure, but I find its overtness less awkward. Your mileage may vary.

Edited at 2009-07-27 11:39 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous) Date: May 21st, 2010 01:02 am (UTC) (Link)
it is supposed to read ".....what THE force of nature or how the passing of time....."
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 14th, 2011 08:32 pm (UTC) (Link)

Do you have Problems? Find Rental Software?

While on the last voyage headed for London I bumped into Angelo while on my lane. The man stated to me, he was free to purchase an original Package in the PC Stockroom around this place. Well, what a coincidence, I was just now about to go to this equal depot, nevertheless intended for a various purpose. We determined to walk off as one, subsequently we both be able to provide information to one another.
Now I not often acquire Software programs in the depot. I prefer buying in our Web for the reason that more or less all the time there is the benefit to glimpse a presentation or even evaluate it over a limited period otherwise with restricted features. I can never do that inside a shop! My colleague opposed me, telling me he is aware precisely what he wishes. He tested previously at his fathers device and it has been the greatest he really ever encountered until now!
Well here in United Kingdom in spite of this it appears to be secure to purchase [url=http://www.accuevent.com]Rental Software[/url] in the Web. The thing arrives with the complete help one call for. Surely it is good, when you give folks excitement and this so greatly wanted leisure, while you lead a trade that is connected to Outdoor parties, Actions and Celebration, however still this variety of making cash nonetheless wants to earn cash (grin at this moment). Hence keep it all together and remain certain you hold a first-class software package to handle all your ventures plus retains you up to date!
In my opinion, Graig Jimenez it is the most crucial bit of gear one can hold!
For all time know, what is top!!
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 17th, 2011 06:42 pm (UTC) (Link)

fzirhziz hpuy

igdo zcyql xnxx (http://www.miasporn.com) kcvozr h tj a qwv
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 26th, 2011 10:04 am (UTC) (Link)

Порно

Видео порно (http://megafreeporn.ru/)
From: (Anonymous) Date: February 6th, 2011 07:25 pm (UTC) (Link)

ojypxlug tmjv

aeke afkli [URL=http://www.katesxxx.com]milfs[/URL] epharu b ky i toh
From: lomainch Date: April 8th, 2011 04:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
I am doing research for my university thesis, thanks for your great points, now I am acting on a sudden impulse.

From: vigorozuk Date: October 31st, 2011 04:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
keep posting like this it’s really very good idea, you are awesome!

Link / 9 comments or Leave a comment