Sentence Makeovers

Make no doubt about it; I am writing a grammar book. It will be 'published'. Some day. I may be 80 when it happens, but that will still be 'a day'. Until then, I feel compelled to give back -- albeit in drips and trickles -- advice to the linguistically and grammatically curious.

So, each post of this type will contain a sentence needing some work. Either it's a tad bit off, or it's total garbage. I'll break down the confusion for you.

I've been collecting bad sentences for some time because my eventual grammar book will contain these examples as learning opportunities.

But why wait to release them?

Sentence Makeover #1

The sentence:

"There is no sarcastic subtext about the Mac here, which is still a fantastic environment that many Apple users love and need for their line of work."

Go ahead. Read it a few times. Listen to it. On the surface this looks like a perfectly understandable sentence. It's fine. Really it is, for nearly everyone.

What's bad about it?

There's actually a problem; the dependent clause:

"which is still a ... line of work"

The dependent clause doesn't actually modify the adverb 'here' which it's nearest. Actually, it modifies the noun 'Mac', which it's not nearest. Oops.

Why that's bad:

A grammatical principle exists in English stating that the modifier must be as close as possible to the thing it modifies. That way it's always easy to figure out which adjective goes to which noun, or which adverb goes to which verb or clause. Think about it. You never say:

I black saw a phone on the table.'

You would want to put that modifier 'black' nearest the word it modifies. Should it be near 'phone' or 'table'? Who knows? They're both nouns, and 'black' is an adjective, so it could be either one. It could even be I. It sounds like a picayune rule, but remember this principle as sentences get ever more complex. And remember one principle of human languages is that 'it can always get more complex.'

So as you understand the features of each part of the sentence better and better, that dependent clause will sound misplaced and awkward as well as inaccurate and imprecise. That may sound condescending, I know. I'm sorry. I don't mean it to. What I mean is: when you must consistently and carefully examine sentences, either through necessities at work, or otherwise, these slight differences matter. You should become accustomed to understanding them.

A fix:

The best fix would be to move the dependent clause closer to the thing it modifies, in this case the word 'Mac'.

That would give us:

"There is no sarcastic subtext about the Mac, which is still a fantastic environment that many Apple users love and need for their line of work here."

No. That's not quite right, but we're getting closer. What's the problem?

The problem is that last word, 'here'. Lets move it. If you look at the word 'here' in both the original and new sentence, you'll notice it is modifying an entire clause. That makes it an adverb. And the cool thing about adverbs is that they can move pretty much anywhere they want to, like the queen in chess. So let's move that adverb:

"There is no sarcastic subtext here about the Mac, which is still a fantastic environment that many Apple users love and need for their line of work."

Here's the before and after for comparison:

"There is no sarcastic subtext about the Mac here, which is still a fantastic environment that many Apple users love and need for their line of work."


"There is no sarcastic subtext here about the Mac, which is still a fantastic environment that many Apple users love and need for their line of work."

Hopefully the second sounds superior to the first. Hopefully the proximity of all the modifiers to the nouns they modify not only sounds as good as it can, but also lacks any confusion that may arise.

Remember, the more you read closely and write specifically, the more this shit matters. Get used to reading and writing this way.