Was I reading carefully, or had I written carefully? Who knows?
Another great example—this one from Funny English Errors and Insights compiled by Troy Simpson—‘Never crumble your bread or roll in the soup’.
Unfortunately it is easy to write something that we don’t really mean to write.
Word order and word choice are important. But, there are other aspects of the English language we need to consider when we are writing to make sure that our readers understand what we intended.
You may have seen this story doing the rounds of Facebook.
An English professor wrote the words, “Woman without her man is nothing” on the blackboard and directed the students to punctuate it correctly.
The men wrote: “Woman, without her man, is nothing.”
The women wrote: “Woman: without her, man is nothing.”
Readers assume that a pronoun refers to the last noun mentioned. You need to make sure it does. I’ve taken this example from The Little Green Grammar Book by Mark Tredinnick.
“A successful Hong Kong architect fell nineteen floors to his death with a friend as he tried to stop him committing suicide.”
Read this carefully. It’s really not clear who was trying to stop whom.
Tredinnick also has great examples that illustrate the confusion dangling modifiers can cause—and the unintentional humour.
“We make recommendations for fixing all the problems in this report.”
Read it carefully, then reword.
“In this report, we make recommendations for fixing all these problems.”