5 Errors of Restriction

By Mark Nichol

1. “Bank of America’s purchase of Fleet Boston for $47 billion will create the biggest bank in the United States with thirty-three million customers.”
The lack of punctuation in this sentence invites the impression that of all the banks in the United States with thirty-three million customers, the Bank of America will be the largest. But the last phrase merely refers to the size of the customer base after the merger.

This additional information should be set off from the rest of the sentence by a comma: “Bank of America’s purchase of Fleet Boston for $47 billion will create the biggest bank in the United States, with thirty-three million customers.” Alternatively, the information can be inserted parenthetically into the middle of the sentence: “Bank of America’s purchase of Fleet Boston for $47 billion, which boosts its customer base to thirty-three million, will create the biggest bank in the United States.”

2. “Take a visit to the military test kitchen where bad grub is taken very seriously.”
The implication here is that among military test kitchens, the one in question is the only one that focuses on bad food. However, it’s quite likely there’s only one military test kitchen, a fact this sentence indicates by the simple insertion of a comma: “Take a visit to the military test kitchen, where bad grub is taken very seriously.” (If there is more than one, the implied multiplicity of kitchens is distracting; a simple change of the article preceding the noun phrase will remove the obstacle: “Take a visit to a military test kitchen where bad grub is taken very seriously.”)

3. “Yesterday, ChevronTexaco announced the deal that’s expected to be complete within six months.”
The reader might get the impression that of two or more deals, this one’s expected to take up to six months to complete. But there’s only one deal, and it should be complete within six months. To communicate that information, set the time frame apart from the phrase about the announcement, and change that to which: “Yesterday, ChevronTexaco announced the deal, which is expected to be complete within six months.”

4. “Daniel Libeskind is the architect of the proposed $43 million Contemporary Jewish Museum project in San Francisco that will begin construction next year.”
This example is less likely than the previous one to confuse readers about the number of similar events expected to occur; it’s unlikely that anyone will assume that more than one museum project is in the offing. However, the sentence is constructed so that such distraction is possible. To clarify, undertake the same revision as in the example above: “Daniel Libeskind is the architect of the proposed $43 million Contemporary Jewish Museum project in San Francisco, which will begin construction next year.”

5. “The company’s incident-response can quickly and reliably identify events, which threaten an organization’s security posture.”
Note that this sentence, by contrast, errs in the other direction: The wording and punctuation implies that all events are a threat to the organization’s security posture. But the sentence intends to refer to a restricted type of events, so it should be worded to convey that meaning: “The company’s incident-response can quickly and reliably identify events that threaten an organization’s security posture.”

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2 Responses to “5 Errors of Restriction”

  • :Donna

    Hi, Mark 🙂
    Could you please explain, in reference to the first example, the difference between using numerals vs. numbers spelled out? Is it simply because the “47” has a dollar sign?

    Thanks!
    Donna

  • Mark Nichol

    :Donna:

    Good question. I normally spell out numerals, even dollar figures, in these posts, but sometimes, when I borrow a sentence as an example from a print or online source, I retain the original style. Either form is correct; which one is used depends on the style for the publication in (or the website on) which the content appears.

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