A Quiz About Missing Connections

By Mark Nichol

Writing is often compromised by a writer’s failure to think a sentence through to its logical conclusion. Often, along the way, a small but crucial word or phrase is omitted that leaves a gap in a parallel construction, thereby contributing to the reader’s confusion. In each sentence below, determine the missing element, then check my revisions at the bottom of the page to see how our solutions compare:

1. “The corporation runs hydropower plants from Maine to Montana.”

2. “Because Martinez was so young, it was natural to compare his potential with Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax.”

3. “If she could, she would travel to Saturn to see the rings as well as other galaxies to see if there is life elsewhere.”

4. “Remember the sixties dream of an entire meal served in a pill, like the Jetsons?”

5. “The practice field utilizes the same dirt on the warning track as the team’s home stadium.”

Answers and Explanations

1. The impression is that the plants are somehow interconnected in a continuous string from one state to the next, rather than that the plants can be found in various states in and between the two states mentioned. Complete the thought with the addition of a phrase that clarifies that the plants are located intermittently and eliminates the possible misapprehension: “The corporation runs hydropower plants in many parts of the country, from Maine to Montana.”

2. The comparison should not be described as the one between Martinez’s potential and Sandy Koufax; it should be between the respective potentials of the two men. That distinction is clarified by the addition of two words that indicate the true parallel relationship: “Because Martinez was so young, it was natural to compare his potential with that of Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax.”

3. As written, the sentence suggests that the subject desires to travel to Saturn to see two features — the planets rings and other galaxies – both for the purposes of determining whether life exists elsewhere besides Earth. But the two things she wishes to experience are Saturn’s rings and other galaxies — and only in the latter case because she’s curious about the possible existence of extraterrestrial life. This significant misunderstanding is due to one small but important omission: The sentence is missing a preposition before the reference to other galaxies that parallels the one before “Saturn to see the rings”: “If she could, she would travel to Saturn to see the rings, as well as to other galaxies to see if there is life elsewhere.”

4. This sentence implies that the Jetsons constituted an entire meal served in a pill. However, the writer is referring to a futuristic idea reminiscent of something that might have appeared, or perhaps did appear, in the 1960s animated television series The Jetsons — referring to the program, not the family featured in it — and that’s what the sentence should indicate: “Remember the sixties dream of an entire meal served in a pill, as in The Jetsons?”

5. The suggestion here is that the dirt on the warning track at the practice field is dug up and deposited in the home stadium — and that it is shuttled back and forth repeatedly. What the writer means is that the dirt on the practice field’s warning track and the dirt on the home stadium’s warning track are from the same source. This fact must be explicated in such detail, including specifying that the dirt in question at the home stadium is to be found not just generally within the structure, but, more precisely, on its warning track: “The practice field utilizes the same type of dirt on the warning track as that found on the perimeter of the team’s home stadium.”

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1 Response to “A Quiz About Missing Connections”

  • Leif G.S. Notae

    Again, another stellar test here to get the brain working. I think I might be getting the hang of this… heh.

    Great little quiz though, always appreciated these for their ability to make me feel accomplished and ashamed of my “wording” skills at the same time. Thanks for sharing this with us!

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