Usage Exercise (453)

Rephrase each sentence for correct usage and improved clarity.

Answers and Explanations

1.
Original: Could sea otters, those most adorable of critters, be threatening to become extinct?
Correct : Could sea otters, those most adorable of critters, be in danger of becoming extinct?

"Threatening" implies that the sea otters are the actors, using their possible extinction as a threat to force some action, but they are being acted on.

2.
Original: Tuesday’s statement is the most definitive signal that Bush plans to try and become the third member of his family to serve as president.
Correct : Tuesday’s statement is the most definitive signal that Bush plans to try to become the third member of his family to serve as president.

"Try and" is a colloquialism that should be avoided in all but the most informal writing.

3.
Original: A tanker truck collided with a fallen tree in just one of many accidents that occurred during the storm.
Correct : A tanker truck ran into a fallen tree in just one of many accidents that occurred during the storm.

A collision occurs when two moving objects strike each other. Even if the tree were falling at the time of impact, it would not be participating in a collision. The truck simply ran into it.

4.
Original: The two city councilwomen proposed the new ordinance.
Correct : The two councilwomen proposed the new ordinance.

"City" does not modify "councilwomen"; "city council" would modify "women." However, it’s better to simply omit "city," and avoid the clumsy-looking "city council women," so that the compound word "councilwomen" can be retained.

5.
Original: I’m at my wit’s end trying to resolve the dilemma of how to mollify one person without antagonizing another.
Correct : I’m at my wits’ end trying to resolve the dilemma of how to mollify one person without antagonizing another.

One is at the end of one’s wits, not at the end of one’s wit, so the form of the phrase should be plural possessive, not singular possessive.

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