Assorted Grammatical Problems Exercise (732)

In each sentence, identify and correct the grammatical error.

Answers and Explanations

1.
Original: Unlike Earth’s moon that keeps its same face toward us night after night, Pluto has five moons, four of them spinning wildly.
Correct : Unlike Earth’s moon, which keeps its same face toward us night after night, Pluto has five moons, four of them spinning wildly.

The phrase "Earth’s moon that keeps . . ." implies that Earth has more than one moon, and only one consistently faces the planet. In the revised version of the sentence, a pair of commas correctly set off the parenthetical phrase "which keeps its same face toward us night after night."

2.
Original: Among those arrested were John Smith, of Centerville, and Mary Smith, of Smalltown; it was unclear whether the Smiths were related.
Correct : Among those arrested were John Smith, of Centerville, and Mary Smith, of Smalltown; it was unclear whether the Smiths are related.

The focus of the possible matrimonial or familial connection between John Smith and Mary Smith is not whether they were married or related at some point; the question is whether they are married or related now. Even though the report correctly poses the fact of their arrest in the past tense, the comment about their possible relationship, which if it exists is continuous, should be posed in the present tense.

3.
Original: After declaring independence from Great Britain, Virginia’s first state capital was Williamsburg.
Correct : After Virginia declared independence from Great Britain, its first state capital was Williamsburg.

This sentence erroneously identifies Virginia’s first state capital, not Virginia itself, as declaring independence. Inserting the state’s name in the introductory modifying phrase and replacing the name with a pronoun in the main clause clarifies the subject.

4.
Original: The tribes united as a confederacy, which means "a group of people joined in a common goal."
Correct : The tribes united as a confederacy. (The word "confederacy" means "a group of people joined in a common goal."

The confederacy itself doesn’t have the meaning given; the definition should be associated with the word, not the thing.

5.
Original: Vice Chairman of World Wide Widgets Mary Jones declined to comment on the allegations.
Correct : Mary Jones, vice chairman of World Wide Widgets, declined to comment on the allegations.

Preceding the name of a person with a descriptive phrase consisting of a job title followed by an organization’s or company’s name is not incorrect, but it is clumsy writing. "World Wide Widgets vice chairman Mary Jones" is better (note that the title is not capitalized, because it is merely part of a descriptive phrase), though that construction is suited more to informal journalistic style.

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