“They said, based on a secret tape and the grand jury testimony of a prominent Satmar supporter of Mr. Lebovits, that he had tried to extort hundreds of thousands of dollars from Mr. Lebovits.”
“And to pile legal insult atop injury, Mr. Lebovits’s lawyers used his indictment and other technicalities to persuade a state appeals court to overturn his conviction.”
The sentences above come from a disturbing report, in the New York Times, about government attorneys indicting a whistle-blower in a sexual abuse case. I have set two pronouns in boldface type. To whom do they refer?
In the first sentence, it’s not the supporter but the whistle-blower who is accused of extortion. In the second, it’s not Mr. L but, yes, the whistle-blower who is indicted (although, with the next his, it is Mr. L who was convicted).
The piece is outstanding, but the reporter might think about pronouns and their referents. When they’re widely separated, it’s helpful to have both appear in the same sentence.
A Times comma [before the word and] in the Supreme Court’s summary of its opinion today, ruling that naturally occurring genes may not be patented: “If valid, Myriad’s patents would give it the exclusive right to isolate an individual’s BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, and would give Myriad the exclusive right to synthetically create BRCA cDNA.”
The sentence does not appear in the opinion by Justice Thomas.
Maureen Dowd writes of Hillary “checking her BlackBerry wearing big sunglasses.” Did she then shoot an elephant in her pyjamas?
“Some thought the article was ready to go, and sent it on through the editorial production cycle.”
Above, from the “Public Editor’s Journal” at the newspaper of record, an ideal example of the Times comma, “the unnecessary one that separates the subject from the second verb in a compound predicate.”
First tomatoes, now this: “The justices, in a unanimous vote Monday, rejected the farmer’s argument that cheap soybeans he bought from a grain elevator are not covered by the Monsanto patents, even though most of them also were genetically modified to resist the company’s Roundup herbicide.”
From A. O. Scott’s review: “Gatsby is partly a creature of Nick’s imagination, and conjures up his own idealized vision of Daisy (Carey Mulligan), the girl he left behind and acquired his ill-gotten fortune to win back.”
My fantasy: Scott had a second he before conjures. Realizing that Nick might be mistaken as a referent, a copy editor removed the pronoun but left a comma (after imagination) separating the subject from the second verb in a compound predicate.
The mixing of verb types is also problematic. Better might be a sentence along these lines: Gatsby is partly a creature of Nick’s imagination, as Daisy is of Gatsby’s.
with video, on the website of the newspaper of record: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/07/opinion/vigilante-copy-editor.html
“With so many societies around the world being torn apart, especially in the Middle East, it is vital that America survives and flourishes as a beacon of pluralism.”
There’s a subtle problem with grammar and meaning in this sentence from Tom Friedman’s op-ed on putting America back together.
As written, using the present tense for survives and flourishes, the sentence says that, given the state if the world, it’s a good thing that America is as it is; but Friedman seems to want to cast the outcome in doubt. We hope that America will lead the way, and (unless it follows Friedman’s plan) it may not. What’s wanted is the subjunctive: the wish that America survive and flourish.
From the Boston Globe:
“In a telephone interview, Pamala Rolon, a UMass Dartmouth senior at and a resident assistant at the Pine Dale dorms, said she knew Dzhokhar Tsarnaev for the past year and finds it incredulous that he played any role in the bombs at the Boston marathon.”
Is it disrespectful to notice infelicities in an account of responses to the death of a bomb victim? I prefer to think: In this, of all assignments, a writer should take care not to distract readers with sentences that interrupt the flow of thought.
From today’s New York Times story on Lu Lingzi:
“More than 194,000 Chinese students were enrolled in American colleges and universities in the 2011-12 academic year, far exceeding any other country outside the United States, according to the Institute of International Education. And Boston, with its many colleges and the cachet of Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has long been a magnet for them.”
[A]ny other country sends us looking for the nation in question. In grammatical terms, none is named. Chinese students is not a country; and if we did accept the adjective in place of a noun, we would find that American stands closer by. The sentence is missing implicit phrases like a total that and the contribution of. Since to insert them would be awkward, the whole needs to be rephrased.
And what of that final them? Numerous plurals (Harvard and MIT, colleges, etc.) come between the pronoun and its intended referent, fifty-plus words back.