The daily paper serves as a living textbook on writing, but we all know that even the pros slip up once in a while. Here are a few gotchas from the past week.
The sports page
These two sentences appeared in an article on Cleveland Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor’s chances to be voted American League Rookie of the Year. What would you change?
There’s no doubt his play at the plate and in the field have given the Indians a boost since his arrival in June. If his bat remains hot and the Indians fight their way into the playoffs, it would be hard to not reward his strong season.
Did you see the error in “his play at the plate and in the field have given”? “Play” is singular and “have” is plural. This is a common error because the intervening words, “at the plate and in the field,” throw us off the scent. We lose track of the need to make the verb agree with the singular noun “play.”
Although the sentence contains only 23 words, it serves as a reminder to take care with long sentences. As sentences stretch out, the likelihood increases that readers will have trouble with comprehension and writers will have trouble with correctness.
My other edit would be in “hard to not reward his strong season.” I’m not a stickler on avoiding split infinitives, but here the phrasing seems awkward. A solution is thinking of a synonym for “not reward” such as “neglect” or “overlook.” So this might be our edited version:
There’s no doubt his play at the plate and in the field has given the Indians a boost since his arrival in June. If his bat remains hot and the Indians fight their way into the playoffs, it would be hard to overlook his strong season.
(At the end you might have also changed the tentative “would” to “will.” I don’t see that as a must, but I’m all for writing with more conviction.)
This sentence is from a letter seeking advice about how to proceed in a budding relationship at work. What are your edits?
We get along wonderfully, socialize outside of work, and we flirt … a lot.
Did you spot two errors? “Outside of” is a useful phrase as a figure of speech meaning “except” or “except for,” but that’s not the intent here, so we need to delete “of.” And we see classic lack of parallel construction in the sentence overall. The first and third elements begin with “we,” but the second piggybacks on the first “we.” So pick your solution:
We get along wonderfully, socialize outside work, and flirt … a lot.
We get along wonderfully, we socialize outside work, and we flirt … a lot.
If you prefer the first one, I agree with you.
In addition to presenting workshops on writing in the workplace, Norm Friedman is a writer, editor, and writing coach. His 100+ Instant Writing Tips is a brief “non-textbook” to help individuals overcome common writing errors and write with more finesse and impact. Learn more at http://www.normfriedman.com/index.shtml.