Do you get the syntax attacks? Here’s the cure…

Do you ever get your nouns and verbs and knickers in a knot? It’s surprising how many people do, as you’ll see from this selection of absolute howlers taken from picture captions in one of the UK’s most popular daily newspapers.

But while we have a good laugh at some of these dipsh*t goofs, at the same time we can also learn a few things from them to help us with our own writing.

Syntax writing mistakes on How To Write Better .net

Syntax: what is it and why does it matter in your writing?

Basically (purists: I will apologise only once, OK?) syntax just means the way sentences are formed … and getting your syntax right means your sentences are understandable, and mean exactly what you intend.

This sounds simple enough.

However syntax is very, very easy to get wrong, as this classic caption demonstrates…

But after tying the knot, Sir Paul’s daughters looked decidedly glum.

What is meant, of course, is that “after Sir Paul tied the knot, his daughters looked decidedly glum.”

I look forward to hearing from grammarians who will tell us exactly what the problem is in technical terms which, I confess, I have forgotten.

I just know it’s wrong because is reads wrong. Laughably wrong.

Syntax writing goofs in the garden

Here’s an example I just made up:

After working hard on the garden all afternoon, the flower beds looked lovely.

The garden didn’t work hard all afternoon: I did. What it should be is after I had worked hard on the garden all afternoon, the flower beds looked lovely.

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Now for another from that newspaper which we mustn’t name or shame…

She swapped her skyscraper heels for a pair of trainers as she made her way to her waiting car

Did she really manage to change her shoes while making her way to her waiting car? I don’t think so.

More likely it should have been something like when she made her way to her waiting car, she had swapped her skyscraper heels for a pair of trainers.”

More written syntax attacks for this silly boy…

Another real one:

Marco looked flustered when he was quizzed over his very public cheating on his fiancee during his post-eviction interview

What a busy boy, huh. Managed to work in some very public cheating on his fiancée while simultaneously being interviewed post-eviction (from a UK reality TV show.)

The right way, if there is one for this naughty boy: “Marco looked flustered when he was quizzed during his post-eviction interview over his very public cheating on his fiancée.”

Now, how about this:

Kaley stepped out make-up free which she covered with a stylish pair of black sunglasses

This brings all kinds of horrors to mind, including how Kaley might have tried to envelope herself in black sunglasses so disappearing up her own steps and other less savoury issues. Let’s not go there. But the poor caption writer would have made life easier for her/himself by writing something like, “Kaley stepped out makeup free, covering up with a stylish pair of black sunglasses.”

Now, how about unintended plays-on-words?

Strictly speaking these examples of bad, misleading and ultimately funny writing are not syntax goofs, but all the same illustrate how we can write stuff that seems OK in the moment but can be hilariously wrong when read back.

How about … (yes, another caption from That British Newspaper)

Nervous? However, as she approached some of the more challenging barriers, the star wore a look of fear mixed with pure exhaustion on her face

Poor star. Most of us prefer only to wear makeup on our faces but this one was loading it on by the ton.

Then we had …

Brooklyn Beckham took to Instagram on Friday to shoot himself in mirrored Aviators from his mother Victoria Beckham’s fashion range.

OK, after a moment’s thought we realise that Brooklyn was talking about a camera shoot, but we might have got the message more accurately if we had read “to shoot photos of himself…”

And finally, that Marco once again. Frankly I doubt he was as confused about his relationship with Laura (name) as the newspaper caption writer was…

Marco ended up having a sexual relationship with model/actress Laura (name) on the show and even had sex with her

What, both at the same time? Methinks the word “sexual” is superfluous. Good luck to them.

You couldn’t make it up, could you?

And let’s be serious for a moment. Much as these quotes are funny, were you to make similar mistakes in your writing for business and other purposes, just how much good would that do for you and your career, business, or other major interest? (Yep – real quotes from the same newspaper.)

Later on moving boxes and furniture were spotted in the driveway of the home the couple shared together

All that needs is a simple hyphen, or else we’ll have to assume that the boxes and furniture were moving around doing their own things in the driveway. “Later on moving-boxes and furniture were spotted”…etc.

It’s ridiculous to use the phrase as (whoever) did (whatever) when it turns into bullsh*t like this…

The 70-year-old icon mixed modernity and tradition as she slipped into an indigenous-inspired poncho with asymmetrical neckline

Once again, we must marvel at how these 70-year-old icons can mix all sorts of garment wear while simultaneously slipping into even more exotic things, all at the same time. Oh, please…

Let’s do the syntax rock so we can all write better…

Once again, many thanks to my good friend Trudy van Buskirk in Toronto, who alerted me some time ago to this amazing video which I found in an article by Jason Fell on Entrepreneur.com. It pretty well says it all about writing not just “properly” – but simply so we can be better understood … enjoy!

And by the way … there is much more business writing help ready for you here on HTWB

Take a look at the useful resources you can find here…with no jargon or bullsh*t, just practical help. OK.

Questions? Drop Suze a note on suze@suzanstmaur.com.

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Thoughts

  1. Thanks for the mention Suze!

    I’ve always been good at grammar but got ESPECIALLY good when I was a schoolteacher in the late 70s. For two years of the eight I taught “reading and writing” to kids in special education. Their lack of writing ability forced me to think about what and how I wrote. They quite simply didn’t understand what I wrote sometimes and told (and showed) me and that taught me to review my writing very carefully 🙂

  2. It’s quite a sobering thought, isn’t it Trudy, that even B2B advertising is now aimed at a literacy age of about 12. But we can learn a lot about the logic of writing from children – especially on how not to overwrite or pad text out with superfluous garbage. Kids tend to say it how it is. Wouldn’t it be nice if politicians did the same!!

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