Missing and extra words can affect how you’re perceived as a writer.
It was tempting to call this section The Virtual “That”. Read the following sentence about a fraud scheme, which appeared in a news article: The reality is the prize never really existed. This is the kind of sentence that has to be read twice, and here’s why. If you read it slowly, word for word, you would learn that that The – reality – is – the – prize. That’s what it says, unless you read the whole sentence and then double back to understand the writer’s thought.
Since the goal of communication is to make a thought common (i.e., share it), and to do so both efficiently and effectively, the sentence should have been written: The reality is that the prize never really existed. Though it adds another word to the sentence, it’s clearer for the reader. Unfortunately, this mistake happens all too often.
Verbs in a sentence may have one or more subjects (nouns or pronouns). If there’s more than one subject, they should be joined by a conjunction (e.g., and, or) or appropriate punctuation. Here are some examples:
- Mike rode his bicycle.
He rode his bicycle.
Mike and Susan rode a bicycle built for two.
They rode a bicycle built for two.
However, some people now use both a noun and the appropriate pronoun as a double subject. Examples:
- Mike (pause) he rode his bicycle.
Mike and Susan (pause) they rode a bicycle built for two.
Not only are these sentences incorrect, but they create a phony emphasis, to say nothing of how one would correctly punctuate them. This use of redundant words likely stems from the fact that so much of what people say these days—voice, print or text—is in sound-bites. So, it seems “natural” to speak with a “headline” (e.g., Mike and Susan), followed by a short “news clip” (e.g., they rode a bicycle built for two). There’s a certain sportscaster who does this almost all the time.
“these ones”, “those ones”
It’s really annoying to hear people say these ones or those ones. But, are they grammatically incorrect? Let’s look at some examples. After looking at several shirts or blouses in a store, a customer might point to one of the items and say:
- I’ll take this. Or, I’ll take that.
In these two sentences, the words this and that are object pronouns, with the name of the item (shirt or blouse) understood. For emphasis or specificity, the word one is often added:
- I’ll take this one. Or, I’ll take that one.
What’s happened here, grammatically, is that the word one has now become the object pronoun, and the words this and that have changed from pronouns into adjective determiners (which one? this one or that one).
For even more clarity about the quantity of purchase, the customer might have said:
- I’ll take just this one shirt/blouse. Or, I’ll take just that one shirt/blouse.
However, things get complicated when the selection becomes more than one item. In the example above, the customer might decide to take more than one shirt or blouse. He or she might say to the salesperson:
- I’ll take these.
Or the customer might point to a stack of the selected items and say:
- I’ll take those.
Again, for emphasis or specificity, the word ones might be added:
- I’ll take these ones or I’ll take those ones.
However, this creates a problem. First of all, the person pointing to the items is asking for more than one. And, in the phrases these ones and those ones, as above, these and those have shifted to adjective determiners and the word ones appears to have become the object pronoun. However, ones used in the plural form has very few applications. The word one, used as a noun or pronoun, is intended to mean a singular unit (e.g., one shirt). The exception might occur when discussing currency (e.g., I’ll take two fives and five ones), where ones is a shortcut referring to one-dollar bills.
With a minor correction, the last two sentences in the first paragraph would read:
- I’ll take just these two shirts/blouses or I’ll take just those two shirts/blouses.
Or, pointing to the two items desired, the customer might say:
- I’ll take just these or I’ll take just those.
Be very careful when you write. Re-read every sentence word by word, even reading out loud. Look for missing words that you just take for granted. Be sure that you’re conveying the meaning you intend. And avoid colloquial extra words that reduce the professional quality of your writing.
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