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"'I must not forget the two sons of this aspiring citizen, who came to church in a dashing curricle.' Without the context, we can not be quite certain, although we may think it highly probable, that who refers, not to the near noun citizen, but to the prominent noun sons. The possessive — citizen's two sons, who'— would remove all doubt.”—Bain.
“This way will direct you to a gentleman's house that hath skill to take off these burdens." Correct to this: “to the house of a gentleman that hath skill."
“The farmer's orchard is respected by the boy who owns a large dog." Changed: “The boy respects the orchard of the farmer who owns a large dog.
“Nor better was their lot who fled.” Changed: “Nor better was the lot of them that fled.”
Each qualifying word or set of words should be looked at in its setting; we should try the bearing both before and after, and place the word where it will modify only the subject intended. Sometimes we find, thrown into the middle of a sentence, a grammatical expression that can be connected in meaning either with what goes before, or with what follows. This is a common source of ambiguity.
“Gibbon incurred the imputation of avarice, while he was, in fact, exceeding generous, simply by his ignorance of the purchasing power of money.” The words "exceeding generous" may be construed either with the words which precede, or with those which follow. We may understand the author as meaning either "exceeding generous notwithstanding the imputation of avarice," or "exceeding generous simply by his ignorance of the purchasing power of money.” The proper arrangement would be: “Gibbon, while, in fact, exceeding generous, incurred the imputation of avarice, simply by his ignorance," etc.
Personal pronouns should be used with care. The pronoun is by nature a kind of universal noun; it may refer to anything of the same gender, number, and person, hence care is required to have it suggest at once its antecedent. The strict rule is that pronouns should follow the nouns to which they refer, without the intervention of another noun. Ambiguity in the use of pronouns may be avoided some times by substituting direct for indirect narration, sometimes by repeating the antecedent, sometimes by changing the number of one of the antecedents, sometimes by changing the order. Occasionally sentences in themselves not clear may be tolerated if the context gives the meaning unmistakably.
“John asked his cousin to bring his hat, as he was going on an errand for his mother." This is objectionable because there is doubt as to the antecedent of “his,” in two cases. To correct it we must in some way make perfectly evident what is meant. By changing to direct narration, we can express every possible meaning with perfect clearness; as, “John said to his cousin, ‘Bring me my hat; I am going on an errand for your mother.'
“He said that he had conversed with Mr. Smith, and his proposition was impracticable.” Here the only escape from ambiguity is to express the antecedent in full. “Mr. Smith's" should be substituted for “his."
“They were persons of high hopes, before they (hopes) were clouded over by misfortune." This may be improved by changing the number of one of the antecedents: “They were full of hope until it was clouded over by misfortune."
“Joe Brown, the brother of Faith Brown, who gave me this book, has gone to Europe.” By changing the order we may effect an improvement; as, “Faith Brown's brother Joe, who gave me this book, has gone to Europe.”
RULE II. - Omit no word that is necessary to the complete expression of the thought.
Words which should not be omitted:
1. The subject, or a pronoun standing for it, should be repeated whenever its omission would cause ambiguity or obscurity. The following is ambiguous:
"He is supposed to be working for his party, which in truth is suffering from his neglect, and (he? or it?) will not permit any one else to give it advice.”
The relative should be repeated when it is the subject of several verbs; as, “The father was awaiting his son, who had never failed to gather with the family around the Christmas board, and was prompted by the closest ties of natural affection to speed this reunion.” Say, “who was prompted," etc. Otherwise it might mean that "the father” was prompted.
2. Repeat the preposition after an intervening conjunction, especially if a verb and an object also intervene.
“Had John inherited the great qualities of his father, Henry Beauclerc, or the conqueror," etc. The omission of the preposition is misleading to such as are not acquainted with the facts from other sources. Macaulay's arrangement of this sentence is, however, perfectly clear: “Had John inherited the great qualities of his father, of Henry Beauclerc, or of the conqueror,” etc.
3. Repeat the article, “A,” “An,” or “The," before each of two or more connected nouns denoting things that are to be distinguished from each other or emphasized; as, “Wanted, a nurse and housemaid.” This means that the same person is to be both. If two persons are wanted, one for each office, the article should be repeated.
“The" should be repeated when the object is not sufficiently distinguished without it. “They possessed both the civil and criminal jurisdiction.” Say, “both the civil and the criminal jurisdiction.”
“The pursuers and pursued entered the gates together. The contrast requires the repetition of the article; thus, “The pursuers and the pursued entered the gates together."
4. Conjunctions should be repeated where the omission would cause ambiguity. Should there be several verbs at some distance from a conjunction on which they depend, the conjunction must be repeated.
“When we look back upon the havoc that two hundred years have made in the ranks of our national authors—and, above all, (when) we refer their rapid disappearance to the quick succession of new competitors—we can not help being dismayed at the prospect that lies before the writers of the present day.” Here, if “when” is omitted we at once substitute a parenthetical statement for what is really a subordinate clause.
In reporting a speech or an opinion, “that” must be continually repeated, to avoid the danger of confusing what the writer says with what others say.
In the examples that follow, notice how the sentences gain in clearness by the repetition of the conjunction: “He lives in the family rather as a relative, than as a dependent.” “Do not forget that the youth was the greater fool of the two, and that the master served such a booby rightly in turning him out-of-doors."
5. The verb, or the verb with its subject should be repeated after the conjunctions "than," "as," etc., when the omission would cause ambiguity. Thus:
“Lovest thou me more than these?” might convey two meanings, either, “more than these love me ” or, "more than thou lovest these.”
“I hope you will find me as faithful as William," i. e., either as faithful as William finds me or as faithful as you find William
Even auxiliary verbs, as well as principal verbs, must follow the rule of repetition.
“The Doctor was a very great favorite, and received with much respect and honor.” Say, “was received.” Sometimes the principal verb is omitted, much to the injury of the sentence; as, “I have always and still do believe that the soul is immortal.” Say, “I have always believed and still do believe that the soul is immortal.”
DIRECTION. — Criticise the following sentences with regard to clearness:
1. The English nearly lost two thousand men.
2. Louisiana not only produces cotton in abundance, but sugar also.
3. The Romans, at least, understood liberty, as well as we.
4. Among the numberless contradictions, this one predominates, in our nature.
5. A man would not scruple to pick a pocket who could make so
vile a pun.
6. According to his conduct, in this world, a man's worth is estimated.
7. It is true what he says, but it is not applicable to the point.
8. Mary told her sister that she was going to get something pretty for her at the store, and that she ought to go along.
9. The Spartans prayed the gods, notwithstanding their austerity, to grant them the beautiful with the good.
10. The slaves were sold by their masters whenever they were forced by their recklessness or by their misfortunes to have their value in money