Jose Carillo's English Forum

Joe Carillo's Desk => My Media English Watch => Topic started by: Joe Carillo on January 06, 2018, 05:09:46 PM



Title: Confused, grammatically flawed sentence about a fallen dictator
Post by: Joe Carillo on January 06, 2018, 05:09:46 PM
Let’s take a look at this very interesting grammar question posted in Jose Carillo’s English Forum way back in 2011 by Forum member jonathanfvaldez:

“Is this sentence, from an article titled ‘How Qaddafi Reshaped Africa’ in the online edition of The Atlantic, grammatically correct?

“‘Of the three North African countries at the heart of the popular uprisings that have riveted the world over the last several weeks, Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi has always done the most to assert his country’s African identity, staking its prestige, its riches and his own personal influence above all on its place in the continent.’

“The way its author Howard French wrote it, shouldn’t the subject be ‘Libya’ instead of ‘Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi’?”

Here’s my reply to Jonathan:

(http://josecarilloforum.com/imgs/qaddafi_text-photo_composite-1M.png)

That sentence from The Atlantic is confused and grammatically flawed—a serious case of a dangling modifier being made to illogically modify a wrong subject.

Even worse, its subject logically shouldn’t be Libya but Muammar Qaddafi. The architecture of that sentence tells us that “Muammar Qadaffi,” not “Libya,” is what it wants to talk about. But the problem is that Howard French—or the magazine’s editors—mistook the possessive form “Libya’s” as the subject of the front-end modifying phrase.

Sad to say, even professional writers and editors fall for this treacherous grammar error—thinking that the “apostrophe-s” possessive form remains a noun instead of the adjective that it has become. Indeed, in the possessive form “Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi,” the subject is “Muammar Qaddafi” and the word “Libya’s” is just a modifier, no longer able to function as subject or object.

So shall we now do massive grammatical surgery on both the front-end modifying phrase and the main clause of that confusing and wrong-headed sentence? This is what conscientious writers or editors would do when confronted with a problem as vexing as this one. But the surprising thing is this: that troubled sentence doesn’t need any major restructuring at all, for the culprit that’s causing all that trouble is just one ill-chosen word—the preposition “of” that starts off that modifying phrase.

See what happens when we replace that “of” with “in”:

In the three North African countries at the heart of the popular uprisings that have riveted the world over the last several weeks, Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi has always done the most to assert his country’s African identity, staking its prestige, its riches and his own personal influence above all on its place in the continent.”

Now that front-end phrase properly becomes a modifier introduced by “in” as a preposition of place to situate the subject “Muammar Qaddafi” rather than specify the noun “Libya,” which was the faulty, nonsensical sense created by the misuse of the preposition “of.”

The moral of the story here is, of course, that we should be very judicious in using prepositions. Despite their unprepossessing size and minuscule heft, they can make an astoundingly breathtaking semantic difference in what a sentence says or fails to say.

***

Another question, this time from Forum member Nathan_Yell:

“I would like to know how ‘expected from’ and ‘expected of’ are used specifically. What is the difference, for example, between ‘This is expected from the manager’ to ‘This is expected of the manager’?”

My reply to Nathan_Yell:

The difference is the nature of the object being expected. “Expected from” means that some object is being anticipated from someone and that there will be actual transfer from the source to the one expecting it, as in “This bonus is expected from the manager.” On the other hand, “expected of” means believing that someone is capable of living up to or meeting some standard of performance, behavior, or way of thinking, as in “This level of performance is expected of anyone hired for this position.” In this case, there’s no expectation of transfer of the object to the one expecting it; knowing that the expectation is met is enough. (2011)

This essay first appeared in the column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the October 29, 2011 issue of The Manila Times, © 2011 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.

RELATED READING:
Handling Pronouns with Unclear Antecedents (http://josecarilloforum.com/forum/index.php?topic=6925.0)