More stuff from Peikoff’s Grammar Course
Peikoff’s Guidelines for Subordination (from Lecture 2)
- Don’t subordinate excessively. Strategies to avoid excessive subordination:
- break long sentences up
- can reduce clauses to phrase or word
- remove unnecessary writing
- Avoid “overlapping subordination” e.g.
"He was different from the other Republicans, who found that he was a man who had no children who were old enough to vote."
- Subordinate clause must be put in right spot.
He put the ring on her finger with a smile that he had bought at Tiffany’s.Sounds kinda like he bought the smile at Tiffany’s. Better would be “He put the ring that he had bought at Tiffany’s on her finger with a smile.” I’d go even further than that actually – IMHO Tiffany is enough of a name brand that you could say “Tiffany ring” and have that be meaningful, so I’d say “He put the Tiffany ring on her finger with a smile.”
The man who was addressing us loudly condemned the proposal.Ambiguous as to whether the man was addressing people loudly or loudly condemning the proposal.
- Peikoff says fixing this type of thing just by adding commas is considered bad form. Better to move the
loudlyto somewhere where it is not ambiguous.
- Peikoff says fixing this type of thing just by adding commas is considered bad form. Better to move the
- Use right kind of clause, especially if you need a noun clause.
Augustine considered the essence of sin is to rebel against God.Needs a “that”. If you add a “that” before “the essence” Peikoff says you make what is a main clause without the that into a noun clause (which can then serve as the object of considered). Peikoff takes issue with this sentence cuz if you’re reading it you may get confused and have to reread, which he says is something that shouldn’t happen. He says oftentimes you can omit “that” cuz there’s no misreading/rereading issue involved. E.g.
He said he would not come.For the second
he, because it’s in the subject/nominative form (he as opposed to
himwhich would be the object form), there is no ambiguity as to whether the second
heis the subject of
wouldor the object of
said. If the second
hewas the object of said, it would have to be in a different form. So here the form of the pronouns gives us a clue that helps us make the sentence less ambiguous. Compare to above Augustine sentence where
essencedoes not have such a clue built in and can be read different ways.
The reason I failed was because I didn’t study..
because I didn't studyfunctioning as adverb there, but we want a noun not adverb, e.g. “that I didn’t study” or “the fact that I didn’t study.”
Peikoff Grammar HW 2
Note that if I say Peikoff agrees, that means he agrees about the basic nature of the error, and not necessarily every detail of my analysis or rewrites.
Note that my trees should be clickable now.
There are thousands of boys with college educations that are out of work. (F&S)
My answer: this parallels the “He put the ring on her finger with a smile that he had bought at Tiffany’s” example where “that he had bought at Tiffany’s” appears to possibly modify “smile.” So I guess it’d be a misplaced adjective clause, with the adjective clause being “that are out of work” and the problem that it apparently potentially modifies “college educations.” I think this sort of error is hard for me to detect by default – were I not consciously looking for it due to having just gone through a lecture that included a similar example, I’m not sure that I would see it. The reason for this is that I think I do lots of automatic cleanup for readability and “reasonable” interpretation when I read this kind of thing. It’s like how I often don’t see typos unless I’m doing TTS (or unless the typo is glaringly “obvious”.)
To correct the error here, I’d change the prepositional phrase “with college educations” into an adjective. E.g.
There are thousands of college-educated boys that are out of work. That way there is nothing in between the adjective clause
that are out of work and the thing it is modifying.
Peikoff agrees re: misplaced modifier.
Now, like the twenties, inflation is a real danger.
My answer: I think the sentence wants to express something like “Inflation is a real danger now, as it was in the twenties.” The “like the twenties” phrase is awkwardly placed though and could be read as maybe saying now is like the twenties in some unspecified way and then following that up with what seems like almost a non-sequitur about inflation being a real danger.
Some rewrites in addition to the one I already did:
Inflation is a real danger now just like in the twenties.
Inflation was a danger in the twenties and is a danger today.
Inflation. a danger in the twenties, remains dangerous now. (last one is an appositive :D)
“Now” is not like “twenties”. “Now” is the time you’re in now. And twenties is the time you’re in then. So the real parallel in your thought is now versus in the twenties. In other words, what part of speech is “now”? And what type of function does “in the twenties” have? It’s also a time specifier so it is an adverb. So your relationship here is between two adverbs. The “in” is implied. “Like” only as a preposition can govern a noun and pronoun, prepositions can only govern nouns or pronouns, you can’t say, “in now”, and therefore you really are implying “now, as was true in the twenties”. See that? Consequently, you have to say “as in”, and you can leave “was true” to implication. In other words, “like” has to govern a noun or a pronoun, and although the word “twenties” is a noun, in this sentence it is functioning as part of an implied adverbial phrase “in the twenties.”
Note: the Oxford Learner’s dictionary has the following note re: like and as:
I also found this page on the topic which had a couple of useful sample problems.
As he predicted the enslavement and destruction of mankind, the President took a sip of water.
My answer: I think there is an error, but how the error is best characterized depends on how you read the sentence grammatically.
Peikoff’s perspective is that the sentence is in error because the main event (predicting the enslavement and destruction of mankind) is not in the main clause. He bases this reading on the standard view that “As he predicted the enslavement and destruction of mankind” is an adverbial subordinate clause. I can see that perspective.
OTOH suppose you view “as” more like a conjunction between two clauses of equal grammatical status. There is still an error in that reading, for most writing contexts. The error is that two things which are very dissimilar in importance are being given equal structural “weight” or emphasis. The enslavement and destruction of mankind is much more important than sipping water, and so they should not be treated equally in terms of how you structure the sentence.
Under either view we can say that the reader’s expectations are being violated in terms of how the sentence is structured. For lots of standard contexts/writing goals, this would be bad. However, if the writing is satirical or funny, then it would be okay, because in that context, you actually may want to violate the reader’s expectations on purpose. (Peikoff makes this point with a different example – he mentions the possibility of the water being laced with germs of some kind).
A debate is where two people argue back and forth.
My answer: this is similar to the
The reason I failed was because I didn’t study. sentence from the lesson.
where two people argue back and forth wants to tell us something about the location of some action, but the verb we have is
is. So we actually need something to link to on the other side like a noun (and I had trouble making an adjective work here so I do think it needs to be a noun though I’m not 100% sure why).
One possible rewrite:
A debate is a situation where two people argue back and forth.
More aggressive rewrite:
Debates involve people arguing back and forth.
I had been standing idly on the corner for an hour when an explosion that killed hundreds of men occurred.
My answer: Maybe another example of putting the main event in the subordinate clause.
An explosion that killed hundreds of men occurred after I had been standing idly on the corner for an hour.
Peikoff agrees. He liked the following rewrite from a student:
After I’d been standing idly on the corner for an hour, an explosion killed hundreds of men.
He liked this because it gives the emphasis to the explosion killing hundreds of men over the explosion occurring. It sounds like he hadn’t intended the emphasis on the occurring as a problematic issue when he wrote the question but that he was happy someone noticed it.
It was raining in the morning, while it cleared up later.
My answer: wrong conjunction. You want to indicate a contrast here (a change in weather) so you should use something like “but” instead of “while”.
Peikoff agrees. He also mentions you could use “although” if you wanted a subordinating conjunction.
Last Tuesday, an event occurred in my life that I shall always remember.
My answer: I think the issue is that “that I shall always remember” is ambiguous between pointing to “event” and “life”.
An event that I shall always remember occurred in my life last Tuesday."
Better rewrite, written after listening to a hint from Peikoff:
An unforgettable event occurred in my life last Tuesday.
As Aristotle before him, Aquinas was a champion of logic.
My answer: Incorrect usage of “as” per Peikoff’s discussion of
as. We want either
Like Aristotle before him or alternatively
As Aristotle was before him, though that latter one might make more sense if placed after the other clause rather than before.
Peikoff agrees. There’s no clause in the “As” word grouping, so nothing to justify “As”.
We are saying things here which the world will little note, while they did things here which the world can never forget.
My answer: I think the “while” is the problem. You want to indicate a contrast here, not a temporal relationship (and indeed in Lincoln’s original Gettysburg Address there is a “but” used where the “while” is here.)
We are saying things here which the world will little note, but they did things here which the world can never forget. Or just use the original 🙂
Peikoff had another problem in mind, namely the issue of turning the “they did things” into a subordinate clause (from the original) which changes the focus into being on what people are saying.
Original Gettysburg Address quote for context:
The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.
A psychological session which was the turning point in her recovery from schizophrenia then began.
My answers/thoughts: (I’m pretty low confidence on this one)
Do we care that the session is beginning at some unspecified point in time? The turning point thing seems like the main idea. Rewrite:
The psychological session was the turning point in her recovery from schizophrenia."
If you must keep the idea of the session beginning, you could do something like
The psychological session - just beginning - was the turning point in her recovery from schizophrenia. or
The just-beginning psychological session was the turning point in her recovery from schizophrenia.
Peikoff: calls the problem reversal of subordination, basically agrees that the main idea is the turning point in recovery from schizophrenia and that the session beginning shouldn’t be getting emphasized. He likes the rewrite
The psychological session which began then was the turning point.
Minor tangential/side thoughts on this problem:
Writing about the future from the past: It sounds like we’re looking at some point in the past and describing it (cuz how could we know it was the turning point in her recovery from schizophrenia without the benefit of hindsight?)
If we’re looking back at the past and describing the course of future events, I would write it something like “A psychological session which would be the turning point in her recovery from schizophrenia was beginning.”
What is then?: Most dictionaries say
then is an adverb but some say it’s a conjunction. I think if you view it as a conjunction, that’s problematic because then you’ve got a conjunction in between the subject session and the verb began. OTOH if you view it as an adverb, then it’s just a modifier on began (began at what time? Then) so it’s fine.
He offered a proposal to repeal the Income Tax Amendment which is extremely controversial.
My answer: ambiguous whether the proposal to repeal the ITA or the ITA itself is controversial.
Rewrites (depending on meaning):
He offered an extremely controversial proposal to repeal the Income Tax Amendment.
He offered a proposal to repeal the extremely controversial Income Tax Amendment.
Peikoff: Sounds like he agreed, he was kinda brief on this one though.
He liked the books which were in the bookcase which he had bought at the auction he attended during the Fair which was held at Christmas and which held volumes which were famous in many circles which he encountered when he pursued his avocation which he enjoyed.
My answer: A damn mess!
One possible rewrite:
He liked the books on the bookcase. The bookcase was purchased at an auction during a Fair held at Christmas. It held famous volumes - famous, at least, within the many circles he encountered when pursuing his enjoyable avocation.
Peikoff: Seems to agree, called it overlapping subordination.
Like his colleague, his conduct was wicked.
My answer: This is not parallel. It is comparing a colleague (overall, without limitation or qualification) to a person’s conduct.
Maybe the simplest rewrite involve’s a reordering + a very small addition:
His conduct was wicked, like his colleague's.
Since the conduct has been introduced first and since we use the possessive form in the second part, it’s reasonable in this case to read the implied words
conduct into the
like his colleague's phrase.
We could also just do:
His conduct, like that of his colleague, was wicked.
Or to be super super clear:
His conduct, like the conduct of his colleague, was wicked.
Most of our trouble is because we think too little about ethics.
My answer: This is similar to the error in “The reason I failed was because I didn’t study.”. We don’t want an adverb clause here. Rewrite:
Most of our trouble is the result of a lack of thinking about ethics.
Peikoff: agrees regarding error, suggests rewrite:
Most of our trouble ist hat we think too little about ethics. or
The cause of most of our trouble is that we think too little about ethics.
I thought about my problems a great deal, finally concluding that I am basically worthless.
My answer: I think
finally concluding that I am basically worthless. may be like a participial phrase or something but that’s inappropriate cuz the result is you get something like “(finally-concluding-that-I-am-basically-worthless-I) thought about my problems a great deal.” So the ultimate result of the subject’s activity is just a modifier on the subject, which is bizarre.
I thought about my problems a great deal and concluded that I am basically worthless.
I thought about my problems a great deal and I concluded that I am basically worthless.
Peikoff: Calls this reversal of subordination, suggests
After thinking about my problems a great deal, I finally reached a conclusion: I am worthless.
Last problem, unnumbered:
Combine the following into a unified sentence, with appropriate subordination:
English is a difficult language. The homework in this course takes too much time. Grammar is worth studying. The teacher goes too fast. Subordination in English is especially difficult.
Asingle unified sentence? Uh ok…
Despite English being a difficult language, the homework in this course taking too much time, the teacher going too fast, and subordination in English being especially difficult, grammar is nonetheless worth studying.
IRL that’s too long though.
Sounds like Peikoff will go over this in next lecture.