Building Blocks of English VII: Relative Clauses

We’ve looked at dependent and independent clauses in a previous Building Blocks.  Now let’s look at [tag]relative clauses[/tag].

Specifically, let’s look at restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses, also known as essential and nonessential clauses.  To define, a restrictive (essential) clause adds important information to a sentence and cannot be eliminated without changing the meaning of the sentence.  A nonrestrictive (nonessential) clause, however, adds parenthetical information that can easily be eliminated without changing the meaning of the sentence.

Let’s look at some examples:

The man who is wearing the red hat just murdered the bank teller.

Here, the clause "who is wearing the red hat" specifically limits the murderer to that one man with the chapeau.  You cannot remove this clause without changing the meaning of the sentence.

The man, who is wearing a red hat, asked for a glass of water with his meal.

Here you have the same clause, but it’s nonrestrictive.  The meaning of the sentence is solely contained in the act of asking for a glass of water.  The red hat has no bearing on the meaning; it’s extra, parenthetical information.  (I admit, however, that this is not the greatest example since you can remove the commas and make this a restrictive clause.)

Notice that the commas signify that the clause in question is nonessential or nonrestrictive.  You never use commas with a restrictive clause, and the presence of the commas signals the reader that the information is not essential.

The person who reads and masters this will better understand relative clauses.

Heard on the Radio

As I was driving around on business yesterday, I had my radio turned to [tag]ESPN[/tag], all sports, all talk.

When the news segment came on at the half-hour and top-of-the-hour points, the announcer read this news bit not once, but at least twice (I am paraphrasing but this is damn close, and the clincher is pretty much word for word):

Former NBA referee [tag]Tim Donaghy[/tag] pleaded guilty today to two federal conspiracy charges….  If found guilty, he faces up to 25 years in prison.

If found guilty?  He just confessed and pled guilty.  There will be no trial.

Whoever wrote that copy should be convicted of butchering logic and facts.

O.J.’s Book Available Soon

If I Did It, O.J. Simpson’s theoretical account of how he might (har de har har) have carried out the double murder of his ex-wife and her friend, soon will be available from Amazon.com after months of making the underground, black market rounds.

In a strange twist, the family of murdered Nicole Brown Simpson companion Ron Goldman, which a decade ago won a $33.5 million wrongful death judgment against [tag]O.J. Simpson[/tag], has been awarded rights to the book by a judge.  Alledgely, the Goldman family has even added its own commentary to the tome.

I don’t think I’d be caught dead reading this book, but an excerpt of how O.J. "might" have carried out the gackings would be quite illuminating.

English Eloquence from the Mouths of Baseballers

With the death today of 89-year-old baseball and broadcasting legend [tag]Phil Rizzuto[/tag], the tributes poured in and the radio interviews abounded.

I liked the comment by Yankee owner [tag]George Steinbrenner[/tag] that "Heaven must’ve needed a shortstop," but I was taken aback by the eloquence of former Detroit Tigers broadcaster [tag]Ernie Harwell[/tag].

It wasn’t so much what Mr. Harwell said as the eloquence with which he did so that surprised and delighted me.  At one point he noted in an ESPN radio interview how baseball announcers often become part of "the warp and weave of their community," which got me scrambling to look up warp and weave but also left me speechless that baseball people could wax so poetically whereas TV newscasters, movie stars and other cultural icons simply spew forth nonsense and guttural detritus.

[tag]Vin Scully[/tag] is another baseball announcer who commands the English language as few others do.

Ah, the dulcet tones of summer inspired by the crack of the bat!

Are You Wonky?

Leave it to the British to develop slang that cuts to the quick.

Case in point:  Los Angeles Galaxy soccer superstar [tag]David Beckham[/tag] has been mostly unable to play since arriving in the states because his ankle is injured and troublesome.  Here, the expression in describing the injury is to call it “day to day.”  In other words, it’s hard to predict when the ankle will return to normal.

In contrast, the British say, “He has a wonky ankle” or “His ankle is wonky.”

I looked wonky up, and it fits nicely:  “shaky, groggy or unsteady.”

I guess wonky would also apply to anyone who drank too much as well, though the dictionary said the slang usage of this British slang means “stupid, boring, unattractive.”

I’ve never thought about slang usages of slang before, but there you go with an example from the home of English.

Building Blocks of English V: Modifiers

I struggled to map in my mind which topic to cover after phrases, which seemed like a logical follow-up to clauses.  Eventually, I decided on modifiers.

Now, without getting into the many different forms of modifiers, I want to start out basic building blocks on this topic by giving you two ironclad rules concerning modifiers.

Actually, they are conjoined rules, so you could say they comrpise just one dictate, to wit:  Modifiers must appear immediately before or immediately after that which they modify.  Otherwise, they become errors known as [tag]dangling modifiers[/tag] and [tag]misplaced modifiers[/tag].

Here are two examples of correctly placed modifiers:

"Hungy, John stopped at McDonald’s to order some food."

"John, hungry, stopped at McDonald’s to order some food."

Notice that both of these sentences adhere to the only-before and only-after rule.  John is being modified, and the modifier is hungry.

Now look at this:

"John stopped at McDonald’s for food, hungry."

This is a classical misplaced modifier error, which we are all prone to do in speech.  In writing, however, we should be able to catch these flubs.

Next time:  More on dangling and misplaced modifiers.

Put-Down Words Used Affectionately

I’m not sure how other languages handle this (probably similarly since humans are the same the world over), but we Americans tend to use some pretty weird words to show our affection.

For instance, when my dog is bugging me for attention, I’ll say, "You little creep."

My wife, who is Chinese and for whom English is a second language, keeps asking, "What does creep mean?"

When I tell her, she says, "Oh, so you’re talking about yourself."

Anyway, the point is that I’m using a put-down word–creep–as a term of endearment.

Whatever.

Infant Videos Not the Brain Steroids Some Hoped

Actually, I had never before heard of these infant videos since my only offspring is a grown woman already, but a study has shown that the vids “Brainy Baby” and “Baby Einstein,” designed to teach English language skills to the very young, actually retard the kids’ learning process.

Each hour of watching these videos (in the study) reduced the number of words the 8- to 16-month-old children learned by six to eight over their non-video-trained peers.

Could it be possible if a kid watched enough of these videos that s/he would achieve “word deficit”–be unable to speak because they’ve unlearned every word and gone into a hole?

Just kidding on that, but I’m always suspicious of studies.  I remember in the 1970s studies confirmed the onset of the second ice age, and guess what?  Now studies confirm we’re facing global warming (even though temperatures still aren’t as high as they were in the Middle Ages).

It’s been my experience that studies usually reach the conclusion that will lead to the study group’s earning more cash to keep studying.  You know–why put yourself out of business?

Read “Baby Einstein” for the details.

L.A. Times Commits Grammar Suicide Again

The joint should try hiring back some copy editors who actually know English grammar, but Mr. Spell Checker–in all his ignorance–rules the roost at the Los Angeles Times.

Seen as a headline in the paper’s Sports section on Friday, August 3, 2007:  Dodgers put on a clinic, for who?

I’m sure there’s boatload of people out there who will argue, with all the semantic nonsense they can conjure up, that this is perfectly good English, but sorry, folks, it ain’t.

A preposition, i.e., for,  requires the objective usage, i.e., whom.

So it should be, Dodgers put on a clinic, [but] for whom?

It’s also a run-on, requiring either the but I added or a semi-colon.