Tuesday, June 30, 2020

spot the errors

From a goofy tabloid article about Woody Harrelson, we get this gem of a sentence:

Harrelson's father left the family when he was only seven and this seemed to affect his mindset.
Here's the sentence in context:
Looking back at his childhood in Midland, Texas, Woody Harrelson admits he may have been a lot to handle. "I had a lot of anger, a lot of rage," he confessed to Esquire. The young boy found a way to get kicked out of his nursery school and then first grade. After an incident where, supposedly, teachers accused a young Harrelson of stealing a purse, he "went around the school breaking windows with [his] bare fists." Harrelson's father left the family when he was only seven and this seemed to affect his mindset. "I think I was also just too soft. I was so sensitive, so vulnerable," he told GQ. As a result, Harrelson vowed to toughen up and not be pushed around. But this manifested in negative ways. He admitted to having "tantrums" and holding onto this "rage" as he grew older.
Does the added context make the sentence clearer? I might tentatively say: Yes, but not by much. Anyway, as regards the sentence in isolation, I see at least three errors. Do you see them? Do you see more errors than just three? How might you rewrite the sentence so that it works well on its own merits as well as in context (and, yes: other parts of that paragraph desperately cry out for repair, but we'll save that for another time)?

Leave your thoughts in the comments.


John Mac said...

Well, you know when it comes to grammar I'm much better at breaking than fixing.

My only comment would be it seems weird to veer off into talking about Woody's dad in the middle of a paragraph describing Woody. Still, it is quite impressive that he managed to father Woody before he reached the age of seven. I wonder why Woody's mother wasn't arrested for statutory rape (assuming she was not underage as well)? So, it would perhaps be more appropriate to say "he escaped the family" rather than left. But it is no wonder that a man fathering a child at such a tender age will have his mindset affected. Not sure if it was in a positive way or not, but I can imagine him bragging to all the other kids about banging Woody's mom.

Did I miss something else?

Kevin Kim said...

Well, you're on the right track: two of the three errors I saw involved ambiguous references: an ambiguous pronoun reference ("when HE was") and an ambiguous possessive-adjective reference ("affect HIS mindset").

There's also a comma missing. That's error #3.

So: how to rewrite the sentence correctly such that it integrates nicely with the rest of the paragraph?

John Mac said...

"When Harrelson was only seven, his father left the family and this seemed to affect his mindset." That's the simplest way to clarify I guess.

"When he was only seven, Harrelson's mindset seemed to be affected when his father left the family." is the way I would have probably written it.