Saturday, June 11, 2022

spot the error!

Tell me what's wrong with this sentence and why:

And what he did, was that he wrote.

A cardinal grammatical rule was broken. Which rule was it? What's the quick fix?


Neil said...

Someone messed up your epitaph with a comma?

Kevin Kim said...

Not my epitaph (got it from here), but yes, the comma is the problem. So what rule was broken?

Neil said...

Sounds like it shouldn't be there at all. Unless it should be after was?

Kevin Kim said...

Well, the rule is that you don't interrupt a subject and predicate with a single comma. Examples:

WRONG: Ben, sat.
RIGHT: Ben sat.

WRONG: The girl I hated, was coming toward me.
RIGHT: The girl I hated was coming toward me.

So in the case of

And what he did, was that he wrote.

—the problem is that "(And) what he did" functions as a noun clause, making it, effectively, the noun that is the subject of the sentence. The sentence's predicate begins with the verb "was," and since you can't interrupt a subject and predicate with a single comma, then—as you correctly suggest—we should eliminate the comma. Voilà: no more problem.

And what he did was that he wrote.

Problème résolu!

A smartass always looking for loopholes and exceptions will note that you can interrupt a subject and predicate with an appositive surrounded by commas, but that's using TWO commas, so the original rule stands.

Lord Scrofulus, my mortal enemy, appeared at my door holding an apple pie. (appositive, two commas, not a problem)

QED. Quite an erotic display.