Topic: misrelated adjectives
“Is this veracious?” enquired Chen, my delightful Chinese pupil, who was staying with me to improve her English and whose physiognomy was, at that particular moment, a picture of utter bewilderment.
“That your MPs are so anomalous?”
“Well, no, I don’t think British MPs are particularly anomalous, Chen. Maybe just the expense claims some of them submit; you see, there was a bit of a hoo-ha over duck islands and things like that and a few dodgy overnight-allowance claims. And, of course, there is the small matter of tax dodges, but global corporations are far worse, I can tell you.”
“I meant part-animals.” Although I was pleased to see that my English tuition was having an effect in that Chen had stopped using ‘signify’ in place of ‘mean’, I was taken aback by the revelation.
“Part-animals, Chen? I don’t believe our MPs are that; well, maybe Cyril Smith.”
“Who is Cyril Smith?”
“Was – he was an MP.”
“What did he do?”
“Oh, it’s a long story. He is alleged to have been a serial sex offender. But he’s dead now. Anyway, what’s this stuff about part-animals?”
“It was on the news.”
Since Chen was able to stay in Britain for only a fortnight, I had gone for an all-out immersion, trying to expose her to as many sources of excellent English as possible. That evening, we were watching the Ten O’Clock News on BBC1, but I had nipped out to the loo (or, as my dear American friends would say, a restroom, though I don’t recall having ever had a particularly restful time there) and must have missed the bit she was referring to.
“What exactly did they say, Chen?”
Part-human, part-animal, MPs approved hybrid-embryo research in 2008.
“Oh, Chen, ha, ha, ha! I can’t picture any of our MPs as a centaur.”
“What is a centaur?”
“A creature that is part-man, part-horse. But it’s not the MPs who are part-human, part animal, Chen – they must have meant hybrid embryos.”
The young lady gave me another one of her baffled looks. “But they … but this … this was transmissioned by the BBC … ”
“Transmitted. I know, Chen, I know; it’s a very common error. Actually, misrelated adjectives are very similar to dangling participles. You see, people put adjectives and participles at the beginning of sentences to appear cultivated.”
“You mean like rice?”
“No, no, Chen, it means refined.”
“Not exactly, no. Initial participles and adjectives make sentences appear … appear sophisticated.”
“A-a-a-a, like you!”
“Well, no, yes, what I mean is … it’s nice of you to say so, thank you.”
“The pleasure is my.”
“Mine, Chen. But what I was trying to say was that, when you start your sentences with participles and adjectives, you show people that you are a good writer. Compare these two statements.”
He was driven and powerful and changed the course of history.
Driven and powerful, he changed the course of history.
“You mean Chairman Mao?”
“No, no, Chen. It could be anybody: it’s just an example. I’m trying to say that the second sentence is considered stylistically more mature than the first.”
Chen sucked on the pen she had been assiduously gnawing at and nodded.
“But people often misrelate such initial participles and adjectives. What those BBC folk were really trying to say was something along those lines.”
Part-human, part-animal, hybrid embryos were, in 2008, approved by MPs for research.
In 2008, MPs approved research on hybrid embryos, which are part-human, part-animal.
Chen liberated her pen and cocked her head in a manner suggesting thoughtfulness.
“Unfortunately, this is a bit longer than what they said, but at least it’s not poppycock.”
“I like poppycock.”
“How can you possibly like poppycock, Chen?”
“Because it’s tasty. We roast it until it pops.”
“A-a-a-a, you mean popcorn! No, no: poppycock – it means nonsense.”
“O-o-o-o, sorry, sorry.”
“Easily done, Chen. And what do you think about this sentence?”
Unless very high, most people with hypertension have no symptoms at all.
“This is not the truth. We don’t have many very high people in China, but a lot of people suffer from hypertension.”
“People are tall.”
“Not in China.”
“We say tall – not high, Chen. But that’s not the point: they misrelated the adjective high. What they meant was this.”
Unless the blood pressure is very high, most people with hypertension have no symptoms at all.
Chen looked at me quizzically and cogitated for a brief while, her pen manifestly assisting in the process.
“I found this in The Sunday Times, Chen; I’ve culled, I mean collected, lots of interesting examples from there. I remember another one; what do you say to that?”
Durable, warm, wonderfully tactile – we are falling in love with this wholesome material all over again.
This time, Chen seemed a tad more guarded. “Hmmm, the Chinese are quite warm and tactile, but … but … is this wrong?”
“Got it in one, Chen: they meant wood. What they were trying to say was this.”
Durable, warm, wonderfully tactile – wood is a wholesome material we are falling in love with all over again.
“We use an awful lot of wood in China,” concurred Chen.
“I know, Chen, but my point is that misrelated constructions are practically everywhere. You see, this is such a common error that I have written a little ditty about it.”
Misrelated constructions in English abound,
Not a day passes by when one is not found;
They meaning subvert, play havoc with sense,
And make perpetrators appear rather dense.
“Sophisticated,” declared my young pupil.
“Thank you, Chen.”
Other posts on related topics:
Post 3: Hangings in the British media (on dangling participles)