OT: DFW Grammar challenge

Submitted by Wide Open on December 9th, 2009 at 10:11 AM
I stumbled across a posting from a literature blog, which reprinted this worksheet on proper written English by David Foster Wallace.

Find the errors in the sentences. The answers are found in the link, but have as much fun debating as your ennui allows.

25 February 2004

IF NO ONE HAS YET TAUGHT YOU HOW TO AVOID OR REPAIR CLAUSES LIKE THE FOLLOWING, YOU SHOULD, IN MY OPINION, THINK SERIOUSLY ABOUT SUING SOMEBODY, PERHAPS AS CO-PLAINTIFF WITH WHOEVER’S PAID YOUR TUITION

1. He and I hardly see one another.

2. I’d cringe at the naked vulnerability of his sentences left wandering around without periods and the ambiguity of his uncrossed “t”s.

3. My brother called to find out if I was over the flu yet.

4. I only spent six weeks in Napa.

5. In my own mind, I can understand why its implications may be somewhat threatening.

6. From whence had his new faith come?

7. Please spare me your arguments of why all religions are unfounded and contrived.

8. She didn’t seem to ever stop talking.

9. As the relationship progressed, I found her facial tic more and more aggravating.

10. The Book of Mormon gives an account of Christ’s ministry to the Nephites, which allegedly took place soon after Christ’s resurrection.

Comments

Dan Man

December 9th, 2009 at 4:03 PM ^

I'm a lawyer and a bit of a grammar nerd, and I see incorrect usage of "only" all the time in newspapers, etc. I also notice that people frequently use "which" when they should use "that" and vice versa.

daveheal

December 9th, 2009 at 10:32 AM ^

Lots of these are less about hard and fast rules than they are about DFW's particular linguistic/stylistic/usage bugaboos. The test is kind of fun, but it's by no means a "test" that people should be concerned about being able to pass. There's plenty of room for disagreement about his proposed changes to the sentences.

I'm as big a DFW fan as anybody (see signature), but his SNOOTiness wasn't exactly authoritative.

panthera leo fututio

December 9th, 2009 at 10:55 AM ^

From Cosma Shalizi (whose opinion I take to be authoritative on everything):

"Looking at the quiz: most of these are either not wrong at all (split infinitives, of all the superstitions! "if" vs. "whether"!), or at best quite grammatical sentences which could be _improved_ a bit. Some are just bizarre, like saying "one another" implies three or more members of the group (my dictionary just defines it as "pronoun: each other"). The only ones I will give him are 6 (though it's perfectly comprehensible, and "whence" is increasingly archaic), and 7. Otherwise, feh."

jmblue

December 9th, 2009 at 11:28 AM ^

This is all fine and well, but first I think we need to teach the masses how to distinguish between "its/it's," "your/you're," and "there/they're/their" - and how to use the apostrophe.

osdihg

December 9th, 2009 at 11:40 AM ^

Well, it would still be incorrect because, to convey that message, you should write "Only I spent six weeks in Napa."

"I only spent six weeks in Napa" means that visiting Napa was all you did.

Commenting in a grammar thread makes me grammar-paranoid.

EDIT: Fixed the tense in my second sentence. I probably shouldn't end a sentence with "did", either but that's enough grammar for one day.

Seth

December 9th, 2009 at 2:44 PM ^

I think this exercise was more meant for writers. Judged as standard English, the meanings of the above example are all conveyed.

Bush League Ps…

December 9th, 2009 at 3:41 PM ^

I read part of DFW's essay on prescriptive v. descriptive dictionaries. I think (not positive) he sided with the prescriptive dictionaries. But he admitted those dictionaries adopted the language at some arbitrary time in its evolution.

Which, I'm betting, he later struggled for way too long to reconcile, causing him an at least subconscious existential dread at all the important stuff he would now never have time to consider. But and because he knew he could never learn even a billionth of a trillionth of all the important stuff going on at each moment he didn't waste, the whole exercise turned depressing and futile, and his insignificance became all too clear.

michelin

December 9th, 2009 at 4:06 PM ^

I learned my grammar in a house of corrections.

But I did once teach an owl to say "whom"

which reminds me of the line from Winston Churchill:

"This is the kind of grammar up with which I will not put...!"