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The complexities of written English

by: Romany Howes (7 October 2014)

"The old man the boats." If you look at this sentence, you would automatically want to add a verb. But the sentence is actually perfectly valid as it stands, if you realise that the word "man" is a verb. The word "old" is not an adjective, it is a collective noun, and therefore, the sentence stands. Granted, it's awkward but it is correct, although it is highly doubtful that a native English-speaking person would ever write it. However, as a proofreading service, we come across sentences similar to this one in many dissertations and theses from foreign students.

This is the other side of proofreading, making sense of words, not just checking grammar and spelling. When faced with dissertations and theses, often from foreign students, the use of English can sometimes be very quirky and often downright wrong. However, sometimes when a sentence is grammatically correct, it doesn't mean it is acceptable stylistically.

As a company offering proofreading services, our job is to decipher the meaning behind a phrase and interpret it, and this is a skill attained from many years of training and experience.

Try this for size: "All the hope he had had had had no effect on the final outcome." Here we have a perfect example of a double use of the present perfect and thus, a perfectly valid sentence.

And this one: "The complex houses married and single soldiers and their families." Our brain initially interprets "complex" as an adjective and "houses" as a noun, with "married" as the verb. Read it as "complex" being the noun, and you get a whole new meaning that makes sense.

This is my particular favourite: " 'I see,' said the blind man as he picked up the hammer and saw."

So, in conclusion: English is a complex language, full of hidden meanings and synonyms. Proofreaders exist to identify and remedy language and meaning in the written word that may be absolutely correct grammatically, but may be interpreted differently by those reading.


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Ref: 113 I do like the 'complex houses' example. What a great language we have.
Garry - 13:53 07-10-2014

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