or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, October 03, 2005

Bits and Pieces

It seems like only yesterday that I was complaining about sentence fragments. Actually, it seems like, and was, three days ago.

Finding a sentence fragment in an average person's scribblings is probably par for the course, but finding one in a professional journalist's writing--well, that's just wrong.

Here's the culprit, from an AP wire story:

Other demographic changes not often associated with natural disasters are an aging population, the growth of assisted living communities and dependent-care facilities in warm-weather states and the increase in immigrant populations where English is not widely understood. All of which will make evacuations even more difficult, researchers say.

And here's the problem: as I said, a sentence requires a subject and a verb. "All of which" can't be a subject. It contains a pronoun, "which", and ordinarily that would be enough to act as a subject, as in "He cried." But "which" is a relative pronoun; it doesn't stand on its own, but instead acts as a referent to a noun--in this case, "changes" (or, more accurately, "other demographic changes"). Because it's a relative pronoun, it has two jobs; it refers to a previous noun or pronoun, and it introduces something else related to the first referent. (Under ordinary circumstances, which is to say in ninety-nine per cent of ordinary writing, you may use a relative pronoun only in a sentence with multiple clauses.) The way to turn that sentence fragment into a proper sentence is to replace the preceding period with a comma, or to replace the relative pronoun phrase ("all of which") with a noun phrase ("such changes") or a demonstrative pronoun ("this").

As I also said, some people get to break the rules. If Gertrude Stein wants to conclude the libretto of the Virgil Thompson opera "Four Saints in Three Acts" with the lines

Last act.
Which is a fact.

then she gets to do that. Joseph Verrengia has to write, "All of this will make evacuations even more difficult, researchers say," like the rest of us.


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