Did you know that one of the most common sentence errors is also one guaranteed to make your sentences confusing? The villain here is faulty predication, and its effects are as perplexing as its name. Say you were writing an essay about technology in education and you wrote, In a society where technology is constantly changing, extracurricular activities go beyond basic needs, food is constantly increasing and housing is nearly impossible to afford. Can’t you almost hear your readers saying, Huh?
Deconstructing Faulty Predication
But let’s take this sentence apart to see just why it’s so confusing. It starts out well with an introductory prepositional phrase: In a society where technology is constantly changing…. So far, so good. But then, the writer gets off track with this clause: …extracurricular activities go beyond basic needs…. Think about that for a minute. Can activities (the subject of this main clause) go beyond basic needs…(the predicate of the clause) ? It’s hard to imagine. Maybe the writer meant that extracurricular activities go beyond academic subjects, but we can’t know for sure with this faulty combination.
The writer then pairs another subject and predicate that don’t quite make sense together: …food is constantly increasing. This clause is little trickier to fix because, on the surface, it seems to makes sense. But is it REALLY the FOOD that is increasing? I’m imagining an apple here, enlarging to gargantuan proportions, a la Alice in Wonderland. More likely it is the SUPPLY, AVAILABILITY, or even the QUALITY of food that the writer is referring to. Again, though, as readers, we can’t know for sure, and if a paper has even one or two of these faulty predications in a paragraph, it’s going to be tough to figure out just what the writer means.
Part of the editing process
So how do you neutralize the befuddling effects of faulty predication? First, learn how to locate the subject and the predicate of a sentence or a clause—the easiest way is to start by asking who or what the sentence (or clause) is about and then asking what the subject is doing. That will give you the subject and predicate. Then—and this is the important part—ask if the subject and predicate make sense together. To identify this, you sometimes have to look closely or have a friend read sentence that you’re not sure of. Do you have inanimate objects or abstract concepts performing actions only people can do, as in this sentence: The purpose of this paper persuades readers of the author’s position? If so, ask yourself who or what is REALLY doing the action. In this case, the purpose of the paper is probably to persuade someone about something.
Next time you proofread your paper, be on the lookout for these kinds of faulty predication and edit to make the meaning of your sentences crystal clear.
For more information on faulty predication, check out one of these web pages:
Contributed by Linda McCloud-Bondoc, Write Site Coordinator at Athabasca University