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Grammar Check: DeSmet Boosters Propose Trail, Giving Visitors Chance to See Laura’s Silver Lake

I was going to celebrate the announcement that DeSmet boosters would like to build a trail through the slough to isolated Laura Ingalls Wilder landmark Silver Lake and maybe extend the trail to wander all around Kingsbury County. (Spend a day or two wandering the prairie, then come back to town for supper at Dairy Queen? I’d come for that vacation!)

But then KELO-TV ruins the story with another of its execrable sentence fragments:

This nearly $2 million project will feature a boardwalk, hiking trails and a lookout tower, helping to bring the story of Laura Ingalls Wilder to life.

…After this phase of the project is complete, they hope to expand out into the rest of the county.

“When they are living or visiting in De Smet to basically experience this landscape that Laura wrote about so many years ago. So the vision is for this trail project to leave De Smet, cross over Big Slough which is right behind me, visit this Game Fish and Parks property across the slough and then carry on to destinations of interest across the county,” said Barett Steenrod, community planner for the National Parks Service.

Giving people a chance to walk along a piece of pioneer history [Ariana Schumacher, “A Trail Plan for Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Silver Lake,” KELO-TV, 2022.06.27].

“Giving people a chance to walk along a piece of pioneer history” is not a sentence! It does not have a subject—who or what is doing the “giving”? At best, this fragment is a participial phrase referring back to something in the previous complete sentence, the quote from NPS’s Steenrod, perhaps “vision” or “project” or maybe the visiting and carrying on that Steenrod envisions people doing when the project is done. Tying this participial phrase to a noun a couple lines back in a quote is awkward and beyond the often workable remedy of replacing the period preceding the participial phrase with a comma. But that awkwardness doesn’t excuse leaving the participial phrase orphaned and helpless. As written, the fragment shows the author had a thought in her head but did not bother to make that thought clear to readers not privy to those internal senses of meaning.

The writer’s obligation is to reunite the orphaned participial phrase with its rightful parent, the noun to which it refers, and empower that grammatical subject with a real verb with predicative power: “This project will thus give visitors to Kingsbury County a chance to walk along a piece of pioneer history.”

Good grammar brings clarity. Bad grammar ruins a good story.

Don’t leave your participles lost and alone like Laura wandering in the grass. Connect those verbs with subjects!

18 Comments

  1. Nick Nemec 2022-06-29 09:14

    It has been decades since I read those books, didn’t Laura also get lost crossing the big slough?

  2. jkl 2022-06-29 14:04

    I am married to a beautiful German woman. I agree, I can find the strict thinking irritating.

  3. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-06-29 14:07

    Nick, yes—that literary/autobiographical detail appears to be part of the draw of the proposed trial, showing visitors the setting of that dramatic scene. Perhaps to celebrate, the planners will keep signage to a minimum, giving modern-day visitors a chance to experience Laura’s terror at being lost in a sea of grass. Of course, the mowed path, bridge, and lookout tower should all be dead giveaways, keeping visitors from completely losing their way.

    (Note three participial phrases, all properly connected to their independent clauses.)

  4. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-06-29 14:09

    Strict German thinking makes for complete and clear sentences. Grammatik macht frei und klar.

  5. Arlo Blundt 2022-06-29 14:17

    Yes…television reporters often slaughter the Queen’s English. Reporters often use dependent phrases without an antecedent as if it were a sentence. Journalists should study their AP form and style book and adopt an Earnest Hemingway sentence structure: Subject, Verb, Direct Object. They should keep dependent phrases to a minimum. Blog commentators are under no such limitations and may rant at will.

  6. P. Aitch 2022-06-29 14:23

    Wondering, Cory, “Have you EVER been any fun?” #JustJokingMeinHerr
    We were both probably raised to please and respond to those most immediate to us, as children. (As children is unnecessary, huh?) #grins
    So, we are who we were raised to be.

    – I’m of a sales background and being a good salesperson often involves making the customer or guest feel more intelligent and aware than you make yourself appear.
    – You’re from a background of correcting young people and getting them to change and learn.

    ~ Sometimes humbling yourself makes someone feeling worthless, like me, feel uplifted.
    ~ Sometimes correcting people makes someone feeling pessimistic, like you, feel uplifted.

    So, we are who we were raised to be? (Starting a sentence with “So” is also unnecessary, huh?)

  7. grudznick 2022-06-29 18:46

    Indeed. Annoying to we grammarians.

  8. Mark Anderson 2022-06-29 20:52

    My wife’s German grammer was a really nice.

  9. grudznick 2022-06-29 21:18

    It was to her benefit, Mr. Anderson. Since her looks, you know.

  10. N. Fields 2022-06-29 22:26

    De Smet is a wonderful place to visit. This is exciting news. Have you been to the Plum Creek site just outside of Walnut Grove, Minnesota?

  11. grudznick 2022-06-29 22:47

    Have you breakfasted at the Oxbow, Mr. Fields? I have heard De Smet is wonderful indeed, and hope to dine at the Oxbow. And yes, I have been to the Walnut Grove sites, where Pa used to fish On the Banks of Plum Creek.

  12. All Mammal 2022-06-30 00:09

    Oh my word. I played dinosaurs during English lessons with my fellow dunces. I have no concept of the semicolon and knowingly break rules I was taught, like beginning sentences with and and so. I mean no disrespect. Dinosaurs was almost as painful as grammar. Kids tried getting away from me because when I turned to them with my index finger curled like a brontosaurus’s neck and whispered, “Dinosaurs”, that meant we were going to silently use our pointer fingernail to claw at each other’s dinosaur. I have a scarred hand in place of English writing skills, to my chagrin. It makes me grin, too.
    I contemplated reading Wilder. I opted for smut. It shows, I’m sure. I read DFP long before ever commenting because I didn’t want to mar the intelligent convo. It is saintly of you all to never respond condescendingly. Your styles are bitchin.

  13. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-06-30 06:51

    I was raised to be correct and clear in my communication. Eradicating sentence fragments and connecting them into complete thoughts is great fun and public service.

  14. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-06-30 06:57

    Indeed! The subject in that headline is singular; the verb should be “files”. I’ll tackle the substance of the lawsuit shortly!

  15. Bonnie B Fairbank 2022-06-30 17:47

    Entirely off topic, Cory, and you were better off reading smut, All Mammal.
    When I was in grade school (1962-1968) in Indiana it was de rigueur for students to read the interminable LIW series. Jeebus. For some reason, the girl students were always quizzed about the “lessons” from the books while the boy students were drawing bloody daggers, flaming cars, skulls, guns, and nekkid ladies in their notebooks.
    Frankly, what little I remember of these books was totally sh*tty blizzards, droughts, monumentally bad luck, pesky, ravenous insects, crippling diseases, and the totally peripatetic nature of Pa Charles and Ma Caroline. I vaguely remember thinking Pa was nuts and Ma had no choice.
    Wish I’d read smut.

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