1. marcusl
    Offline

    marcusl Member

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2009
    Messages:
    98
    Likes Received:
    0

    Would this be confusing?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by marcusl, Oct 24, 2009.

    Let's say I wrote:

    The male students had always lusted over her legs, but when it really mattered, they were useless.

    By "they", I'm referring to "her legs". Would this be grammatically correct? Would readers think the "they" is referencing the male students instead?

    Thank you for your help.
     
  2. Mister Micawber
    Offline

    Mister Micawber Member

    Joined:
    Sep 21, 2009
    Messages:
    55
    Likes Received:
    2
    Location:
    Yokohama
    I am certainly confused by the sentence.
     
  3. helent
    Offline

    helent Member

    Joined:
    Oct 22, 2009
    Messages:
    30
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    UK
    I admit, I thought that you were referring to the students. I definately think you need to restructure the sentence.

    How about...

    What use were legs that were lusted after by the male half of the student body, when they were useless at the very moment she needed them?
     
  4. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    It is indeed ambiguous and confusing. You can remove the ambiguity by rearranging the placements of the pronoun and the associated noun, although I still don't think much of the resulting sentence:
     
  5. Mister Micawber
    Offline

    Mister Micawber Member

    Joined:
    Sep 21, 2009
    Messages:
    55
    Likes Received:
    2
    Location:
    Yokohama
    Well, at least it's not as much mush as the original.
     
  6. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    his typo aside, cog's rearrangement makes better sense than the original...

    however, 'lusted over' is poor grammar and lusting over/for/after legs is just plain silly...

    google 'lust over' and 'lust for'/'lust after' and you'll see 'over' makes no sense...
     
  7. marcusl
    Offline

    marcusl Member

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2009
    Messages:
    98
    Likes Received:
    0
    Is lusting over not allowed?

    Anyway, thanks for all the replies. Is the original actually grammatically incorrect, or just ambiguous? If it's not grammatically incorrect, what if we added some context before that sentence? Maybe "Fright had shackled her to the ground" or something.

    If it's grammatically wrong, would you mind explaining the rule for this?

    Many thanks.
     
  8. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    The grammar is formally correct, but the semantics are ambiguous because it's not clear which noun to resolve the pronoun 'they' to.

    Some 'grammar' rules are intended to disambiguate language, but they are really semantic conventions. A grammar defines the construction of a parse tree that diagrams the structure of a sentence, but that doesn't include secondary links like those that associate a pronoun with a noun in another clause.

    I apologize for the technical terminology. Formal grammars are a specialized branch of mathematics, and it's not easily summed up in a few sentences.
     
  9. architectus
    Offline

    architectus Banned

    Joined:
    Aug 19, 2008
    Messages:
    1,796
    Likes Received:
    14
    Location:
    Ca
    I also thought "they" was refering to the boys. Even if the context makes it clear at some point, my brain would still make the mistake, and then I would have to correct it and apply "they" to her legs.

    When she had walked the halls, all the guys stared at her legs. But now, as she ran to the store, her legs were useless.

    I think being specific might help. That is, what is the "when she needed them." What did she need them for? If she is thinking of more than one example, then share that.

    Repeating the word "legs" is not big deal. Trying to avoid repeating nouns sometimes, only leads to confusing sentences. I always try to look back at the previous sentence or clause to see if my pronouns can refer to more than one noun. If so, I repeat the noun, or reconstruct the sentence, so that there is only one way to read it.
     
  10. evelon
    Offline

    evelon Active Member

    Joined:
    Aug 26, 2009
    Messages:
    613
    Likes Received:
    24
    Location:
    England


    The male students had always lusted over her legs which, when it really mattered, were useless.
     

Share This Page