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writing semicolon

I ask because this has been bugging me for *days* now....

Yes, you all can stop telling me I've been Thogged. I know. And while I can't complain about the attention, I'm becoming obsessed by a related question. You see, I keep looking at that sentence, and now I need to poll the audience, because I can't see what's wrong about it. Dependent clause still refers back to the subject of the sentence, right, and not the intervening adverbial phrase?

Sentence in question is:

The stool wobbled under her when he took her hands, the one leg shorter than the others that his father hadn't mended in fifteen years gone past.

Test the sentence by removing the adverbial phrase:

The stool wobbled under her when he took her hands, the one leg shorter than the others that his father hadn't mended in fifteen years gone past.

Let's take out the prepositional phrase too.

The stool wobbled under her, the one leg shorter than the others that his father hadn't mended in fifteen years gone past.

No, that still looks right. Am I misremembering my grammar that badly?

...I think I need a new career...

Comments

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I believe the mistake Thog is pointing out that a three-legged stool can't wobble because one leg is shorter than the other. Any three points define a plane, and so the stool would have a permanent lean but not wobble.
When you shift your weight on it, it sure can. *g* I know, because I used to own one that did.

It's because your butt tends to press the seat flat when you shift your weight back. (ETA: thereby lifting the short leg off the floor.)

Edited at 2008-09-05 06:03 pm (UTC)
I read it as "a three-legged stool won't wobble", since the center of gravity is between all three legs and hence there's no pivot to wobble across. (If one leg's shorter, it may tilt the stool, but it will be stably tilted.) The "Tripodal Stability Dept." header also lends itself to this interpretation.
Ahh, but see answer to above comment.
Well, what I get out of it is that his father mended the short leg but not the others.
Oh, you're a lot of help. *crosses out a few more subsidiary phrases*
The language is fine. I believe the problem is with the physics. A four-legged stool with one leg short would wobble, but a three-legged one is stable; it might tilt but it won't wobble.
See above.
The trick to defining what an dependent clause modifies is to replace it with whatever part of speech it functions as, and then usually it's pretty darm clear.
darn even!
The problem is the unclarity of "one leg shorter than the others that his father hadn't mended in fifteen years gone past".

One leg is shorter because his father hadn't mended the other two?

If I'd been editing, I'd have put a semicolon in after "others", cut the "that", and put an 'it' in after mended.

"The stool wobbled under her when he took her hands, the one leg shorter than the others; his father hadn't mended it in fifteen years gone past."

You do not need a new career.


Edited at 2008-09-05 06:06 pm (UTC)
I like your sentence better than mine.

Alas, since it's pretty obvious that I *can't* write a plain English sentence, perhaps I should be looking into pharmacy.
"The stool wobbled, one leg shorter that his father hadn't mended in fifteen years gone past."

I'll refrain from commentary, but does that work?
No?
Sometimes the grammar can be technically perfect and the sentence still feel awkward?

Language is bitchy that way.

(Just my own take: the first time I read that sentence, "the one leg" following hard on "took her hands" totally threw me out of the reading, and by the time I got to "that his father hadn't mended" the subject of the sentence was hopelessly tangled in my brain and I had to go back and parse it again. Editorially, I probably would have flagged that one for a re-think...)
Well, most of my sentences probably suck just about that much. But that's besides the point.
As a sometime furniture-maker, I wonder how that one leg ended up shorter . . .

(And if the stool is in fact three-legged, that info is exterior to the sentence in question.)
The original source quoted a couple of sentences before that which mentioned that the stool had three legs. Ansible also labeled the whole thing as "Tripodal Stability Dept."
"The stool wobbled, the one leg shorter than the others that his father hadn't mended in fifteen years gone past."

The stool will wobble. Did none of you tripod-folk every have a chair or stool with one short leg that you could shift back and forth from one tripod to the other?

The sentence is correct -- just awkward. My main problem is with "in fifteen years gone past." To my taste, it would read better along the lines of, "The stool wobbled, one leg shorter than the others that his father hadn't mended fifteen years past." Still a bit clunky though. And not what you're asking. Goodbye, and good luck.

"The stool will wobble. Did none of you tripod-folk every have a chair or stool with one short leg that you could shift back and forth from one tripod to the other?"

Yes, but those were four-legged chairs/stools; one short leg creates the two tripods to which you refer.
She crouched on a three-legged stool as if warming herself before the fire, but Will knew her chill would take more melting than that. He knelt down before her. The stool wobbled under her when he took her hands, the one leg shorter than the other that his father hadn't mended in fifteen years gone past.'

A tripod stool with one leg shorter than the other two will just slope, not wobble. Wobbly stools with one shorter leg should be four legged. At least that's what I think the Thogging implies with the title "Tripodal Stability Dept."
Thog has never had a stool with a short leg, I say. *g*
I don't know what being 'Thogged' means. But I don't like this sentence. Not because of the dependant phrase, but because of the main phrase.

The stool wobbled under her when he took her hands, the one leg shorter than the others that his father hadn't mended in fifteen years gone past.

Take out the main phrase.

The stool wobbled under her when He took her hands, the one leg shorter than the others that his father hadn't mended in fifteen years gone past.

The main phrase doesn't read like a main phrase. It reads like a prepositional clause prefixed to the main sentence. That's not how you meant it and not how the sentence is really structured, but the human subject actions are so strong that they take over the sentence from the passive, inanimate subject (the stool). So the reader sees the stool confined to a prepositional prefix, and the shorter leg looks like it's attached to one of the human characters.

Simple fix -- just restructure the sentence, putting the strong actions in a prepositional prefix so they don't interfere:

When he took her hands the stool wobbled beneath her, its one leg shorter than the others that his father hadn't mended in fifteen years gone past.

Actually, will just changing 'the' to 'its' work?

The stool wobbled under her when he took her hands, its one leg shorter than the others that his father hadn't mended in fifteen years gone past.

Eh, that's better, but I'd still restructure it completely.

All in my opinion. And I'm sure I got some of the terminology wrong (is there such a thing as a 'main phrase', anyway?) You're a much more adept student of grammar than I.

I have problems with this sentence, too.

"When he took her hands the stool wobbled beneath her, its one leg shorter than the others that his father hadn't mended in fifteen years gone past."

As an ESL-speaker who teaches English I have to admit that when I read the original sentence up there I thought the short leg was part of the male person who took her hands until I got to the end of the sentence.

With remus_shepherd's structuring I get the fact that the leg belongs to the stool right away.

The physics question of a wobbling three-legged stool didn't cross my mind in the first place.
It looks fine to me (IANAG), but it flows easier in my brain without the "the" in front of "one leg."
Second this.
I'm taking a whole different tack...

It seems to me it's an antecedent problem.

The stool wobbled under her, the one leg shorter than the others that his father hadn't mended in fifteen years gone past.

That sounds like one of HER legs is shorter than the other.

In this one:
The stool wobbled under her, the one leg shorter than the others that his father hadn't mended in fifteen years gone past.

That one just confuses me. Did his father not mend the one leg, or the other legs? He mended the one, so it was shorter? The way it is now, it means her father mended the other legs. I think.



Yeah, I also spotted antecedent fuzziness, but mostly around the "hands". As in, my brain momentarily suggests that the legs belong to the hands, and then corrects to the actual meaning of the sentence. I don't think there's anything technically incorrect about the sentence; it's just a little confusing by ear. For that reason, I would start with "When he took her hands, the stool wobbled under her;" and go from there.

...Er, but I've just seen the context, and it's probably the tripod thing, at that.

Edited at 2008-09-05 09:02 pm (UTC)
I'm not an English major or anything, but it feels like everything after the comma is just a sentence fragment when it should be a full phrase. It's been a while since I've worked with hardcore grammar, but it feels more like it should read

The stool wobbled under her when he took her hands: one leg was shorter than the others because his father hadn't mended it in fifteen years gone past.

or something like that.
The second phrase is proper; it's a nominative absolute. "One leg being shorter" is a fuller but, oddly, less natural-sounding variant.
In case you still needed any ideas: that his father hadn't mended in fifteen years gone past.

That bit will not actually resolve into meaning. His father didn't mend the two longer legs? If so why is the one leg shorter? I have no idea if there's any problem with the grammar there (grammatical rules and me are not friends, I'm like the jazz player who doesn't read music, just knows what sounds good), but that bit confuses me.
The leg is shorter because it was repaired. Will's father either replaced the broken leg with a new one of inexact length, or he made some repair that ended with the leg's length reduced. (For example, one of the legs sat in a puddle for a while, and rather than risk the now-rotting tip of the leg breaking at an inopportune time, Will's dad just sawed off the rot, leaving the leg half an inch shorter than the other two.)
The Thog quotation actually has it as "the one leg shorter than the other" -- maybe the issue was less with the wobbling than with a perceived change in the number of legs (or that it had become a two-legged stool)?

My copy of the book is at home, and I'm not, so I'm not sure how the sentence actually appeared originally.
Ahh, yeah ,a creeping typographical error could definitely add confusion. I just copied it out of my manuscript, because I'm lazy.
I like the sentence. What is supposed to be wrong about it?
Setting aside the whole issue of whether a 3-legged stool can wobble, does the sentence work a little better if you just change the order and exchange "the" for "its":

When he took her hands the stool wobbled under her, its one leg shorter than the others that his father hadn't mended in fifteen years gone past.
I agree that it's an antecedent problem, but not with the part of the sentence you keep deleting stuff from. I think you're missing it just because you're looking in the wrong place.

"The stool wobbled under her when he took her hands"

This part is perfectly straightforward, and correct.

"the one leg shorter than the others that his father hadn't mended in fifteen years gone past"

This part is all awkward. Logically, one would think you would mend one leg rather than 2 or 3, but in the absence of something pointing clearly to the words farther away, the antecedent is the one closest to the modifier. Thus, "that his father hadn't mended in fifteen years" modifies "the others".

Although I love long sentences, I'd suggest taking this one apart. Leave the first part as a sentence all its own. Leave the part about Dad's laziness out unless it's important, and if it's important, rewrite that part to reflect why it's important. "She winced as that put stress on her twisted ankle, and he wished he'd fixed the thing himself, rather than waiting 15 years for his father to get around to it." (Now I've probably given an example that doesn't fit your story at all, but, then, it would be eerie if my example did fit your story.)

Do you have time for a new career and continuing to write books?
It's not useful to suggest how Bear should change it now. The book is published.
I'm in the camp that initially read "hands" and "the one leg" as both belonging to "her." By the end of the sentence I had figured out the right meaning, but the funny image was there in my brain. However, I have a 3-legged cat and a 1-handed child, so my brain tends to focus overmuch on limbs and their relative length & position. And when I see something in Thog's MC I automatically turn your brain receptors to "funny" (Although guiltily, in this case, since I suspected you'd tie yourself in a knot over it). If I read that sentence in situ I probably wouldn't trip on the juxtaposition.

Anyway, the sentence doesn't actually gramatically suggest that "the one leg" refers to her, since the stool is clearly the subject of the sentence. It does suggest that dad hasn't mended the two other legs but has mended the one, which may be what you intended, and that part sounds fine until one starts pickin' at it.

I agree with sargent--based on the "Tripodal Stability" thing, what Thog probably liked was the 3-legged wobble. And the fact that you are, in fact, able to articulate the exact circumstances that can cause a 3-legged stool to wobble means you are definitely in the right line of work.
The stool wobbled under her when he took her hands, the one leg shorter than the others that his father hadn't mended in fifteen years gone past.

Just flip 'em?

When he took her hands, the stool wobbled beneath her, the one leg.....

The adverbial phrase makes things physiologically awkward, because we've got hands and legs on completely unrelated entities in rapid succession.

This is a tender moment, not a Twister orgy. ;-)
That's also a pretty good fix. I tend to have line of direction problems a lot, because this linearity thing is not one of my strong points.
Take comfort, I've been Thogged too.

Thog has a particularly sharp eye for geometry. (Damn it, I meant to say a truncated cone, not a truncated cylinder!)
Ouch.
I'm sure you have plenty of grammar experts to help you, but I can tell you as a reader I can't read that sentence without getting a whiff of the idea that *she* has a shortened leg, not the stool.

Yes, I know it doesn't actually read like that, but a tiny portion of my brain goes there and I can't stop it.

If it were me? I'd let the question go so I could move on and fix it by tossing out some of the good parts with the problematic ones and make a new sentence. /is lazy/ So I guess I admire your tenacity in wanting to pursue it.
A neat illustration of the triumph of education over experience. I've had tripods wobble... and also fall over (impossible!) I currently possess a three-legged stool that does a wonderful job of wobbling when I stand on it to change a light-bulb (it wobbles when sat on too but the light-bulb changing wobble makes a serious impression on a person's belief in the 'tripods are stable' dogma.

I think it may have something to do with the angle at which the legs have been cut to sit against the floor, and that when one leg is slightly shorter the 'soles' of both it and the other two legs balance more on their edges... which are generally the edges of a cylinder or semi-squared stick of wood. Most stools also tend to be at least twice as tall as they are wide, so more inclined to magnify small movements at the feet.

But that won't help the sentence at all :)
- so my self-humiliating attempt is... He took her hands. The stool wobbled beneath her, its one shorter leg having gone unmended by his father the past fifteen years. Assuming one would replace the shorter leg rather than taking the other two down to the same length... plus it probably needs a semi-colon or something. Having spent so much time on a book where bad grammer and run-ons are part of the POV I've forgotten all I learnt about semi-colons.

[Good game! Good game!]
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