Order, please

Arranging the same words in a different order can change the whole meaning of a sentence. This week I saw someone addressing the forlorn supporters of Bernie Sanders: “Most of you weren’t even Democrats, like Bernie.”

As written, it looks like the author is saying that Bernie was a Democrat, but his supporters weren’t. What the author meant, of course, is that neither Bernie nor his supporters (at least the supporters being addressed here) belonged to the Democratic party prior to this year’s primary season. Technically, that little comma gives the author a fig leaf to hide behind. But it would have been so much clearer to write, “Like Bernie, most of your weren’t even Democrats.”

Another example popped up this past week in a piece that was talking about what people find appealing. The author gave an example of something women like, and then said, “All women don’t, but some do.” Once again, the words don’t match the intent. Spelling out the contraction, we get “All women do not,” which means all women dislike it. But then he says that some do.

Rearrange the words, and it comes out right: “Not all women do, but some do.”

As always, you can’t rely on your readers to figure out what you meant to say. All they have to go on are the words you set down. So set them down in the right order.

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