Missing words

Here's something I've been seeing a lot in submissions lately: sentences in which words or phrases or sometimes entire clauses have just been left out.

Made-up example:

* She smiled sadly when the scent of cinnamon, reminding her of her lost childhood.

That example could just be misuse of when, but I don't think that's what's usually going on in the sentences where I've been noticing this; I think it's that the writer wandered off into a subordinate clause and then forgot to come back to give us the verb or noun we're waiting for.

Which happens all the time in first drafts; nothing wrong with that. But it's the kind of thing authors should look for when proofreading a story before submitting it.

. . . Sadly, the other place I'm seeing this sort of thing lately is professionally published news articles. I've lost count of the number of online newspapers and magazines that have recently published articles that are missing one or more words in a prominent early paragraph, or have other obvious mistakes. Many of these publications are probably shoestring operations that can't afford proofreaders (and some are written by people not entirely fluent in written English), but some of them are well-regarded print publications that republish some of their material online. It really annoys me when a trusted news source can't be bothered to have anyone actually read their articles before posting them. But that's a topic for another entry and another time, and anyway I've whined about it before so I suppose there's no need to do it again.

5 Responses to “Missing words”

  1. Michael

    My spellchecker says the example fine — what’s the problem?

    I think the flesh-eating bacterium has mutated again and become a verb-eating bacterium. Sadly, it appears to be spellchecker-resistant. Computer scientists are trying to develop new ways to fight the bacterium, but their work is made harder by the increased casual use of spellcheckers in everyday circumstances. People often fail to finish the full course of spellchecking, not realizing that this simply creates more spellchecker-resistant. Programmers Without Borders and the Electronic Frontier Medicine Foundation suggested taht the onlie solution might to ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO US!

  2. Cheryl

    I know I do it a lot. Anne generally catches them in proofing, but if I can’t get an article to her in time it has a good chance of having that sort of error in it. It happens because my brain works faster than I can type (obviously I type very slowly indeed) and I just forget to type words.

  3. Cheryl

    Hmm, got one of those phantom errors, but killed the page before noting down the URL. I’m trying posting something else to see if I get it again.

  4. Robert Burke Richardson

    I’ve been noticing LOTS of those kinds of errors, too (in articles and things, I mean… I don’t read slush). When I spot it in my own work, usually during the final read-through just before printing or emailing a story, it’s almost always a sentence I just attempted to edit. I’ve been interpreting sentences like

    * She smiled sadly when the scent of cinnamon, reminding her of her lost childhood.

    as having an erroneous comma, and the wrong ending (“-ing” instead of “-ed”). What would you call that — an error of agreement, or something?

  5. Lola

    Michael, you made me giggle out loud.


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