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Buffoon
07-14-2006, 08:30 PM
I know the following is not a great sentence, as it is somewhat awkward and unclear. But is it technically incorrect, and if so, why?

"The documentary focuses on three researchers in a lab that has lost its funding, and now must scramble to find new patrons."

If it's broken, please let me know what rule is violated. I'm not sure if there's an actual error in the fact that the second clause is missing a subject--or if it's OK because it's a dependent clause. (I am fully aware, though, that not having a subject removes some clarity.)

Also--if it is broken, does adding "which" fix it? (As in, "The documentary focuses on three researchers in a lab that has lost its funding, and which now must scramble to find new patrons.")

Thanks guys.

alleycat
07-14-2006, 08:36 PM
I might rewrite it as . . .

"The documentary focuses on three researchers working in a lab that has lost its funding and which now has to scramble to find new patrons."

Reph would be better at this though.

maestrowork
07-14-2006, 08:42 PM
"The documentary focuses on three researchers in a lab that has lost its funding, and now must scramble to find new patrons."


The documentary focuses on three researches in a lab that has lost its funding and that must now scramble to find new patrons.

reph
07-14-2006, 08:53 PM
The original sentence is fine. Just delete the comma.

"Dependent clause" doesn't describe the structure. The sentence has a compound predicate: two verbs with the same subject.

(Ray, when you have two thats used that way, they should be whichs instead.)

Buffoon
07-14-2006, 09:08 PM
OK, thanks. Just to be clear:

What rule or guideline should I apply here, to avoid unnecessary commas? (That last sentence may have an unnecessary comma... as you can see, comma usage is not my strong point.)

And, if I do add "which", is it OK to have the comma remain?

reph
07-14-2006, 09:28 PM
The rule or guideline for avoiding unnecessary (and incorrect) commas in the kind of sentence you started with is "Don't separate the parts of a compound predicate with a comma unless you need a comma there for another reason." The other reason would be, for example, setting off the year in a date that happens to fall in that place.

The sentence doesn't require changing "that" to "which" as long as it has only one "that." If it had two of them and you replaced each one with "which," it still wouldn't need a comma.

Cathy C
07-14-2006, 10:22 PM
While I ususally agree with you, reph, in this case I don't. While the sentence might be technically correct, it confuses because the "and now" seems to attach to the second noun, "lab." It's not the lab that must scramble, but the researchers.

"The documentary focuses on three researchers in a lab that has lost its funding and now must scramble to find new patrons."

I think a better choice would be:

"The documentary focuses on three researchers in a lab that has lost its funding who now must scramble to find new patrons."

This points the way more clearly to the object of the sentence. JMHO, of course. :)

maestrowork
07-14-2006, 10:25 PM
(Ray, when you have two thats used that way, they should be whichs instead.)


I suppose, but:

"The documentary focuses on three researchers in a lab which has lost its funding and which now must scramble to find new patrons."

Just sounds... awful!

Buffoon
07-14-2006, 10:29 PM
Thanks! One final thing:

"What rule or guideline should I apply here, to avoid unnecessary commas?"

I am pretty sure the comma in this sentence is not necessary. However, is it incorrect to have one there? And what would you call the chunk of the sentence following my comma?


Cathy -- actually I meant it to mean that the lab needed new funding. As I said before, this is not a very clear sentence. :) I'm just using it so I can figure out some comma usage rules.

Cathy C
07-14-2006, 10:39 PM
Cathy -- actually I meant it to mean that the lab needed new funding. As I said before, this is not a very clear sentence. :) I'm just using it so I can figure out some comma usage rules.

That part I got. But I'm reading it (possibly incorrectly) that it's the three researchers who are scrambling to find new patrons--as a plot point of the documentary. Or is it the LAB that is seeking patrons? Inanimate objects have a difficult time doing that... ;)

And what does the patron search then have to do with the plight of the researchers?

That's where I got confused.

Jamesaritchie
07-14-2006, 10:48 PM
I agree with Cathy C on this one. At best, this sentence is highly confusing. I'd argue it isn't correct because it isn't clear what's being said about who.

But sometimes correct doesn't mean a thing. There are multitudes of correct sentences that read horribly.

Buffoon
07-15-2006, 12:25 AM
Or is it the LAB that is seeking patrons? Inanimate objects have a difficult time doing that... ;)
Yep, I meant that the lab is seeking patrons, not the researchers. Certainly one could argue over the phrasing. But I think we've all heard similar phrasing, since it's actually very useful. Examples:

The school desperately needed funding. Or: The school was in desperate need of funds.

Obviously the school itself is just a pile of bricks, but when I say that it needed funds I think we know what I mean. And I think these phrasings are less labored than saying, for example: "The administrators desperately needed funds if the school was to remain operational."



And what does the patron search then have to do with the plight of the researchers?
Since there are presumably sentences before and after this one, I don't think this one has to explain the whole story by itself, right? To me, the latter half of the sentence is simply elaborating on the lab's dire straits. In effect, I think it says: "The lab is in trouble and needs money quick -- or else." One can reasonably guess that this makes the researchers' positions tenuous and puts some stress on them. But subsequent sentences will probably clarify this still further.

I definitely appreciate your input (and James' also!), though I tried to make clear from the start that I'm looking at this sentence from a purely mechanical standpoint. I know it's not a strong sentence, but if possible I just want to discuss what makes it technically correct or incorrect. I am specifically interested in where commas must go, and why.

Mark Lazer
07-15-2006, 12:38 AM
Just arrived here, and I already know I'm going to love reph!

reph
07-15-2006, 03:29 AM
Original sentence: "The documentary focuses on three researchers in a lab that has lost its funding, and now must scramble to find new patrons."

As a reader, I have no trouble attaching "must scramble" to "lab." If it were the researchers who had to scramble, you'd write "The documentary focuses on three researchers whose lab has lost its funding and who now must scramble to find new patrons" or something like that. Maybe I was helped by the background knowledge that institutions seek funding (shorthand for the details of what happens).

To improve the rhythm, delete "now."


"What rule or guideline should I apply here, to avoid unnecessary commas?"

I am pretty sure the comma in this sentence is not necessary. However, is it incorrect to have one there? And what would you call the chunk of the sentence following my comma?The chunk is an infinitive phrase. The comma isn't incorrect, but it isn't necessary in places like this unless a sentence would be ambiguous without one.

Jamesaritchie
07-15-2006, 04:55 AM
Original sentence: "The documentary focuses on three researchers in a lab that has lost its funding, and now must scramble to find new patrons."

As a reader, I have no trouble attaching "must scramble" to "lab." If it were the researchers who had to scramble, you'd write "The documentary focuses on three researchers whose lab has lost its funding and who now must scramble to find new patrons" or something like that. Maybe I was helped by the background knowledge that institutions seek funding (shorthand for the details of what happens).

To improve the rhythm, delete "now."

The chunk is an infinitive phrase. The comma isn't incorrect, but it isn't necessary in places like this unless a sentence would be ambiguous without one.

I don't have any trouble understanding the sentence one I read it all, but it gets confusing before it's get sto the point. It's very poorly worded. Sometimes correct doesn't mean anything.

Buffoon
07-15-2006, 04:57 AM
Thanks, reph. Most helpful! :Thumbs:

James: I doubt anyone here would argue that it's a great sentence! It just happens to be one that illustrated my grammar question. I was too lazy to think of a similarly worded sentence that illustrated the problem without being clumsy.

veinglory
07-15-2006, 05:06 AM
IMHO most people would not use 'lab' as a collective noun for researchers but think of it as the physical building that houses them.

reph
07-15-2006, 05:23 AM
IMHO most people would not use 'lab' as a collective noun for researchers but think of it as the physical building that houses them.Oh, gee, that varies so much. Depending on what parts of the world you engage with, you might easily think "lab" meant the institution, about like "museum" in "The museum publishes a quarterly newsletter." A lab isn't just the researchers. It's the whole thing, including administrators.

Buffoon
07-15-2006, 05:51 AM
Maybe it's the fact that I spend so much time with university profs and students, particularly in the sciences -- but it didn't even occur to me to think that "lab" didn't include the researchers themselves. ! I hear things like this at least five times a week: "My lab is having a party..." "My lab will be at the softball game..."

But yeah, I can see how if you aren't used to that, it comes across as strange.

reph
07-15-2006, 06:02 AM
"Lab" does include the researchers themselves. At least it can, depending on the context. It isn't limited to them.

Cat Scratch
07-15-2006, 06:47 AM
I'm with Cathy, I was thrown that the researchers are present in the sentence, yet it is the lab doing the scrambling. Not gramatically incorrect, but clumsy.

Scrawler
07-16-2006, 03:40 AM
I'd probably write it something like --The documentary focuses on three researchers who scramble to find new patrons when their lab loses its funding.