Saturday, 12 July 2014

Relative clauses: an exercise in suspending common sense

I hate grammar exercises. I hate the idea of compartmentalizing something that cannot be compartmentalized, because you cannot say there's only one way to say this, and you cannot say the twenty ways to say it are exactly the same, because either way it is an utter disrespect to the English language.

However.

There are instances in which school exercises border on farcical. For example, this exercise about relative clauses. We're suppose to string the two sentences together.

1. I met a woman. Her name was Bertha.

Correct answer: I met a woman whose name was Bertha.

... It would have killed you to say, "I met Bertha", right?

2. I have arranged for you to go to boarding school. I'm sure you'll be very happy there.

Correct answer: I have arranged for you to go to boarding school, where I'm sure you'll be very happy.

There isn't anything wrong per se with this question, but the evil stepmother vibes are killing me. Mwahahahaha.

3. Ronald Reagan was the 40th president of the USA. His middle name was Wilson.

Correct answer: Ronald Reagan, whose middle name was Wilson, was the 40th president of the USA.

What exactly is wrong with just saying "Ronald Wilson Reagan"?

Interesting note: one of my friends, who has memorized all world capitals, USA state capitals, and USA presidents, actually counted to see if the question was correct. Fortunately, it is.

4. My house is home to a collection of fine paintings. I painted all of them.

Correct answer: My house is home to a collection of fine paintings, all of which I painted.

First, "my house is home" is ridiculously clunky. Secondly, you do not claim that your paintings are fine, and you don't "collect" them, you own or keep them. The best I can rephrase this to is I keep my paintings in my house. Or "exhibit", if you must be pretentious.

(image source)
At least I did get full marks on this section.

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