As usual, these are taken from national newspapers (and names have been changed). Yes, people are paid to produce this type of sentence!
‘Joe had first sexual experience with a 50-year-old aged 18.’
So was the 50 year old really aged 18? This sentence would be much better as:
Joe had his first sexual experience at the age of 18, with a 50 year old.
‘I bought a device to block unwanted phone calls from BT.‘
So was it BT making the unwanted phone calls? Or did you buy the device from BT? (I know BT don’t have the best reputation these days, but I don’t think we need to buy devices to stop them calling us.) This sentence would be better as:
‘I bought a device from BT to block unwanted phone calls.’
‘Tiddles, a seven year old tomcat, was found severely in a bin by a neighbour of owner Jane Doe after he vanished from her home …’
I can’t even guess which word was meant in place of severely! Perhaps the writer was relying on the spellchecker, but this should have been spotted by the editor.
As you can see, the changes are small, but important. Why should a reader have to work out what the writer means in simple sentences such as these?
Every day I see the most appalling errors in national newspapers. It’s really not good enough! Journalists are supposed to be ‘professionals’, and presumably were interviewed prior to their employment. Unfortunately, a newspaper might be all the reading some people manage to do in their busy lives, and the dreadful standard of English they see may come to be considered as ‘normal’.
Today’s example is from a story about the recently released US hostage Bowe Bergdahl:
‘Daughter’s heartbreak at learning Taliban leader responsible for her dad’s death when she was 9 was freed in exchange for Bowe Bergdahl’
If you read it a couple of times you can understand what is meant, but how much clearer it would have been with the correct punctuation:
‘Daughter’s heartbreak at learning Taliban leader, responsible for her dad’s death when she was 9, was freed in exchange for Bowe Bergdahl’
Just two commas make that sentence so much better, wouldn’t you agree? It could be gramatically better too, but let’s not go into that here.
I read a lot of books, and have noticed in recent years that punctuation seems to be considered ‘old-fashioned’ by some authors or editors. I reviewed a book on Amazon, where I said that I had enjoyed the book, but noticed that there was a curious lack of punctuation. As with the above newspaper example, this means that at times, the reader has to go back and re-read sentences to figure out the meaning.
The author replied to my review, saying that he agreed with me, but that his publisher had removed a lot of his original punctuation, saying that it ‘interfered with the flow’. Words fail me … (for once!)