Thursday, July 17, 2014

Watch those pronoun referents!

First: dawwwwwwwww. Baby Stegosaurus no bigger than a cat! Dawwwwwwwwwwww!

But this? Please:
And it was late one afternoon in 2007 when Mossbrucker himself found something extraordinary in the sandstone — the footprint of a baby Stegosaurus dinosaur.

“The light hit it just right, and I went, ‘Oh, it’s a track!’” he said. The tiny dino wouldn’t have been much larger than a house cat. Based on its size, no bigger than a quarter, it had recently hatched.
No, no, no. I mean, which was it? Larger, if not much, than a house cat? Or no bigger than a quarter? Because while cats are much tinier than adult Stegosauruses, they are indeed bigger than quarters.

I'm going to bet that paragraph originally read something like:
“The light hit it just right, and I went, ‘Oh, it’s a track!’” he said. Based on its size, no bigger than a quarter, the tiny dino wouldn’t have been much larger than a house cat. It had recently hatched.
There might have been a conjunction or two in there, but I'm betting this was it. (Even here, I'd prefer "based on the track's size", but that's just me.) Because in the paragraph as rearranged, there's a severe pronoun antecedent problem.

Once you stick that "tiny dino" and that "house cat" in there in front of "its", it can't mean the track any more.



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