Please settle a debate for me. Here is the sentence in question:

Excessive, incorrect, use of the word "like" is unbelievably irritating.

The criticism is against the comma following the word "incorrect". The defense was made that it is parenthetical apposition. Wikipedia says that apposition's are "normally noun phrases", is it ever acceptable for them to be non-noun phrases? If so, is this an example of that?

Would you judge this sentence as Poor or Acceptable?

  • 1
    They can be things other than noun phrases. I think this would be an example: "Paul, on the other hand, in considered extremely trustworthy." (source) But as Random Guy points out in his answer, your example is not in that category. – Lynn May 6 '13 at 3:56
  • Should that not be is considered – mplungjan May 6 '13 at 7:49

According to Purdue OWL:

  1. Use commas to separate two or more coordinate adjectives that describe the same noun. Be sure never to add an extra comma between the final adjective and the noun itself or to use commas with non-coordinate adjectives.

Because these are coordinating adjectives this would be technically incorrect.

  • I can't see that 'excessive' and 'incorrect' make sense paired here, no matter whether one decides they have to be classed as a coordinate or cumulative string. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 7 '18 at 10:20

Excessive is not in apposition to incorrect. For that to be true, excessive would have to be synonymous with incorrect. Excessive here condemns the style, but incorrect condemns the grammar. The first judges the quality of the writing's aesthetics, and the second judges whether the writing follows a set of rules.

Two grammatically correct alternatives are:

Excessive, incorrect use of the word "like" is unbelievably irritating.
Excessive and incorrect use of the word "like" is unbelievably irritating.

  • Excessive or incorrect use alone being of course quite acceptable!? I've seen an article claiming that the modern usage of be like as a quote verb (as in '...and he's like ...') is a rare new syntactic structure, becoming acceptable by usage. – Edwin Ashworth May 6 '13 at 8:38
  • @EdwinA: Whether the sentence is referring to a specific instance of "excessive and incorrect use" (in which case it'd be semantically correct) or is merely stating a general rule that wants to say "excessive use or incorrect use" (in which case it'd be semantically incorrect) is not provided by context. That's why all I offered was "Two grammatically correct alternatives" instead of saying, "This has to be", which I am wont to do when I believe that I know what the sentence wants to say. I usually quite careful about how I say things, & I do make mistakes, but not this time. – user21497 May 6 '13 at 8:59
  • I'm sure that in the next edition of the CGEL, Huddleston & Pullum will declare the rare usage you refer to a fraternal twin of "He gave it to John and I". – user21497 May 6 '13 at 9:01
  • I was not casting nasturtiums on your analysis, but rather emphasising the fact that there is more to consider than the comma usage (The OP's 'Would you judge this sentence as Poor or Acceptable?' allows for comments beyond the commaplace). >> I hope that CGEL ditches the 'intransitive preposition' stance - it has its uses, but glosses over severe problems introduced by such a lumping. – Edwin Ashworth May 6 '13 at 17:39
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    @EdwinA: Thank you for that "casting nasturtiums" phrase. Never saw or heard it before. See The Particularity of Particles, or Why They Are Not Just 'Intransitive Prepositions' by Bert Cappelle for a refutation of the intrans preps notion. Terminological arguments can lead to this kind of nonsense. And this LinguaPress article to be confused by some linguistic claptrap on this topic. This kind of stuff is one reason I decided against trying to get a PhD in Linguistics 30 years ago. – user21497 May 7 '13 at 0:18

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