I'm doing some editing and one sentence I'm navigating says "You can configure how the thing appears." (That's a paraphrase.) I think it is wrong because "configure" is a transitive verb and needs a direct object. "How" is not an object.

I'm not entirely sure that that's the clearest explanation of why this construction is wrong, however.

  • Note: my edit was "You can configure the thing's appearance." – Amanda Mar 30 '11 at 17:20
  • Trimming the sentence down makes it feel less awkward: "You can configure how it appears." Replacing "configure" may alleviate any of the awkwardness: "You can change how it appears." This may not work in the final context but it may help clarify why the sentence is okay. – MrHen Mar 30 '11 at 18:36
  • @MrHen: Personally I don't see how change vs configure makes any grammatical difference or eliminates any awkwardness. (Actually the sentence doesn't seem awkward at all to me, but I'm comfortable with the word configure). – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Mar 30 '11 at 21:09
  • @Mr. Shiny: It doesn't and that was the point. Everything is hunky-dory; the original phrase is perfectly fine. – MrHen Mar 30 '11 at 21:39
  • If you're uncomfortable with using "how the thing appears" as a direct object, think of "I don't know how the thing appears", "I see how the thing appears" and the like... – psmears Mar 30 '11 at 22:26

The phrase seems fine to me. The object is "how it appears", not just "how".

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  • +1: the phrase seems completely grammatically acceptable to me, and Google confirms that it’s a quite frequent usage. – PLL Mar 30 '11 at 17:09
  • It is commonly used, however many grammar checkers will probably not be able to parse "how" as an object. I.E. In this case "how" is treated conceptually as an object, but is typically a different part of speech. – mfg Mar 30 '11 at 17:14
  • @mfg Do you know that any grammar checkers actually fail to cope with this? I don't know why there would be any problems. That clauses set off by words like that, why, and how can serve as an object or even the subject of a sentence doesn't seem terribly controversial or difficult to me. That's just how it is. – Jason Orendorff Mar 31 '11 at 12:20
  • @Jason How is the problem. | “How” is the problem. Try it in Microsoft Outlook, it wants to make either a question. I'm not saying you can't just ignore Microsoft, but you still need to right click to get rid of those annoying squiggly lines. (Note: How runs the gamut of problems. does not trigger grammar check) – mfg Mar 31 '11 at 12:49
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    @mfg: My solution to that problem is to simply disable the grammar checker altogether. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Mar 31 '11 at 14:36

I don't think the construction is invalid but imo it does not read well. I would prefer something like:

You can configure the thing's appearance.

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  • That's the edit I used, too. So you're saying it is wordy but not invalid? – Amanda Mar 30 '11 at 17:21
  • @Amanda Yes, I agree with the other answers/comments that it is grammatically acceptable but it wouldn't be my preferred form. Perhaps that is just a question of style. – z7sg Ѫ Mar 30 '11 at 18:31

A straightforward adjustment might read:

You can configure the manner in which...

This substitution of "how" treats "configure" as a transitive verb but will allow the remaining construction intact.

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    +1 I agree with the method, though sometimes manner can come off as mannered. – jbelacqua Mar 30 '11 at 18:33
  • the way it looks would work too, but its appearance seems nicer in this case. – Jason Orendorff Mar 31 '11 at 12:22

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