Sentence is:

Jim dropped the amulet back into the bag and hooked it through his belt.

Isn't there confusion here on the subject? It feels like 'hooked it' is still related to the amulet when it's actually referring to what he does with the bag.

An alternative would be:

Jim dropped the amulet back into the bag, which he hooked through his belt.

Seems a bit clunky, though.

Am I stressing unnecessarily about this or does the sentence need work?

  • Your version is much better and not ambiguous, I think. The original sentence causes ambiguity if not analysed from pragmatic aspect. Deictic elements I mean. – Turkan Alisoy Aug 3 '15 at 9:28
  • The confusion is around the object of the sentence. The subject is Jim. – mikeagg Aug 3 '15 at 9:46

I think there's very little ambiguity. The sense follows naturally. If the amulet is in the bag, it has to be the bag that's hooked.

Writing the sentence the first way implies a quickness and ease of action, which I think is what you want. It's written as one continuous action (is it meant to be surreptitious?). You're right, the second way is clunkier. Just that tiny comma holds the action a little.

Here's another thing, though. Does it really matter? It's a short, grammatical sentence, soon passed over in the narrative. Do you think the reader is likely to stop reading and think "Now, did he hook the amulet or the bag on his belt?"

Writing takes much longer than reading. You can spend ages polishing your prose. Sometimes you have to let the little things go, or you'll never get to the end.

I vote for the first example, but...

  • Ha! Thank you, all. I meant object confusion, not subject. Sorry. – Andrew Lowe Aug 3 '15 at 10:35
  • Why does it "have to be the bag that's hooked"? An amulet could easily be dropped into a bag which is already hanging from a belt, and the chain of the amulet left hanging out of the bag could be hooked onto a belt loop, making the amulet easy to access but also concealed and protected by the bag. This is what I imagined immediately upon reading the asker's first sentence. – talrnu Aug 3 '15 at 13:12
  • You might be right, talrnu. But I have to ask: "What chain?" There's no mention of one in the passage. Does it matter, though? We imagine lots of stuff through simple narrative writing. Your amulet had a chain, mine didn't. It's a tiny moment; the amulet's in the bag. That's what's important, – Margana Aug 3 '15 at 14:56

I do not sense any ambiguity here regarding the subject. Your sentence consists of two coordinated clauses, linked by the coordinating conjunction and. In the second clause, the subject is left out which means that it has the same subject as the first clause (Jim).

There could be ambiguity about the object of both clauses though. The it in the second clause could be interpreted as the amulet. However, it is not the amulet that is hooked to his belt, it is the bag. The reason this could be misinterpreted is that in the first clause, the amulet is your direct object while in the second one you find a pronoun as the direct object. This pronoun could be misinterpreted as being the same direct object as in the first clause, but the context and knowledge of the meaning of the words should make the reader understand that it refers to the bag.

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