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I'm a native American English speaker and have noticed something in my speech/writing that I don't really understand. I've noticed my speech sounds "Yoda-ish" and have been trying to figure out what's causing it; well, I think I figured it out.

Below are example sentences of things I've said/written and what I believe is the more correct version. What's going on here? What am I doing?

1:

  • Mine: What are the most common native speaker English mistakes?
  • Correct(?): What are the most common English mistakes for a native speaker?

2:

  • Mine: I was reminiscing about the Angels game we made the signs for.
  • Correct(?): I was reminiscing about the signs we made for the Angles game.

I'm swapping something, but I'm not sure what or why. Any diagnoses or description so I can rectify this would be appreciated!

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  • 5
    The idea that a native speaker need rectify anything in these constructions being purely suppository, you may safely put it behind you with no harm done. :)
    – tchrist
    Oct 27 at 2:55
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    Your first rewrite (the most common English mistakes for a native speaker) includes a preposition, but the (non-idiomatic) "original" just chains together adjectives and nouns to give a single prepositionless noun phrase (the idiomatic version of which is the most common English native speaker mistakes). Your second example isn't exactly a "rewrite", because the two sentences mean significantly different things. Oct 27 at 13:13
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    The Angels sentences mean different things. In the first you're reminiscing about the game, in the second you're reminiscing about the signs.
    – jimm101
    Oct 27 at 13:41
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    You may want to fix the angles/angels typo
    – Glen_b
    Oct 28 at 7:58
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    @tchrist That's a rather cheeky analysis. Oct 28 at 16:47
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I don’t think there is anything wrong with either sentence for each number, honestly. Both pairs are grammatical, although for the second pair the meaning is slightly different because in the first one you are reminiscing about the Angels game, but in the second one it seems to me that you are reminiscing about the signs. The defining relative clause for each one is different. It’s all a matter of what is contained in the defining relative clause.

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The second example is perfectly fine. What you are afraid of is ending a sentence/clause with a preposition, for, which is actually not wrong at all. Perhaps, in a very formal context, one would avoid it, e.g. by using for which, or by recasting the sentence, as you did (which changes the meaning slightly in this case).

The first example has a nominal group native speaker English mistakes, where the head is mistakes and the attributes the rest. With such a long string of attributes before the head, I would say it is somewhat less than pretty. But it's serviceable. (Detail: most people would spell it native-speaker in this case, when a two-word phrase is used adjectivally, in order to facilitate the reader.)

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    The reordering of words changes the meaning in the second example, so I wouldn't consider it "perfectly" fine - the object of reminiscing switches from the game itself to the signs made for it. A more correct reordering of those words that preserves meaning and avoids ending on a preposition is "I was reminiscing about the Angels game for which we made the signs." But that arguably sounds even more Yoda-like.
    – talrnu
    Oct 27 at 15:36
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Firstly, I'd say that there isn't anything particularly Yoda-like in your examples. Both sentences follow the standard-English [Subject][Verb][Object] ordering rather than a Yoda-like [O][S][V] ordering.

[What][are][the most common native speaker English mistakes]?
[I][was reminiscing about][the Angels game we made the signs for].

However, you are right that there does seem to be a bit of clunkyness in the way you're constructing the noun-phrases for your sentences' objects.

To me, it sounds like you're speaking too quickly and find yourself trapped in a sentence with no way out other than to generate a massive noun-phrase to specify details you had forgotten to include earlier. And, unfortunately, it appears that your reflexes tend to prefer long adjective phrases that inadvertently bury the lede.

For example, lets make your first sentence even more difficult to parse. The object of the sentence is: mistakes in English, made by native English speakers, made most often. How bad can that be to understand?

What are the most common English native speaker made English mistakes?

We're still talking about English mistakes commonly made by English native speakers, but because I've glommed "English-native-speaker-made" together as another nested adjective phrase I'm giving readers/listeners a very difficult job to suss out that "mistakes" is actually the Object they are looking for. Your version isn't remotely so bad as my example, but it still buries your Object behind a mess of adjectives.

The better alternative is to make your object clear early, and then use a prepositional phase to specify those necessary details.

What are the English mistakes most commonly made by native speakers?

Your second sentence could also benefit by breaking out a prepositional phrase rather than making "we made signs for" a direct modifier for game.

I was reminiscing about the Angels game when we made the signs.

Basically, try to break your clumsier sentences into more bite-sized chunks by using a prepositional phrase or two rather than defaulting to chained adjective phrases.

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  • Your version of sentence 2 can read as the reminiscing occurred during the sign creation ("there's a spelling mistake in the banner - what happened?") or maybe the sign creation occurred during the game itself (as opposed to the Angels game when we got front row seats)
    – mcalex
    Oct 28 at 3:50
  • @mcalex I partially agree; the specific phrasing I could introduce ambiguity on to the sign-creation-timeline (though probably not in the context OPs sentence implies). I mostly chose it as an example that didn't fix the dangling preposition by the "... game for which we made the signs." construction, which a lot of dangling-preposition'ers find stilted or unnatural. Though, if I wanted to leave things as close to OP's sentance as possible I suppose "... game that we made the signs for." would be a better for not introducing the timeline ambiguity. Oct 28 at 17:40
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1.

  • Mine: What are the most common native speaker English mistakes?
  • Correct(?): What are the most common English mistakes for a native speaker?

The first construction seems difficult to understand; there is an ambiguity between the adjective and the noun "English", and even if common sense tells you that it must be the noun, there is still a decision to be made; moreover it is not immediately evident whether the compound is "[native speaker] [English mistakes]" or "[native speaker English] [mistakes] . The second appears to be lacking in elegance.

What I'd write or say

What are the native speaker's most common mistakes in English? (possessive genitive, rather than next (descriptive genitive))

or

What are the most common native speaker's mistakes in English? (descriptive genitive)

or

What are native speaker's English's most common mistakes?

2.

  • Mine: I was reminiscing about the Angels game we made the signs for.
  • Correct(?): I was reminiscing about the signs we made for the Angels game.

The first construction is correct. Thes second one changes the meaning, and so can't be a correction of the first.

What I'd write or say

I was reminiscing about the Angels game (which)(that)( ) we made the signs for.

or

I was reminiscing about the Angels game for which we made the signs.

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    "What are native speaker's English's most common mistakes?" seems much more wrong than any other version of that sentence. Not only is it awkward (two possessives in a row) but "English's" doesn't make any sense, because it's not the English language making the mistakes - it's the native speaker. Also, shouldn't "native speaker's" have an article on it? Oct 27 at 17:17
  • @MishaLavrov You can say things such as "My English is not too good, but it's getting better.", and as well, "There are mistakes in my English.". There is no doubt that you can say things such as "“English's greatest use is as a contact language"; from this usage you can infer that the genitive can be used for "English" as meaning "somebody's English". So you have to understand that "native user's English" is English as the native user speaks it, his/her English, and not English as "English spoken at its best". The mistakes in it are "native user's English's mistakes"; that does not (1/3)
    – LPH
    Oct 27 at 18:46
  • @MishaLavrov say that the user's English is making the mistakes, but that they belong to it, or said better perhaps, that they are part of it. As concerns the use of two possessives in row, I don't believe that it is awkward: it's logic is difficult, but nevertheless you do not have to speak or read a high-flown sort of English in order to use it or find it; you find for instance in Catch 22, one of Joseph Heller's novels, the construction "Nataly's whore's kid sister", (2/3)
    – LPH
    Oct 27 at 18:46
  • @MishaLavrov which is quite colloquial. You do find two possessives in a row in English, although, let's admit it, they do not occur very often. Now, to your last point. You wouldn't say "What are the English's difficulties?", but "What are English's difficulties?"; the same principle applies for "native speaker's English's most common mistakes?"(3/3)
    – LPH
    Oct 27 at 18:47
  • I still think that it's more correct to say "What are a native speaker's most common English mistakes?" and - if you really wanted to talk about the native speaker's English, "What are the most common mistakes in a native speaker's English?" I would get behind "the" (which I tend to feel is a British and somewhat outdated way to talk about a generic English speaker - very Kipling-like) but not the lack of an article. Oct 27 at 19:18

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