Hi, I'm working on an essay that contains the following sentence: "No taller than two men and naked and spindly, there ought to be nothing remarkable about it." The "it" here refers to a tree, which was the subject of the previous sentence. I like the sentence the way it is, but it seems more grammatically correct to say: "No taller than two men and naked and spindly, it ought to have nothing remarkable about it" -- but this feels awkward. Is the first sentence permissible? I'd love your help. Thank you so much!
Hello, Taney Roniger, and welcome to the Grammar Exchange.
I will focus on the second part of the sentence. If we consider that "about" means "in the nature or character of a person or thing," the first sentence is correct and the second one is not.
In fact, we can say:
- There is something remarkable about the tree.
- The tree has something remarkable about it (about itself?)
With "the tree" as subject, we should just say:
- The tree has something remarkable.
- The tree is remarkable (in some way).
Okay, great -- thank you so much! But I guess what I was worried about was that the first part of the sentence is modifying the subject of the previous sentence, and it seemed like that subject (here "it") should appear as the first word in the second part of the sentence. Example: "Her hair pulled back in a bun, Mary walked to the lake." In my construction the "it" doesn't come till the end.
If you use "it," I understand you mentioned the tree in the previous sentence. I find this paragraph to be fine:
- I like the tree. No taller than two men and naked and spindly, there ought to be nothing remarkable about it. Yet, I like it.
The subject of "there ought to be nothing remarkable about it" is "nothing remarkable." I think these indefinite pronouns do not cause any dangling effect when a participial clause is included, for example:
- (Being) Brave and strong, there was nothing he couldn't do.
What do you think, David and DocV?
I find Taney's sentence very interesting and poetic, but before commenting on it I would like to see it in the context of the paragraph, or at least the previous sentence.
In the absence of that, I like everything Gustavo has to say here.
Also, Taney, I join Gustavo in welcoming you to the Grammar Exchange.
Thanks, DocV. I'm very glad to be here. The sentence in question appears in the first paragraph of an essay I'm writing on form in visual art (still in progress). I'm happy to post the entire paragraph here (see below). There's also the issue of "sunk" versus "sunken"! I can't really decide which sounds better.
Across the road at the bottom of my driveway, half sunken behind a small slope and a thicket of weeds, there is dead tree. No taller than two men and naked and spindly, there ought to be nothing remarkable about it. Indeed, there would be nothing remarkable about it were it not for one thing: by some stroke of happenstance one could hardly manufacture, one of its branches, wrest from the trunk by some unknown force, hangs precariously from the fork of another, its overturned arm cutting diagonally across the vertical thrust of its neighbors. A paean to gravity and matter’s quiet protest against it, it has stood thus for sixteen years. While there are people for whom such things go unnoticed, this odd little corpse has commanded my gaze every time I have passed it. Drawing me to it as if by some strange magnetism, it holds my eye me until it can’t anymore, and each time, without fail, I am utterly transfixed.
Thank you for sharing this beautiful piece of poetic prose. Now that I understand it for what it is, I'll say that many traditional rules of grammar can be ignored here.
I still like what Gustavo says, which comes down to the fact that "there" is perfectly acceptable as the "dummy subject" in the sentence you first asked about. I greatly prefer it over "it".
Allowing for the fact that poetry may bend normal rules, I'll address a few things:
1: "Sunk" is the past participle of "sink", whereas "sunken" is an adjective. You have used "sunken" correctly, but in such a poetic piece, I would allow "sunk". I say leave it as is.
2: As beautifully written as the second sentence is, it begs some questions. Since the normal configuration of two men is side by side, as opposed to one standing on top of the other, the tallness of two men is usually the same as the tallness of one. But again, this is poetic prose, so all bets are off. Allow me , however, to suggest this alternative:
Barely twice the height of a man, naked and spindly, there should be nothing remarkable about it. In fact, there shouldn't be, if it were not for one thing: ...
3: I don't like "by some stroke of happenstance one could hardly manufacture". I think it could be phrased better.
4: In normal prose, "wrest" is a present tense verb, while "wrested" would normally be used in this context.
I hope this is helpful. I also hope I get a chance to see the finished product.
Thank you so much for all the great feedback, DocV. I really appreciate it. I know what you mean about the two men in question, but I figured the reader would make the adjustment in her mind. I'll give it some thought.
Thank you for "wrested"! I was indeed wondering about that.
Re: "by some stroke of happenstance...", the word "manufacture" always felt too industrial to me. And perhaps "happenstance" isn't right either. I wonder if it was the words or the structure that you found objectionable. In any case, I'll certainly rework that.