DOING critiques of grammar errors in entertainment-cum-gossip news isn’t exactly my cup of tea, and having done that in my most recent column, it was farthest from my mind to do it again. But then my attention was irresistibly drawn back by an even more provocative and instructive grammar lapse, this time in an entertainment story that came out recently in a leading Metro Manila broadsheet.
That story begins with this lead passage: “Alex Gonzaga experience(d) a minor wardrobe malfunction during her ‘AG From The East: The Unexpected Concert’ on Saturday. A part of her nude-colored underwear was exposed while performing songs from her album ‘I Am Alex G’ during the said concert.”
A wardrobe malfunction—you know, perhaps a breast popping out of a bra or a Delta of Venus peeping through sheer lace—is par for the course in sultry performances by uninhibited female songbirds, but not when nude-colored underwear is, of all things, discovered singing songs beneath a gown! That very curious grammar malfunction thus needs to be looked into methodically and as dispassionately as possible.
The faulty grammar in that lead passage isn’t difficult to spot: “A part of her nude-colored underwear was exposed while performing songs from her album ‘I Am Alex G’ during the said concert.” The main clause, “a part of her nude-colored underwear was exposed,” is grammatically beyond reproach because it has a legitimate subject and a legitimate verb, but its supposed subordinate clause is compromised. This is because “while performing songs from her album ‘I Am Alex G’ during the said concert” turns out to be neither subordinate nor even a clause.
The problem with that construction is that it has no subject at all. Recall from basic English grammar that a clause needs an obligatory subject—whether noun or pronoun—to qualify and work as a clause. But here, what we have is only an adverbial phrase improperly clinging for dear life to the singer’s “nude-colored underwear” in the main clause. In a word, it’s a dangling modifier, creating the absurd mental picture of nude-colored underwear not doing its job of covering the performer’s private part but—like a portable karaoke—actually performing prerecorded songs for her.
Now, before attempting to fix that grammar malfunction, let’s do a quick review of that technique in English grammar of streamlining sentences by reducing adjective clauses and adverbial clauses into adjective phrases and adverbial phrases, respectively. For instance, in the sentence “She flirted like an Arabian temptress while she was performing her act,” we can drop the second “she” and the verb “was” to reduce the subordinate clause “while she was performing her act” into the grammatically simpler subordinate phrase “while performing her act.” This streamlines the complex sentence into this simple sentence: “She flirted like an Arabian temptress while performing her act.”
The thing is, such a reduction is possible only when the subject of both the main clause and its subordinate clause is one and the same, as “she” in the example I presented above; otherwise the reduction is a big no-no. In particular, in the sentence “A part of her nude-colored underwear was exposed while performing songs from her album ‘I Am Alex G’ during the said concert,” the subject of the main clause—“her nude-colored underwear”—is different from that of the subordinate clause—the unstated “she.” This triggers the grammar malfunction in that wardrobe malfunction.
The simple fix for that grammar malfunction should be obvious by now. It is to restore the subject “she” and the verb “was” to the subordinate clause that has been improperly reduced into an adverbial phrase: “A part of her nude-colored underwear was exposed while she was performing songs from her album ‘I Am Alex G.’”
Now everything is decently in its proper place.
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