Monday, 1 November 2010

Unnecessary Ambiguity

This is from an article by John Garnaut in the Sydney Morning Herald of 1 November, 2010. The sentence beginning, "Gillard built on the work that Rudd, the Treasurer, Wayne Swan ...." assumes the reader knows that it is not Rudd but Wayne Swan who is the Treasurer. Writers and editors should never assume this kind of knowledge, when it is just as easy to write an unambiguous sentence that conveys the same information: "Gillard built on the work done by Rudd and both the current Treasurer, Wayne Swan, and his predecessor, Peter Costello, to establish the G20 ..."

It matters - after all, the SMH is struggling to survive. If it expects people to pay to buy it, it needs to remember that its readers expect it to provide clear, well-written news.

And, while we're at it, "The standard time a person would have to wait ... will soar"? If that "would" were "might" and that "will" were "would", I think the sentence could work, but I'm worried about it as it stands, (although open to arguments explaining that it actually makes perfect sense):


  1. Hmm, I may be wrong, but I think there might be an argument for it the way it stands: there may a 'standard' waiting time than can be estimated regardless of whether any particular person might embark on it or not. But I'm not a formally trained grammarian...

  2. Yes, I'm not sure either - but the article is talking about something that won't definitely happen so I think it shouldn't be 'will', because it remains conditional. I also have some vague memory of a notion about a conditional not being able to coexist with whatever tense 'will' is (an indicative???????????) I'm not sure I'm the most expert champion of good language, given I barely know the jargon or, indeed, the rules.