Saturday, December 13, 2014

"Are You a Good Which or a Bad Which?"

Remember Glinda's first words to Dorothy when she landed in Oz?  She said, "Are you a good witch or a bad witch?"

Think of that line whenever you use the word "which" in your writing.  There is only one good which.  The good which has the power to refer back to a "a single, clear, unmistakable noun" as the author of a Towson University writing website says.

So let's look at the sentences in my student's essay that sent me to Oz:

"If I am being completely out there, she will quickly jump in to correct me, which sometimes doesn’t result in the best example of listening."
In this example, the writer wants "which" to mean "the friend jumping in to correct me."  This is a behaviour, a memory, an observation, but not a single clear noun.

In the second example in the same essay, the student sensed something was wrong with the sentence structure and thought, perhaps, that he could fix it by starting a new sentence:

"If my friend never listened to what I have to say, I can almost certainly predict that I would not have an interest in listening to what he has to say. Which would then make me a bad listener, even though I have the capability to be a great listener." 
Here  "which" refers to  "not hav[ing] interest in listening to what he has to say."  This is a thought, a concept, an outcome but not a single clear noun.

Both of these are very bad whiches, enough to make the whole house that is our paragraph fall from the sky (unless we write better, dammit).

1) Start a new sentence.  Say, "Correcting me does not indicate good listening."
2) Don't start with "which."  Say, "I have the potential to be a great listener, but it has to be a two-way street."

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