What’s wrong with this sentence? (In previous sentences in the article quoted from, it is explained the writer is talking about great white sharks.)

“Researchers at OCEARCH, which captured, tagged and released the sharks aboard their 126-foot former Bering Sea crabber have found that the sharks swim south much faster than once thought.”

My mind immediately saw those sharks released on the former crabber. I pictured them flailing around on the deck. Then when I looked at the sentence again, I thought it was too long and complicated. I also realized that the researchers did not capture the sharks while the sharks were aboard their boat. Next I caught on that since it was the researchers who captured, tagged and released the sharks, the word “which” following “Researchers at OCEARCH” is incorrect. “Which” should have been “who.” It was the researchers who captured the sharks, not the organization they work for. Not to mention the missing comma after the word “crabber” and the needed Oxford comma. All problems could have been fixed by taking apart the sentence and rearranging everything so it both made sense and was easier to read. Making it two sentences would have helped immensely.

I do not claim to be an expert on grammar, and I’m only pointing out things that I’m sure were wrong. But if I’m mistaken about any of my points, I wish some of the experts out there would let me know. I know that learning does not end until the moment we die. I’m here to learn.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so many errors in one sentence in a newspaper article, but I have to wonder. If you don’t believe me, it was here (unless they since corrected it):


I am so flabbergasted, I am now speechless, a rare event for me.


  1. I think the New Yorker used to run snippets from newspapers that were hilarious because of the grammatical errors. I miss those. At the end of some sentences like the one you quote my brain feels like it’s a spinning top.

  2. Oh, I understood it fine, too, Kevin. But the part about releasing the sharks on the boat made me laugh, then made me look more closely at the whole sentence. Let’s put it this way–it was not an elegant sentence. LOL

  3. Jan:

    I was a newspaper copy editor for 30 years.

    You are correct: The sentence is a monstrosity and, among other things, needs to be broken in two, as you suggest.

    However, in the paper’s defense, I should say that newspapers don’t generally use the Oxford comma. It’s an AP style thing, and many if not most newspapers conform to it. I think it’s a carry-over (or carryover?) from the days of hot type.

    But AP style does use the Oxford comma if one of the elements of the series requires a conjunction (“I had orange juice, toast, and ham and eggs for breakfast.”) or if the sentence involves a complex series of phrases.

  4. Thanks for commenting, Mark. I didn’t realize that about AP style and the Oxford comma. All I know is that it seems to go in and out of fashion. When I was in school, it was stressed, then I noticed many fiction writers I read and critiqued left it out. Then I had two professional editors of my novels tell me it had to be there, so that’s where I am right now. But I’m happy to have learned one thing today, thanks to you. Probably AP’s decision is what is confusing everyone. Glad you agreed with me that the sentence was horrible.

    • Jan: In my comment, I perhaps should have mentioned that The Chicago Manual of Style, which the book-editing world follows, DOES prefer the Oxford comma, which is probably why those two professional editors correctly told you that you needed it.

  5. Mark, yes, the last editor I used did say the Oxford comma was needed for fiction according the the CMS. I even own a copy, but I’m afraid I don’t open it very often, especially when I think I already know what’s right. LOL

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