When Sentences Don't Make Sense


Here’s a sentence, slightly disguised, that I came across in my editing work recently:

AeroSpain, the international airline of Spain, offers airfare and vacation packages to these fantastic destinations with a bonus to Paris or London.

When people think about the writing problems that must be dealt with in the editing process, they think of spelling errors and grammar problems and punctuation mistakes and even factual errors. But in fact, perhaps the most common problems I deal with are visible in that sample sentence above:

“… destinations with a bonus to Paris …”

Huh? “With a bonus to”? What does that even mean?

Errors of this nature are especially frustrating because you can almost -- almost -- understand what the writer meant. In fact, that’s probably why problems like this survive all the way to the copy editing process: it kindasorta made sense to the first editor who read it. But when it gets to the person who has to scrutinize every word, a problem passage like this poses a problem because it can be impossible to fix without knowing what the writer was trying to say.

Over the years, I’ve noticed that prepositions are usually major culprits in these “huh?” sentences. Their use can be extremely subtle and often purely idiomatic.

They offer wonderful escapes to Paris and London.

They offer wonderful trips to Paris and London

They offer wonderful destinations to Paris and London.

Why does “to” work with “escapes” and “trips” but not desintations? It just does. It’s not about grammar: “escapes,” “trips” and “destinations” are all nouns. So it’s not their part of speech that determines how any of them will work with the preposition “to.” It’s simply about meaning. And the only way to make sure your words make sense together, unfortunately, is to stop and ask: “Do my words make sense together?”


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