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7 Sentences That Sound Crazy But Are Still Grammatical

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Let's not look at grammar as a cold, harsh mistress. She can also be a fun, kooky aunt. Here are some tricks you can do to make crazy sounding sentences that are still grammatical. 

1. One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I'll never know.

Take advantage of the fact that the same sentence can have two different structures. This famous joke from Groucho Marx assumes that most people expect the structure of the first part to be

One morning [I shot an elephant] [in my pajamas].

But another possible, and perfectly grammatical, reading is

One morning [I shot] [an elephant in my pajamas].

2. The horse raced past the barn fell.

Make a garden path sentence. In this one, we think we've reached the main verb when we get to "raced," but instead we are still inside a reduced relative clause. Reduced relative clauses let us say, "the speech given this morning" instead of "the speech that was given this morning" or, in this case "the horse raced past the barn" instead of "the horse that was raced past the barn."

3. The complex houses married and single soldiers and their families.

Another garden path sentence, this one depends on the fact that "complex," "houses," and "married" can serve as different parts of speech. Here, "complex" is a noun (a housing complex) instead of an adjective, "houses" is a verb instead of a noun, and "married" is an adjective instead of the past tense of a verb.

4. The rat the cat the dog chased killed ate the malt.

Make a sentence with multiple center embeddings. We usually have no problem putting one clause inside another in English. We can take "the rat ate the malt" and stick in more information to make "the rat the cat killed ate the malt."  But the more clauses we add in, the harder it gets to understand the sentence. In this case, the rat ate the malt. After that it was killed by a cat. That cat had been chased by a dog. The grammar of the sentence is fine. The style, not so good.

5. Anyone who feels that if so many more students whom we haven’t actually admitted are sitting in on the course than ones we have that the room had to be changed, then probably auditors will have to be excluded, is likely to agree that the curriculum needs revision.

Another crazy center-embedded sentence. Can you figure it out? Start with "anyone who feels X is likely to agree." Then go to "anyone who feels if X then Y is likely to agree." Then fill out the X and Y. You might need a pencil and paper.

6. Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.

Buffalo! It's a noun! It's a city! It's a verb (meaning "to intimidate")! We've discussed the notorious buffalo sentence before, but it never stops being fun. It plays on reduced relative clauses, different part-of-speech readings of the same word, and center embedding, all in the same sentence. Stare at it until you get the following meaning: "Bison from Buffalo, New York, who are intimidated by other bison in their community, also happen to intimidate other bison in their community."

7. This exceeding trifling witling, considering ranting criticizing concerning adopting fitting wording being exhibiting transcending learning, was displaying, notwithstanding ridiculing, surpassing boasting swelling reasoning, respecting correcting erring writing, and touching detecting deceiving arguing during debating.

This sentence takes advantage of the versatile English –ing. The author of a 19th century grammar guide lamented the fact that one could "run to great excess" in the use of –ing participles "without violating any rule of our common grammars," and constructed this sentence to prove it. It doesn't seem so complicated once you realize it means,

"This very superficial grammatist, supposing empty criticism about the adoption of proper phraseology to be a show of extraordinary erudition, was displaying, in spite of ridicule, a very boastful turgid argument concerning the correction of false syntax, and about the detection of false logic in debate."

Not only is this a great example of the wonderful crazy things you can do within the bounds of proper English, it's the perfect response to pull out the next time someone tries to criticize your grammar.

Sources of sentences: 1. Groucho Marx; 2. Bever (1970); 3. Wikipedia; 4. Chomsky & Miller (1963); 5. Chomsky & Miller (1963); 6. William Rapaport; 7. Goold Brown (1851).

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9 Grammatically Correct Gifts for Language Lovers
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Have a friend or relative who's quick to correct your typos? Give them a gift that celebrates their love of (grammatically correct) language.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of sales. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck gift hunting!

1. THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE ILLUSTRATED; $12

William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White's extensive—and sometimes snarky—guide to grammar was published in 1920, but it's still considered a go-to for writing purists who are wary of change. The bookshelf staple, with a foreword by Roger Angell and updated with 57 colorful illustrations by Maira Kalman, is sure to offer up hours of education (which is entertainment to the language lover in your life).

Find It: Amazon

2. PENCILS; $9

These pencils will help keep common homophones straight. The retro sets of five are decorated with gold foil letters hand-pressed onto the sides. The Etsy store also offers up a set of red pencils that feature short, grammar-positive statements.

Find It: Etsy

3. QUOTE EARRINGS; $9

High marks: The delicate metal earrings are about a half-inch tall, making them a subtle but charming choice for any punctuation lover.

Find It: ModCloth

4. *YOU'RE NECKLACE; $24 AND UP

*You're necklace
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The pendant, which comes in the material of your choice, is dedicated to a well-known pet peeve amongst the literate.

Find It: Etsy

5. PUNCTUATION POSTER; $36

Everyone knows about the question mark and the semicolon, but what about the interrobang? This simple poster, available in three different sizes and 60 different colors, celebrates the punctuation that really helps writers get their point across. It's printed on satin luster paper with ChromaLife 100 inks, creating a long-lasting piece of artwork.

Find It: Etsy

6. SHADY CHARACTERS; $12

Keith Houston's book offers up a thorough look at the history of the written word. Readers can learn about the rich stories behind punctuation marks, including tales that cover everything from Ancient Roman graffiti to George W. Bush.

Find It: Amazon

7. AMPERSAND MARQUEE; $19

The ampersand is a divisive punctuation mark in writing, but it's widely loved in design; the attractive logogram can be found everywhere from wedding invitations to tattoos. This metal light stands at almost 10 inches, making it a nice statement piece in any home.

Find It: Amazon

8. POP CULTURE PARTS OF SPEECH; $29

Grammar is even more accessible with the help of beloved pop culture characters. ET, Robocop, Holly Golightly, Walter White, and more all come together to help teach tricky grammar terms. The poster is broken down into seven basic parts: nouns, verbs, adjectives, pronouns, adverbs, prepositions, and conjunctions.

Find It: Pop Chart Lab

9. OWL SHIRT; $15

Do you have a friend who's always correcting everyone with a stern "whom"? With the help of two owls, this shirt pokes light fun at two counterparts to the oft-neglected word. The lightweight, cotton shirt comes in a classic white with sizes for men, women, and children.

Find It: Amazon

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

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How to Properly Use 'Who' vs. 'Whom'
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by Reader's Digest

“Who” gets to have all the fun. Who gets to be on first. Who is responsible for letting the dogs out. Meanwhile, “whom” is sitting in the corner, being perceived as pretentious by plenty of English speakers.

But whom isn’t neglected due to any flaw—not at all. Whom is neglected because plenty of people just aren’t quite sure when the time is right to use it in a sentence, kind of like figuring out when it is seasonally acceptable to start wearing boots. It’s important to know, though. Now, with some help from Grammarly, we clarify the official who vs. whom rules.

In plain terms, whom is meant to be used to refer to the object of preposition or verb, while who should refer to the subject of the sentence. Here are two examples of proper usages:

  • To whom should the letter on the importance of grammar be addressed?
  • Who is responsible for making this delightful crockpot lasagna?

 
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A useful trick to make sure that you’re using each one properly requires you to do a quick substitution: Slide in he or him or she or her into the place of the who or whom. Now, let’s review the above-listed examples with the added in substitutions.

  • I should address the letter on the importance of grammar to him. (Whom was properly used.)
  • He is responsible for making this delightful crockpot lasagna. (Who was properly used.)

Now you can go out into the world and impress every grammarian you encounter. Sadly for whom, who will always play first fiddle, always relating to the subject.

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