FROM TODAY’S SEATTLE TIMES (December 23, 2013, A3) comes this headline: “Feds buying clothing made in questionable overseas factories.” Virtually every reader knows exactly what the message is here: that the factories ARE overseas but ARE of questionable legality or morality.
But, due to the rules of grammar, that is NOT what the sentence says: since both “questionable” and “overseas” are intended as adjectives modifying or describing the noun “factories,” these are considered coordinate adjectives.
Because the comma is missing, in this sentence “questionable” is, in fact, an adverb modifying the adjective “overseas.” What this does technically is to call into question NOT the legality of the types of factories but instead questions whether or not these factories are overseas!
That is, following the rules of grammar, the correct interpretation of the headline is that the feds are buying clothing from factories that may or may not be overseas, see? So These like clothing factories are like where? never need be a question again . . .
HEADER IMAGE: In 2013, the Rana Plaza in Savar Upazila of Dhaka, Bangladesh, collapsed due to structural failure. The search for the dead ended with a death toll of 1,129 mostly low-wage factory workers. It is considered the deadliest garment-factory accident in history, as well as the deadliest accidental structural failure in modern human history.
William Strunk Jr’s original edition of The Elements Of Style (1919) was all of fifty-three pages long. In 1959, it was revised and expanded by one of his students, the famous children’s book author E.B. White. It is one of the best selling and most influential grammar and punctuation books ever published. I have used the authors’ names for one of the categories of this site: Strunkandwhiten It! For more information, refer to “On William Strunk and Elements of Style.”