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apsofacto

What's wrong with this sentence?

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Here is another contest! 

Please send a personal message to me to tell me what is wrong with this sentence (you may also rewrite it if you wish):

Quote

The Contractor shall remove and rebuild all engines, which are marked with a red tag.

Note:  The intent of the author is to instruct a Contractor to review a set of car engines and discern which have a red tags.  Then remove only the engines with red tags and rebuild them.

Please do not reply directly to the post.  I'll post the results of who made it into the Pantheon of Glory tomorrow!  There will be no Hall of Eternal Shame this time.

Hint: The answer is grammatical.

 

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OK- Here are the results:

PANTHEON OF GLORY

Vern Edwards

PepetheFrog

Baierle

Jason Lent

Navy_Contracting_4

Todd Davis

 

Parthenon of Esteem

Prezmil2020- revised the sentence to fix the problem, but dissents from my diagnosis.

 

Vern provided a great explanation of the problem via PM, which I assume he won't mind me reproducing here:

Quote

I presume that the author meant to say that the engines to be removed and rebuilt are the ones that are marked with a red tag. If so, he should have used a restrictive clause, and the sentence should have been written:

     The Contractor shall remove and rebuild all engines that are marked with a red tag.

Instead, the author used a nonrestrictive clause, as follows:

     "The Contractor shall remove and rebuild all engines, which are marked with a red tag."

That sentence says that all engines are marked with red tag. The clause that begins with "which" merely provides more information about "all engines."

The author does not understand the proper uses of that and which.

 

Jason Lent observed that this error could lead to a disastrous interpretation (emphasis added):

 

8 hours ago, Jason Lent said:

The sentence would lead me to believe that all engines are to be removed and rebuilt and that all engines are marked with a red tag. The inclusion of the dependent clause "which are marked with a red tag" does not sufficiently describe the intended purpose (looking to see which engines have a red tag and removing and rebuilding only those that have a red tag). Simply removing the comma would be an improvement.

 

Prezmil2020 dissented somewhat with the diagnosis, but rewrote the sentence fixing the problem, so I gave him honorable mention.  Prezmil, please feel free to post your POV if you feel the urge.

 

Thanks as always folks!  It was fun.  I nominate PepetheFrog to do the next one.  Probably a better writer than yours truly . . .

 

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Sorry for the delayed response.  I was prepping for the Marine Corps Marathon.  Here's what I initially sent apsofacto:

"I don't think anything is wrong with the sentence as written.  The word 'which' is used as a pronoun, indicating a relationship between the red tag and the engines.  Therefore, logic would dictate that only engines with a red tag are to be removed and rebuilt.  Perhaps to be more clear, I would suggest the following revision:

The Contractor shall only remove and rebuild engines marked with a red tag."

After reading Vern's comments, I concur that the sentence is in fact misleading and one could interpret the instructions as indicating all engines have a red tag.

The bottom line from this exercise, be careful when drafting a document as contra proferentem will dictate in most cases.

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Guest Vern Edwards

You can get a lot of argument about the that-which distinction. A very good extended discussion can be found under the entry heading that in Garner's Modern English Usage, by Bryan Garner (the editor of Black's Law Dictionary and author of many books about writing). I have Garner's third edition, but the fourth edition is now available.

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20 hours ago, Prezmil2020 said:

The bottom line from this exercise, be careful when drafting a document as contra proferentem will dictate in most cases.

Perhaps this is a hasty generalization. Contract interpretation requires a highly fact-dependent analysis. For example: the basic rationale for contra proferentem will not be applied if the non-drafting party fails, before bidding, to seek clarification of an ambiguity of which it was or should have been aware of.

This is known as the Duty to Seek Clarification.

Incidentally, I wonder how many Wifconers would consider the original sentence as containing a patent or latent ambiguity? And which, if either?

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I'm not so sure it is ambiguous on its own (though I do not follow Prezmill's point very well).  However, if other instructions in the solicitation conflict, cannot be read together as a whole, and cannot be resolved through order of precedence, then yes.  Ambiguous.  Hopefully not missing any steps in there.

I would guess it is a patent conflict in that circumstance, but no way to tell in this context-free alternate universe.  We may be able to invent circumstances either way. 

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Guest Vern Edwards
On 10/26/2016 at 9:22 AM, apsofacto said:

The Contractor shall remove and rebuild all engines, which are marked with a red tag.

That sentence is not ambiguous in isolation. It can be ambiguous only in context.

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On 10/26/2016 at 11:22 AM, apsofacto said:
  Quote

The Contractor shall remove and rebuild all engines, which are marked with a red tag.

It's definitely wrong, unless the owner has red tagged all engines. However, only red tagged engines are to be removed and rebuilt. In order to price a contract, there would have to be an estimate of the number of red tagged engines to be rebuilt ...

So, can it have two meanings? 

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