Submitted by kangnamgu on October 19, 2008

Find the error

Working from a textbook, one exercise requires students to find the error in different sentences. Can anybody find the error in the following sentence?

*The painting of the Buddha, that has nine figures, made the religion more concrete to believers in 13th-century Tibet.*

The sentence refers to a picture in the book of a painting of a Buddha with several other figures (bodhisattvas) around it.

Sections of the sentence is underlined. I will use square-brackets to indicate the underlined sections. The error should be with one of these underlined sections. Here is the sentence again:

The painting of the Buddha[, that has]{A} nine [figures,]{B} made the religion more [concrete]{C} to believers in [13th-century Tibet.]{D}

The Teacher’s Edition of the textbook says that the error is with {A}. If this is correct, what is wrong with it?

Thanks!

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The problem here is the ambiguity of meaning. Did the Buddha have 9 figures or did the painting have 9 figures? Since the painting in question is not shown, it is difficult to make a determination. If the sentence describes the first case, then it should be written thus:

*The painting of the Buddha, which has nine figures, made the religion more concrete to believers in 13th-century Tibet.*

If the sentence describes the second case, then this rendering would be acceptable:

*The painting of the Buddha that has nine figures made the religion more concrete to believers in 13th-century Tibet.*

Neither of these choices is particularly attractive, however, so I'd probably rewrite the sentence entirely:

*The painting, in which the Buddha is depicted with nine figures, made the religion more concrete to believers in 13th-century Tibet.*

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This doesn't seem like much of an error because the rules have become so relaxed, but traditionally the relative clause "that" is used with restrictive relative clauses: those that are necessary to identify a noun and are not set off by commas. The pronoun "which," on the other hand, is used with nonrestrictive clauses, which are optional, add extraneous information, and are set off by commas.

...the Buddha, which has nine figures, made the religion... (extra information about the Buddha)
...the Buddha that has nine figures made the religion...
(necessary information to identify the Buddha)

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amancalledj says that traditionally "that" is used with restrictive relative clauses, and "which" is used with nonrestrictive clauses. Actually this is not true. "Which" has been used with restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses since the early 17th century. The rule that "which" should only be nonrestrictive was invented by Fowler, and it wasn't even a rule, he was just expressing his opinion.

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Well, I agree with John's opinion. Anyway, that cannot be used in nonrestrictive clause, as is the case with this sentence.

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If you use a MS Word corrector, it will tell you (eliminate the comma before 'that' or change 'that' to 'which')

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"That" is not used with nonrestrictive clauses except in poetry. It should be "which".

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Thank you all.

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