Coney Island

My husband and I always visit Coney Island when we take a trip back to New York. We eat french fries at Nathan’s, shop for souvenirs at one of the stores on Surf Avenue, and walk along the boardwalk. We both have fond memories of childhood trips to Coney Island, and we continue to marvel that this beautiful beach is available to everyone for the price of a subway token.

Charlie recently decided to use the now-defunct Parachute Jump at Coney Island as the beginning of a recent gardening column about “parachute plants” (plants that can propel themselves through the air). It seemed like a great way to start the column – but no matter what we did to the sentence, we couldn’t get it to work. 

Here’s Charlie’s original sentence. See what you think:

As a Brooklyn-born guy, I and my family often visited Coney Island for its beach, restaurants, and thrill rides. 

I didn’t like “I and my family,” but Charlie sensibly pointed out that “my family and I” is a dangling modifier, sounding like the family was a Brooklyn-born guy.

So we tried again:

As a Brooklyn-born guy, I often visited Coney Island with my family for its beach, restaurants, and thrill rides.

Notice anything? I did – right away. “Its” is an indefinite pronoun reference. The word it has to refer to the previous noun…which in this sentence is family, not Coney Island. This version sounds as if the family, not Coney Island, has its own beach. (Charlie’s family is not that wealthy!)

After a lot more experimentation we found that deleting family gave us a perfectly grammatical sentence:

As a Brooklyn-born guy, I often visited Coney Island for its beach, restaurants, and thrill rides.  CORRECT

But Charlie protested that the idea of family visits to Coney Island in his childhood was getting lost.

We finally settled on the sentence with the indefinite pronoun reference (crossing our fingers that nobody would notice the mistake):

As a Brooklyn-born guy, I often visited Coney Island with my family for its beach, restaurants, and thrill rides.

In our defense, I’m going to cite Mary Norris, copyeditor for The New Yorker and author of Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, a delightful book about English usage. Sometimes (gasp!) she allows a prohibited construction to slip through because the sentence works better that way.

It’s sort of the usage equivalent of a parachute jump: Risky…but the results are worth it.

The Parachute Jump at Coney Island

           The Parachute Jump

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2 thoughts on “Coney Island

  1. Kelly Pomeroy

    I’m not sure I agee that the antecedent to a possessive pronoun has to be the most recent noun. If the meaning is clear and the sentence sounds OK, as yours does, I say go for it.(quotation marks intentionally omitted on that last part of my sentence).

    On the other hand, you could have said “I often took my family to visit…”, or “I often went with my family to visit”.

  2. ballroomdancer Post author

    100% on target! “I often took my family to visit” wouldn’t work because Charlie was so young. But “I often went with my family to visit” is terrific. Wish you’d been here when we were struggling!

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