I am greatly enjoying Steven E. Landsburg's book More Sex Is Safer Sex (Free Press 2007, paperback 2008). Landsburg is a brilliant popularizer of his academic subject, economics. He writes the way popular material should be written, I think. I wish I could do it that well. His sentences are exactly the right length. Mine are too long (this one isn't, of course, or at least it wouldn't have been, except that I went and added this bit… oh, damn…). However, just because someone is a brilliant writer, that doesn't immunize them against unintentional grammar slips. We all make those. And although we on Language Log often defend users of the language against stupid claims of ungrammaticality by prescriptive usage authorities who don't know their facts, we don't deny the existence of flatly ungrammatical sentences that occur anomalously in excellent prose. Take a look at this clearly ungrammatical sentence on page 33 of the paperback of Landsburg's book:
||*This accounts for the fact that family sizes of seven, eight, or nine children were common in the nineteenth century but rare today.
The question is how to say in precise terms why it is ungrammatical. Keep in mind that this alternative would have been perfectly grammatical:
||This accounts for the fact that family sizes of seven, eight, or nine children were common in the nineteenth century but rare in the twentieth.
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