“Picking up your litter puts road-workers at risk” — is this strangely-worded road sign grammatically correct?

Yesterday I came across a road-sign (just coming onto the M40 at the Oxford services, if you’re interested!) that seemed to read rather strangely. It read:

Picking up your litter puts road-workers at risk.

I think I can work out what it is meant to mean (“Don’t drop litter on the motorway so other people have to pick it up- it’s dangerous!”), but probably only because I had a fair idea in advance what it was likely to mean.

It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what is wrong with it. Do others agree that it is phrased oddly? Is it grammatically correct? What would be a clearer and equally succinct way to say this.

Update: Just noticed this article about this sign (and others). Seems like I’m not the only one who finds the sign confusing.

Driver Rob Davis says… “In future, I won’t pick up my litter. I
certainly wouldn’t want to put any workers’ lives in danger by doing


Yes, but it’s not really good English.

A participial phrasal noun (“picking up your litter”) has been used as the subject of the main verb (“puts”). That’s fine, grammatically.

The problem is that the phrasal noun is ambiguous, because it does not specify who would be doing the picking up. This is particularly bad for cases like this, where people are driving past the sign, and should not be taking the time to work out the exact meaning.

To remove the ambiguity, you can:

  • Name the actor: You picking up your litter / Road workers picking up your litter / The queen of Sheba picking up your litter. These forms are awkward.
  • Remove the genitive: Picking up litter puts… . This form removes the It’s your fault! implication.
  • Scrapping the whole sentence and starting again, but this time, saying precisely what you mean, using clear, unambiguous phrasing; e.g.: If you drop litter, people risk their lives picking it up.

Source : Link , Question Author : Urbycoz , Answer Author : Mark Wallace

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