Friday, June 21, 2013


The use of a plural verb here (Daily Telegraph, 14 March 2013) may look like a mistake to readers unfamiliar with British English (BrE).

In BrE, collective nouns such as team, family and committee are often treated as plural when the emphasis is on their members acting as individuals rather than on the collective as a single unit, hence:

This year’s team are especially strong.
The family next door are always shouting at each other.
The new commitee are the friendliest I’ve ever worked with.

The use of the plural is sentences such as My bank are very reliable, and in the example above from the Daily Telegraph, would not be unusual in BrE, but this would probably be more colloquial and informal.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Look Forward To

The highlighted (The New Paper, 31 May 2013) is wrong.

The writer has obviously misanalysed the to as being part of an infinitive, i.e. to study – an error that is exceedingly common in Singapore, even among members of the teaching profession.

It is worth remembering that there are two types of to: one is a preposition (e.g. Jane went to Munich last month); the other helps us form to-infinitives (e.g. to travel).

The to in the highlighted portion of the article is in fact a preposition: it belongs to the multiword verb look forward to, often also called a phrasal-prepositional verb because it has the structure verb+adverb+preposition.

As is required of prepositions, look forward to is followed by a noun, or something functioning as a noun, in this case the clause (more specifically, a noun clause) studying at the polytechnic ... supposed to start yesterday. If I am asked ‘What was he looking forward to?’ the answer would be ‘Studying at the polytechnic ...’, not ‘Study at the polytechnic...’.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Police Is/Are

A short article (Straits Times Interactive, 30 May 2013), but one containing quite a few errors (or non-standard usages, if you will).

First, molest in Standard English can only be a verb; in Singapore English, however, it is both a noun and a verb. The standard noun form required here was molestation.

Secondly, police in Standard English is a collective noun that is treated as plural; hence, the opening line of the article should have read The police are investigating ....

There should also be commas before the relative clauses who was accused of molesting a student and which happened on April 5, because they are non-defining (or non-restrictive).

Finally, the modifier by the student is badly placed, making it seem as if it belongs in a noun phrase inappropriate behaviour by the student. Placing it after the verb accused would be an improvement, giving us the much clearer The lecturer had been accused by the student of inappropriate behaviour.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


The highlighted relative pronoun is wrong; it should be who (Sunday Times, 19 May 2013).

The incorrect whom seems to be the result of the author mistaking it for the object of I think (i.e. *I think whom), when in fact it is merely parenthetical. The relative clause is therefore saying who (I thought) were quite the perfect Hollywood couple.

Why, then, the subject pronoun who rather than the object pronoun whom? Because who is the subject of the relative clause: it stands in for Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, so the relative clause is in effect saying Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston were quite the perfect Hollywood couple.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


The above (Sunday Times, 12 May 2013) is an interesting example of a topic–comment (or left-dislocation) structure in Singapore English (SgE).

Where Standard English has the sentence structure subject–predicate, SgE often has topic–comment, where the topic of the sentence is stated, and then a comment is added to it. 

In the sentence above, the topic of the sentence is Linna Tay, mother of national swimmer Jerryl Yong begins the sentence; for may be thought of as a topic marker which separates the topic from the comment. In the comment clause, the topic ‘reappears’ as the subject; this is called a resumptive pronoun.

(A subject–predicate counterpart of the above would be Linna Tay, mother of national swimmer Jerryl Yong, has to ....)

While topic–comment is more typical of Singapore Colloquial English (SCE, or Singlish), it is also fairly common in more formal uses (such as formal newspaper reports and student essays), which led me to argue in my PhD thesis (Cambridge, 2007) that there is good reason to believe that all of SgE is, in fact, underlyingly topic–comment rather than subject–predicate.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Years Old

The highlighted (Straits Times Interactive, 17 May 2013) should not be hyphenated.

It is hyphenated only if it is used atributively; that is, it comes before a noun, e.g. a 38-year-old footballer. Note also the singular unit of measure in this case, i.e. year (not years).

Otherwise, there are no hyphens, and the unit of measure is plural; e.g. The footballer is 38 years old.

Friday, May 17, 2013


Two mistakes in the Straits Times Interactive (16 May 2013).

The first highlighted word, criteria, is plural, so the singular criterion should have been used instead: one new criterion. (Another common singular/plural pair is phenomenon/phenomena.)

The second is a more glaring mistake: the authorities is plural, so the highlighted verb should have been are. The noun phrase the authorities is the subject of its relative clause (i.e. (which/that) the authorities are considering), so the verb needs to agree with it.