Monday, July 23, 2007

HDTV — A or An?
This appeared in ST Life! on July 21, 2007. Can you spot any errors?

Let’s start with the most obvious: all instances of a HDTV are wrong. Since the abbreviation is unpronounceable (hence, it is not an acronym), it is read out in full, as ‘aitch-dee-tee-vee’. Because the string begins in a vowel, we need the indefinite article an rather than a: hence, an HDTV. Similarly, we ought to say an HDB flat, not *a HDB flat.

The writer’s use of a suggests that, like most Singaporeans, he pronounces H as ‘haitch’. (This pronunciation is Irish, and is often attributed to the Irish nuns teaching in Singapore schools in colonial times.)

Things are a bit different, however, if an abbreviation is not intended to be read out the way it is written. To illustrate: StdE feature and SgE feature are intended to be read out as ‘Standard English feature’ and ‘Singapore English feature’, not ‘ess-tee-dee-ee/ess-gee-ee feature’. Therefore, a StdE/SgE feature is preferred, not an StdE/SgE feature.

The other errors in the article concern modals. The Standard English versions are given in brackets: You’d also need (You’ll also need); you don’t get (you wouldn’t/won’t get).

Monday, July 16, 2007

Dodgy English ‘Experts’ … Again

Looks like everybody’s getting into the ‘English expert’ act these days. For the past several weeks, 8 Days magazine has been running an English: Get It Right column. Last week’s started out promisingly enough, but then came this clunker:

A disinterested media watchdog would have wondered what all the fuss about Paris Hilton going to jail was about.

What they meant was, of course:

what all the fuss was about Paris Hilton going to jail.

Looks like their ‘experts’ are in need of grammar help themselves!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Kevin The Pampered Daddy's Girl

In the above tribute (The New Paper, Sunday, 1 July 2007) to her husband, a New Paper reader writes:

Being a pampered Daddy’s girl, Kevin has been very tolerant and patient with my 101 unreasonable requests now that we are living under the same roof.

Kevin is a pampered daddy’s girl? Oh my word. What his grateful wife should have said was I am a pampered Daddy’s girl, but Kevin has been very tolerant… OR Being a pampered Daddy’s girl, I greatly appreciate Kevin’s tolerance of my… .

The above is an example of a dangling modifier, where a badly placed element (here, the non-finite clause Being a pampered Daddy’s girl) ends up modifying the wrong noun, noun phrase or pronoun (here, the proper noun Kevin). Dangling modifiers are exceedingly common, but not usually as glaring as the above example. Most people, for example, would have no problems with the following:

Having waited two hours for a taxi, it was clear that Singapore’s taxi system is the worst in the developed world.

However, the non-finite clause having waited for two hours actually modifies the dummy pronoun it: in effect the sentence is saying, ‘It waited for two hours’. Hence we need to say something along these lines:

Having waited two hours for a taxi, we concluded that Singapore’s taxi system was the worst in the developed world.