Sunday, August 12, 2007

Crucial Years
The policy of this blog is not to make fun of poor English — that would be self-indulgent and mean. (As an example, see the rather pointless print edition of the Sunday Times’ English as it is Broken column). Instead, we try to point out and explain mistakes we can actually learn from, particularly when they’re from people who should know better, such as — irony of ironies — the Straits Times.

Hence, the above, seen at the atrium of a shopping mall, is fair game. It is something of an irony that many who are in the business of education cannot themselves string together a simple sentence. The deliberately alarmist:

The first six years of a child’s life is crucial!

should read:

The first six years of a child’s life are crucial!

This is because, in English, the verb (is/are) agrees with the head of a subject noun phrase (years), and not the noun closest to it (life). Remove the postmodifier and we have The first six years are crucial.


Meiling said...

Hi Ludwig,

I have a question. Which of these 2 is correct?
1) Two days were spent researching, and two days were spent writing.
2) Two days WAS septn researching and two days WAS spent writing.


The Grammar Terrorist said...

Sentence (1) is correct: Two days WERE spent researching, and two days WERE spent writing.

But when talking about other sums and totals (taken as a single entity), the singular is used:

(a) Forty dollars IS a lot to pay for small book.

(b) A hundred miles SEPARATES my hometown and his.

I guess this is one of the many areas where English is so maddeningly inconsistent!

The Grammar Terrorist said...

Sorry, a typo: (a) ... A small book.

Meiling said...

I was right after all. I was talking to this person who thinks his English is very good; kept correcting me. Tuh!