Sunday, July 27, 2008

None Other Than/No Less Than

‘Monday’s immigration slip-up ... would not have evoked a comment like “I am totally appalled” from none other than Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng’ (Today, 25 June 2008).

The expression none other than conveys an element of surprise that someone has done something, e.g. The driver who ran the red light was none other than the law minister himself.

Unless it was a Freudian slip or the writer wanted to cast aspersions on Mr Wong, the required expression was no less than, which emphasizes that the person mentioned is very important.

Subject–Verb Agreement

Not the first time this writer gets his subject–verb agreement wrong. Make it LED eyeliners accentuate because a plural verb agrees with a plural head noun.

And note that eyeliners is spelt as one word — whether a compound is spelt as two separate words, is hyphenated, or is spelt as a single word is rarely entirely predictable; if unsure, always check with a reputable dictionary.


Interesting that two different spellings are used just four lines apart (New Paper on Sunday, 27 July 2008). Principles, of course, is the one needed here.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Singular and Plural Noun Forms

Two somewhat rude examples, for which my apologies in advance.

‘Who are these lucky son-of-a-guns?’ (New Paper on Sunday, 13 July 2008).

Make it sons-of-a-gun, since son is the head of the noun phrase (with postmodifier of a gun, in the form of a prepositional phrase in this case). Likewise, mothers-in-law, passers-by, and guests-of-honour.

This one is a classic: ‘I maintain my optimum condition by eating bread with chicken breasts’ (Sunday Times, 13 July 2008).

Since he’s referring to a cut of meat, he ought to have used the uncountable form (chicken breast) — otherwise it sounds like he eats sandwiches stuffed with the mammaries of a fowl (hmm, is this biologically accurate?).

The countable form may also be used when counting the number of pieces, especially in recipes, e.g. 4 turkey breasts.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Free Tibet‘Free Tibet!’, exhorts the man waving the placard. However, the lady (assuming she isn’t trying to be funny) misinterprets the message, and believes she is on to a good thing.

The humour of this cartoon derives from the fact that the intended message has the structure V+O (free being a transitive, imperative verb and Tibet, the object), whereas the lady misconstrues free Tibet as a noun phrase (NP), with head noun Tibet and free as a premodifying adjective.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Null Subjects

This appeared on Channel NewsAsia’s website on 13 June 2008: ‘Malaysian PM says struck succession agreement with deputy’.

The full form of the sentence is, of course (omitted words underlined):

Malaysian PM says he has struck a succession agreement with his deputy.

The dropping of the subject pronoun he in the first sentence would be extremely unusual in Standard English. While pronouns are often dropped in special registers like diaries (think Bridget Jones’s Diary), this would not generally be allowed in embedded that-clauses.

Hence, while it would be possible in Standard English to say:

Ø Went to Oxford Street this morning.

where Ø denotes a dropped subject (known in theoretical syntax as a ‘null subject’), the following would not be possible:

Henry says Ø can meet me tonight.

This is despite that being omitted from the embedded that-clause. In Singapore English, however, null pronouns are so pervasive that they are commonly encountered even in formal written English, particularly in news headlines.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Bad English on the Buses

Seen on a Tibs bus: ‘To find out more about paying correct fares, it is available at...’

Make it To find out more about paying correct fares, visit or call...

The sentence as originally worded is reminiscent of topic–comment in Singlish, Chinese and Malay, where the topic is first stated (paying the correct fare) and a comment or more information is then added (it is available at...).

Other, perhaps more typical, examples include Japan, you can’t live cheaply (‘You can’t live cheaply in Japan) and My neighbour, he owns a famous restaurant (‘My neighbour owns a famous restaurant’).

Often, the comment portion has what is called a resumptive pronoun, which may be either a subject or an object — in the last example, the subject pronoun he refers back to the topic, my neighbour.

In our original example, we have a subject resumptive pronoun, it. But what does it refer to? Presumably the topic: loosely, finding out about paying correct fares.

Friday, July 04, 2008


Hmm, what’s speshuls?

This respelling is intended to mean specials — but it doesn’t work for most Singaporeans, since they would not pronounce the final syllable with a reduced vowel, i.e. schwa.


This (American) comic strip is interesting in that it is a pun on wine and whine, yet in American English (as in Scottish English and Irish English) the words are pronounced differently: the first begins in /w/ and the latter, /hw/.

In newer (but not conservative) British Received Pronunciation, however, the words are homophones.


Hmm, why did the evil hubby mishear life as wife?

Because /l/ and /w/ are both approximants — consonants produced with little obstruction to the flow of air through the mouth — hence perceptually somewhat similar.
More Refreshing Choices

Seen on a delivery lorry: ‘More Refreshing Choices!’

Not an error, but it’s structually ambiguous in that it may be interpreted in two ways, depending on the scope of more:

(1) more choices that are refreshing (more modifies choices)
(2) choices that are more refreshing (more modifies refreshing)

Clearly, sense (1) was intended.