Monday, September 29, 2008


Looks like this (rather opportunistic) ad congratulated the wrong person.

Make it:

New Moon congratulates Singapore on F1’s first-ever night race.

Or perhaps:

New Moon celebrates Singapore’s 1st night race (actually F1’s too).
So Many News

I’ve been inundated with so many F1-related news (Today, 27–28 September 2008)? This sentence doesn’t work for two reasons.

First, news is an uncountable noun, so we’d have to use much. However, it is followed by the countable nouns events and invites, both of which can take many, so this presents us with the problem of how to combine them.

Second, the word inundated already carries an implication of excess, so too much/many is clearly redundant. The writer should simply have said: I’ve been inundated with F1-related fashion news, events and invites. And not an iota of meaning would have been lost.
Subject–Verb Agreement

Make it the costs of securities trading in Singapore have risen, because the plural head noun costs needs a plural verb.
This error is the reverse of what we normally see — i.e. a singular head noun wrongly taking a plural verb because of other nouns nearer the verb (e.g. *the problem of rising costs are...).

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

One Of Those Problems...

I must be getting pretty obsessive if I cannot let even an error in a comic strip pass ...

But here goes. The first speech bubble should read: Mom, I never thought I’d be one of those parents who are always screaming no at her kids.

That’s because the speaker is One of X, where X is those parents who are always screaming no at her kids.

In grammatical terms, who are ... her kids is a relative clause, and the relative pronoun who refers, of course, to the plural head noun parents — hence it takes the plural are rather than singular is.

This is quite a common conundrum in primary school English.

We need to combine Let under-16s watch film and Let under-16s learn from film. Note that the joining point, i.e. where the later comma should go, is just before the word film and not before from.

Therefore, the headline should be Let under-16s watch, and learn from, film — or simply Let under-16s watch and learn from film.
Subject–Verb Agreement

Seen in Challenger, Funan Centre.

Make it Consumption of food and drink is not allowed in Challenger, since the verb has to agree with the singular head noun consumption.

(The rule of proximity — the verb agreeing with the noun nearest to it — does not apply here.)
Principle vs Principal

Make it principal, since it means ‘main’ (i.e. Mrs McCain’s main car is a Lexus).

The confusables principal and principle confound many people, as this extract from the British newspaper the Daily Telegraph (23 September 2008) shows.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Less vs Fewer

Less tourists head to Thailand’ (Straits Times website, 0705 hours on 19 September 2008).
Make it fewer tourists, since tourist is a countable noun. Use less only with uncountable nouns, e.g. less salt.

[Update: headline was amended at 0918.]

Simple Past vs Past Perfect

‘About a month ago, I had written in this column about ....’ (New Paper, 14 September 2008). Make it About a month ago, I wrote in this column ....

In Standard English, the past perfect is used when one is relating a past even that took place before another past event. These events may have happened only minutes ago: Tim rang a few minutes ago, but May had already left.

Since a specific time point was mentioned in the article (i.e. last month), the simple past (wrote) is appropriate.

The reporter’s error appears to be the result of grammar books wrongly stating that the past perfect is used for events that happened a long time ago. This misconception is so pervasive in Singapore that this error crops up frequently not only in the New Paper, but also in the Straits Times.
Live vs Stay
Interesting that the same writer uses live and stay interchangeably in the same article, just two lines apart (Straits Times, 16 September 2008).
The correct word in this instance is live, which (among other things) implies a more permanent residence than stay. It should also be noted that even for a semester’s residence in a student hall, the appropriate word is live rather than stay.
In Singapore we overwhelmingly prefer the word stay, and we’re not alone — so do the Scots.

In addition we tend to use the progressive aspect, saying I am staying in Clementi rather than I stay/live in Clementi. In Standard English, stative verbs like live are not usually used in the progressive. Other common stative verbs include have, know, understand and love. However, stative verbs may be used in the progressive to convey the meaning ‘at this very moment’, e.g. I was fine this morning but I’m having a headache right now.
The McDonald’s slogan i’m lovin’ it does not follow the rules of Standard English grammar — would one declare one’s affection with I’m loving you? — but its deviance is perhaps what makes it appeal to its target audience.

Monday, September 15, 2008


This example is from the Straits Times Life! supplement (13 September 2008).

Unless the writer is referring to the fruit, he needs to write Blackberrys (name of electronic device). Similarly, we write the two Germanys; I know three Jerrys; He had two Bloody Marys.

It seems spelling is not this writer’s strong point (he is, incidentally, a British native speaker of English). Here’s another blunder from a year ago (Weekend Today, 18–19 August 2007):

Make it formerly, not formally.

‘Only a few are culpable, most are decent folk’ (Straits Times, 13 September 2008).

The comma is too weak a break; use a semicolon instead. Or join the two clauses using a conjunction: Only a few are culpable but most are decent folk.
The Gap Have Narrowed [sic]

‘The gap between them and those paid by ez-link cards have since narrowed’ (Straits Times, 13 September 2008).

Make it has, since gap is the head noun and it is singular.

This is an exceedingly common mistake in the Straits Times, and so easily avoided if one were only to exercise a little extra care when writing a sentence with a complex noun phrase as subject.

This is from the Straits Times Digital Life (DL) supplement (10 September 2008).

The English in DL is usually quite appalling, and this example is typical. Software is an uncountable noun, meaning that grammatically it is treated as singular. Hence, the two instances of they above are wrong: use it instead.

When counting the individual items that make up uncountable nouns, we need a partitive like piece: e.g. pieces of software, furniture, equipment.
Seen Anythibg Suspicious?

Spotted at Outram Park station. No doubt this was the result of n and b being adjacent keys on a qwerty keyboard.
Locative Inversion

‘... deep underground lies tonnes of contaminated waste’ (Today, 12 September 2008).

This is an example of ‘locative inversion’, meaning that the phrase indicating location is inverted with the subject.

When we convert the sentence into the default word order, we see that lies in the original sentence is wrong because the subject is plural: Tonnes of contaminated waste lie deep underground.

Hence: Deep underground lie tonnes of contaminated waste.

Nature’s Way To Beautiful

This message, seen on a Body Shop employee’s T-shirt, probably sounds odd to most of us.

That’s because we’d expect a noun to follow a preposition, i.e. Nature’s Way to Beauty.

However, it would be churlish to object to Body Shop’s slogan since, often, it is linguistic deviance that makes slogans so catchy and memorable.

So this example isn’t so much ‘bad’ English as ‘Body Shop’ English.

Since Young

‘I have been a James Bond fan since young’ (reader letter, New Paper, 7 August 2008).

Since young is a very common expression in Singapore, but it’s actually non-standard, since in Standard English (StdE) a preposition (in this case since) is normally followed by a noun, pronoun or some other constituent functioning like a noun. The StdE equivalent would be since my childhood or since I was young.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Youth vs Youths

‘Many youths here have their sight set on non-prescription glasses — all in the name of fashion ... [Valerie] Teo is one of the many youths wearing glasses as a fashion statement ....’ (Sunday Times Lifestyle, 7 September 2008).

The word youth is one that the Straits Times never seems to get right. (It was also a problem for the Ministry of Education master teachers when they started the Sunday Times English as it is Broken column two years ago.)

In Standard English, the word youth has four different senses. The two that concern us here are (Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary):

a. [C] (often disapproving) a young man: The fight was started by a gang of youths.

b. (also the youth) [pl.] young people considered as a group: the nation’s youth, the youth of today, youth culture, youth unemployment.

The word youths, as used in the ST article, is plural, which means it is intended to be countable (e.g. a youth, many youths), and includes females (Valerie Teo). This is Singapore English usage.
Contrast this with Standard English, where the countable use of the term has negative overtones and refers only to males (Sense (a) above).

The article clearly does not intend to refer to ‘young people considered as a group’ either, so Sense (b) is out too.

The most appropriate phrase is, simply, young people:

Many young people here have their sight set on non-prescription glasses — all in the name of fashion ... [Valerie] Teo is one of the many young people wearing glasses as a fashion statement.

I’d also change sight to the more idiomatic sights. (If sight was intended as a pun, it was a rather lame one.)
There Have Been A Mistake Here [sic]

‘For over 30 years, there has never been any quarrels’ (Straits Times, 2 September 2008).

Make it have, since the dummy pronoun there is itself neither singular nor plural, but takes on the number (singular/plural) of the following noun phrase (quarrels is plural).
Global Singaporeans, Local Food

‘Would you believe that most Norwegians take a four-week summer vacation every year? But do not go packing your bags just yet, especially if you love local food’ (Sunday Times Lifestyle, 7 September 2008).

By which the writer meant Singaporean food. Are we Singaporeans so globalized, that everywhere else in the world is we go is local?

For some reason, many Singaporeans equate the term local with Singaporean, forgetting that it takes its reference from the context in which it appears (in the extract, it has to be Norway, since we are talking about Norwegians).

Seems you can take the Singaporean out of Singapore, but not the Singapore out of the Singaporean.
Along With

‘The 36-year-old, along with his brothers Sam, 48, and Don, 42, own the Akashi restaurant chain’ (Sunday Times Lifestyle, 7 September 2008).

Make it owns, because along with is not a conjunction. What this means in terms of grammar is that the subject of the sentence is singular (the 36-year-old), not plural, and requires a following singular verb (owns, not own).

The expression along with ... Don, 42 has no bearing on the grammar of the sentence. Indeed, we may move it around, or remove it altogether:

i. Along with his brothers Sam, 48, and Don, 42, the 36-year-old owns the Akashi restaurant chain.

ii. The 36-year-old owns the Akashi restaurant chain, along with his brothers Sam, 48, and Don, 42.

iii. The 36-year-old owns the Akashi restaurant chain.

Similar expressions include those beginning in including, together with, as well as and plus.

Incidentally, this is a favourite PSLE (Primary Six Leaving Examination, Singapore) question ... but it seems to be a little beyond the competence of our ST editors, some of whom are native speakers of English from countries such as New Zealand and the United States.

NTU Publicity Poster

This is one of a series of posters extolling the virtues of Nanyang Technological University. Most are in embarrassingly poor English, and this one takes the cake.
The rather mundane ‘killer fact’ (does it really qualify as a ‘Did You Know?’?) might be rewritten thus:
As a university strong in research, NTU is well known for its innovations, whose influence is internationally acknowledged.
Between You and I

This is the title of an installation piece at the Singapore Biennale.

It is wrong because, after a preposition (in this case between), we need to use the object form of a pronoun. Hence: Between You and Me.

This appears to be a case of hypercorrection — speakers being only vaguely aware of rules, and misapplying them in an attempt to be more ‘correct’.

In this case, the ‘rule’ appears to be teachers telling pupils never to say, for example, Me and Sharon are coming to the party, but to say Sharon and I instead because, in subject position, we need a subject pronoun (for this reason we don’t say *Me am coming to the party).

This error brings to mind the saying, ‘A little knowledge is a dangerous thing’.

(Incidentally this error is very common in Britain and in the United States, but not in Singapore.)

Monday, September 01, 2008

Tesco Checks Out Wording Change

BBC article, accessed 31 August 2008:

Tesco is to change the wording of signs on its fast-track checkouts to avoid any linguistic dispute.

The supermarket giant is to replace its current "10 items or less" notices with signs saying "Up to 10 items".

Tesco's move follows uncertainty over whether the current notices should use "fewer" instead of "less".

The new wording was suggested to Tesco by language watchdog The Plain English Campaign.

Tesco said the change would be phased in across its stores.

"Saying up to 10 items is easy to understand and avoids any debate," said a spokesman for The Plain English Campaign.

"Fewer" should be used when you are talking about items that can be counted individually, for example, "fewer than 10 apples".

"Less" is correct when quantities cannot be individually counted in that case, e.g. "I would like less water".

Tesco is the UK's largest supermarket group with 2,106 outlets across the country.

Faulty Joins

‘Her outburst on television was uncalled for, untimely and spoiled what should have been the happiest moments of our sporting lives’ (letter by Dr Woffles Wu, Straits Times, 28 August 2008).

Conjunctions join together words or groups of words of the same grammatical category, e.g. noun+noun, adjective+adjective, and clause+clause.

Above, the writer attempts to join two adjectives (so far so good) to a clause (not so good). The first two (uncalled for, untimely) are adjectival and may be coordinated with and; but since what follows is a clause and not an adjective, we need a separate and to join the two clauses. Hence:

Her outburst on television was uncalled for and untimely, and spoiled what should have been [one of] the happiest moments of our sporting lives.