Thursday, October 30, 2008

Subject–Verb Agreement, Again

Here’s a grammatical error by a professor of international relations — in the very first paragraph of a comment article, yet missed by ST’s sharp-eyed editors (Straits Times, 27 October 2008).

In the subordinate clause How the two candidates view the world are starkly at odds, the subject is the embedded noun clause how the two candidates view the world.

Since noun clauses are treated as singular, and verbs agree with subjects, the linking verb should be is, not are.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Try two, get one right...

Thursday, October 23, 2008


Surely they meant fewer US high school grads.

In Standard English, lesser means ‘not so great or so much as the other (of two) in worth, degree, size etc: the lesser of two evils; one of the lesser-known modern poets’ (Longman, 2005).
Rongal Reagan

Rongal Reagan (Straits Times, 21 October 2008)? As in Rongal McDonald? More pertinently, how did that get past the Straits Times editors?

Rongal Reagan

Rongal McDonald

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

If At First You Don’t Succeed ...

... try and try and try again.

Amazingly, this article from the Times (London, 22 October 2008) has the compound adjective high-visibility spelt three different ways in the space of two short paragraphs. Guess their strategy is: try every single permutation under the sun and one of them is bound to be right.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Spelling and Hyphenation

Curiously, the Straits Times spells thunderstorms as thunder-storms, which has a whiff of the eighteenth century about it.

While there is often a choice between spelling a compound as separate words (with or without a hyphen) or as a single word, some commonly used compounds are fixed.

If in doubt, always check a good dictionary, since spelling conventions are not always rule-bound, logical or predictable.

For the careful editor or writer, the New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors is indispensable. As the extract below shows, thunderstorm is the only possible spelling and thunder-storm is wrong.


This is a quote from a National Library spokesperson (Straits Times, 16 October 2008), after a disgruntled library user, angry that his illegally parked bicycle had been chained, locked the main entrance to the library.

Let’s consider this sentence: By locking even one door, it inconveniences members of the public.

It doesn’t work for structural reasons. First, by locking even one door is an adverbial of cause/reason. If we move it, we get It inconveniences members of the public by locking even one door — which shows more clearly how bad the original sentence was.

Second, what does the subject it refer to? Most definitely not the non-finite clause before it. Hence, make it: By locking even one door, one inconveniences/you inconvenience members of the public or Locking even one door inconveniences members of the public.


This headline (ST Web, 16 October 2008) should read, Keep cool, Lewis: Hakkinen. A comma is needed before vocatives — when a person is being addressed directly.

Similarly, we ought to write Hi, Lewis — but this is decidedly rare in these punctuation-shy times.
Subject–Verb Agreement

From the Straits Times website (16 October 2008). Make it Interest in CNG cars loses steam, because the head noun interest is singular.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Ambiguous Sentence

This Straits Times (9 October 2008) headline, though perfectly grammatical, amused me because I couldn’t get the idea out of my head that the writer meant he spotted a very young insect (e.g. baby fly vs adult fly). This interpretation has the noun phrase a toddler fly, with a as determiner, fly as head noun, and toddler as noun premodifier.

The intended meaning was, of course, that the writer saw a toddler go up in the air when turbulence hit the Singapore–Perth flight. Here, the noun phrase is a toddler, and fly is a non-finite verb.