Friday, April 24, 2009

A/The Number Of...

The number of post offices here have actually increased (Straits Times, 25 March 2009) is wrong.

Make it has, since the verb agrees with the head noun number. When we use the number of, we are really referring to a number.

By contrast, a number of functions as a quantifier, akin to some or a few, so the verb agrees with the head noun:

A number of post offices have shut down this year.

The same rule applies to total: A total of 54 applications have been received, but The total of 54 applications is far higher than we had expected.
Subject–Verb Agreement

‘Wear and tear resulting from years of use mean that, sooner of later, this piece of plastic will chip and crack’ (Straits Times letter, 10 April 2009).

The underlined is wrong: make it means. This is because the subject of the sentence, wear and tear, is a single idea, i.e. singular. Wear and tear are not thought of as separate things.

Similarly, we’d also say Fish and chips is my favourite dish because fish and chips make up a single dish.
Misplaced Modifier

The last sentence (from a Straits Times letter) reads as though the father had trouble explaining something the radio DJ had said to his (the father’s) son.

The ambiguity could easily have been avoided by moving the highlighted phrase: I found it obscene and had a tough time explaining to my son what he said.

Shared Modifiers

‘T.K. Sabapathy is one of the most respected and regarded art historians in Southeast Asia,’ says a poster advertising a talk. Note that respected and regarded share a modifier, most.

Most respected is all right: I can respect a person a little, a lot, the least, or the most.

Regarded, however, needs more than just that: we can’t say a person is regarded a lot or a little; rather, we have to say she/he is highly regarded, etc.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

An odd headline from the Sunday Times (15 March 2009).

The noun phrase is Swiss’ tax haven reputation, with the head noun reputation. The use of the possessive, Swiss’, is plain wrong — for the same reason, we do not say things like *the French’s reputation for being resistant to speaking English. Rather, we need to rephrase this with a preposition phrase: the reputation of the Swiss/French.

But since Swiss is an adjective, all the headline writer needed to do was omit the apostrophe: Swiss tax haven reputation at stake.