Sunday, May 31, 2009


To the perverse or evil, the above headline (Daily Telegraph, 19 May 2009), Cooking with Children, may suggest they are about to read an article giving them recipe ideas using children as ingredients — free-range children, anyone? — something like the following book title, Cooking with Spices:

Adverbials such as the above have many meanings. The headline is intended to have an ‘accompaniment’ meaning, e.g. I went to the zoo with my children today, while the book title has an ‘instrument’ meaning, e.g. I opened the tin with a sharp knife. It is only when the reader misinterprets the intended adverbial meaning that hilarity ensues.

Fortunate Food

This sign, which incidentally is perfectly grammatical, seems to suggest that only restaurant food that is fortunate is allowed in.

If, however, you were physically there and knew it was the entrance to Fortunate Restaurant, then you would understand it to mean only food ordered from the restaurant may be consumed there.

Syntactically, the noun phrases are structured differently. The intended interpretation has food as head noun and Fortunate Restaurant as noun premodifier. By contrast, the unintended meaning has food as head noun also, but with two premodifiers: the adjective fortunate and the noun restaurant.
Dangling Modifier

Dangling modifiers are often hard to spot, and as a result frequently provide unintended comic relief, as this letter from a reader shows (Today, 15 May 2009).

As written, the sentence means the writer is a densely populated country.

This is because the non-finite clause, being a densely populated country, comes before the subject I in the main clause, and so is interpreted as modifying or adding to it. A clause or phrase that wrongly modifies a subject is called a dangling modifier or a dangling participle.

The writer could have avoided it by making the non-finite clause finite, with its own subject:

As Singapore is a densely populated country, I believe ...

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Grammar at the Shops

There are a few problems with this notice. First, the plural form apparels is wrong, since the word apparel is uncountable in Standard English (for this reason we don’t normally say some flours or some milks).

Second, Less Up To 20% is a non-standard way of saying Up To 20% Less. The writer was probably translating directly from Chinese, using the word less as a verb (as in Mandarin kòu 扣).

Finally, I’d change regular priced items to regular-price items.

Telling It Like It Is

Strange. When fares go up, posters never warn passengers of ‘higher bus fares’ — instead, they invariably use the weasel words ‘fare adjustments’.

Monday, May 04, 2009


According to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, there is no such word as naiveness (Channel News Asia, 4 May 2009) in English.

Make it naivety or naïvety (from French naïveté).