Monday, June 08, 2009


This headline (Sunday Times Lifestyle, 17 May 2009) may sound ‘punny’ to Singaporeans, but speakers of other varieties of English would probably find it rather baffling.

In Singapore English, the vowels /e/ and /æ/are often merged, so that celery and salary become homophones, i.e. are pronounced alike. In other varieties, however, they are not homophonous: in British English, for example, they are respectively /'seləri/ and /'sæləri/.

Of course, context may help: salary collocates or goes with negotiation. But if one doesn’t pronounce salary like celery in the first place, then the collocation probably wouldn’t arise at all, and one would still be left wondering what negotiation has to do with the vegetable.


This is part of an advertisement currently seen on trains in Singapore. The last sentence of the body text reads: Dengue season is here, don’t be it’s next victim.

The first apostrophe is correct but not the second. Make it: Dengue season is here; don’t be its next victim. Interestingly, the slogan at the bottom gets it right, however: It’s your life. It’s your fight.

Many people confuse its and it’s — to careful writers, this is one of the surer signs of semi-literacy. The first is a possessive determiner that goes before nouns (e.g. its name), while the second is a contraction of it is (e.g. It’s time to leave).

It is worth remembering that apostrophes help indicate omitted matter, so don’t, it’s and can’t are contractions of do not, it is and cannot.

The fact that ’s is often used to indicate possession — for example, in Mark’s, Singapore’s, and Jupiter’s — may be one reason people think it logical to use it’s as a possessive determiner. However, it is worth noting that possessive ’s attaches only to nouns, and not to pronouns.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Who’s The Christian Here?

In Singapore, the term Christian applies only to Protestants, and not to Catholics, so a Christian person is either a Christian or a Catholic.

Singapore Christians may therefore find the above, from the BBC website, surprising, since it features three Christians: the Pope (Roman Catholic), the singer Bono (who was raised as both a Catholic and Church of Ireland Anglican), and the Archbishop of York (Church of England).

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Car Park vs Parking Lot

In British English (BrE), drivers park their cars in a car park — or what American English (AmE) speakers call a parking lot.

In Singapore English (SgE), both terms are used, but with an interesting difference: the building or area where cars are parked is a car park (as in BrE), but each parking space is a parking lot.

As the picture (Straits Times, 30 March 2009) above shows, there are three cars in three parking spaces — or, in SgE, three parking lots (hence the plural). Indeed, the caption reads:

Ladies-only lots at Furama Riverfront Hotel are conspicuously painted pink so as to set them aside from the usual lots. Out of the 278 lots there, seven are set aside for women. The lots are located near the entrance to the hotel lobby.

Contrast this with the caption in the example below, from Time magazine (13 April 2009):

Cars may be sitting on lots like this one in Michigan, but should sell as the GDP rises.

As Time is American, it uses AmE parking lot for BrE car park.

No Less/Lower

This example is from Han Fook Kwang, editor of the Straits Times:

No higher authority in the Christian community than Anglican Archbishop John Chew of the [NCCS] issued a statement .... (31 May 2009).
What he meant was the statement came from someone very high up — but what he wrote actually conveyed the exact opposite.
The expression he needed was no less/lower an authority than ....
We can see this a lot more clearly if we move the parts of the sentence about: The Anglican Archbishop John Chew, no less, issued a statement ....
What this means is that the person who issued a statement was very high up: he was the Archbishop, nothing less/lower than that.
Subject–Verb Agreement Again

This example comes from the supervising editor of the Straits Times, Sumiko Tan:

About €3,000 (S$6,000) are thrown into the [Trevi] fountain each day ... (Sunday Times Lifestyle, 31 May 2009).

Wrong. Since we aren’t counting each euro individually, but are thinking of €3,000 as a single sum, we need a singular verb:

About €3,000 is thrown into the [Trevi] fountain each day.