Friday, June 21, 2013


The use of a plural verb here (Daily Telegraph, 14 March 2013) may look like a mistake to readers unfamiliar with British English (BrE).

In BrE, collective nouns such as team, family and committee are often treated as plural when the emphasis is on their members acting as individuals rather than on the collective as a single unit, hence:

This year’s team are especially strong.
The family next door are always shouting at each other.
The new commitee are the friendliest I’ve ever worked with.

The use of the plural is sentences such as My bank are very reliable, and in the example above from the Daily Telegraph, would not be unusual in BrE, but this would probably be more colloquial and informal.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Look Forward To

The highlighted (The New Paper, 31 May 2013) is wrong.

The writer has obviously misanalysed the to as being part of an infinitive, i.e. to study – an error that is exceedingly common in Singapore, even among members of the teaching profession.

It is worth remembering that there are two types of to: one is a preposition (e.g. Jane went to Munich last month); the other helps us form to-infinitives (e.g. to travel).

The to in the highlighted portion of the article is in fact a preposition: it belongs to the multiword verb look forward to, often also called a phrasal-prepositional verb because it has the structure verb+adverb+preposition.

As is required of prepositions, look forward to is followed by a noun, or something functioning as a noun, in this case the clause (more specifically, a noun clause) studying at the polytechnic ... supposed to start yesterday. If I am asked ‘What was he looking forward to?’ the answer would be ‘Studying at the polytechnic ...’, not ‘Study at the polytechnic...’.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Police Is/Are

A short article (Straits Times Interactive, 30 May 2013), but one containing quite a few errors (or non-standard usages, if you will).

First, molest in Standard English can only be a verb; in Singapore English, however, it is both a noun and a verb. The standard noun form required here was molestation.

Secondly, police in Standard English is a collective noun that is treated as plural; hence, the opening line of the article should have read The police are investigating ....

There should also be commas before the relative clauses who was accused of molesting a student and which happened on April 5, because they are non-defining (or non-restrictive).

Finally, the modifier by the student is badly placed, making it seem as if it belongs in a noun phrase inappropriate behaviour by the student. Placing it after the verb accused would be an improvement, giving us the much clearer The lecturer had been accused by the student of inappropriate behaviour.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


The highlighted relative pronoun is wrong; it should be who (Sunday Times, 19 May 2013).

The incorrect whom seems to be the result of the author mistaking it for the object of I think (i.e. *I think whom), when in fact it is merely parenthetical. The relative clause is therefore saying who (I thought) were quite the perfect Hollywood couple.

Why, then, the subject pronoun who rather than the object pronoun whom? Because who is the subject of the relative clause: it stands in for Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, so the relative clause is in effect saying Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston were quite the perfect Hollywood couple.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


The above (Sunday Times, 12 May 2013) is an interesting example of a topic–comment (or left-dislocation) structure in Singapore English (SgE).

Where Standard English has the sentence structure subject–predicate, SgE often has topic–comment, where the topic of the sentence is stated, and then a comment is added to it. 

In the sentence above, the topic of the sentence is Linna Tay, mother of national swimmer Jerryl Yong begins the sentence; for may be thought of as a topic marker which separates the topic from the comment. In the comment clause, the topic ‘reappears’ as the subject; this is called a resumptive pronoun.

(A subject–predicate counterpart of the above would be Linna Tay, mother of national swimmer Jerryl Yong, has to ....)

While topic–comment is more typical of Singapore Colloquial English (SCE, or Singlish), it is also fairly common in more formal uses (such as formal newspaper reports and student essays), which led me to argue in my PhD thesis (Cambridge, 2007) that there is good reason to believe that all of SgE is, in fact, underlyingly topic–comment rather than subject–predicate.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Years Old

The highlighted (Straits Times Interactive, 17 May 2013) should not be hyphenated.

It is hyphenated only if it is used atributively; that is, it comes before a noun, e.g. a 38-year-old footballer. Note also the singular unit of measure in this case, i.e. year (not years).

Otherwise, there are no hyphens, and the unit of measure is plural; e.g. The footballer is 38 years old.

Friday, May 17, 2013


Two mistakes in the Straits Times Interactive (16 May 2013).

The first highlighted word, criteria, is plural, so the singular criterion should have been used instead: one new criterion. (Another common singular/plural pair is phenomenon/phenomena.)

The second is a more glaring mistake: the authorities is plural, so the highlighted verb should have been are. The noun phrase the authorities is the subject of its relative clause (i.e. (which/that) the authorities are considering), so the verb needs to agree with it.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Departmental Store

Singapore English (especially Singapore Colloquial English, or Singlish) is often thought to be shorter and sweeter than Standard English, but this is not always the case.

As this example, seen in a shopping mall in Singapore, shows, the Standard English term, department store (which has its own entry in the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary), is in fact shorter than the Singapore English equivalent, departmental store.

For a discussion of departmental store in Singapore English, see Adam Brown’s Singapore English in a Nutshell: An Alphabetical Description of its Features (Federal, 1999) or English Language Myths: Thirty Beliefs that Aren’t Really True (McGraw-Hill, 2006).

Tuesday, May 07, 2013


The singular verb comes is wrong (Daily Telegraph, 5 October 2012) because it has erroneously been made to agree with the singular noun immediately preceding it, i.e. focus.

Rather, the verb should agree with drawbacks, the real subject in this sentence, which is an example of subject–adverbial version. Sans inversion the constituent order would have been
But drawbacks come with this narrow focus.

Subject–Verb Agreement

This example of a subject–verb agreement error is from the online version of The Straits Times (11 April 2013).

The third-person singular present tense –s marker on the highlighted verb is wrong because NUS and NTU form a plural subject.

They cannot collectively be thought of as a single entity; otherwise they would not be occupying two different positions in the ranking.

A good test of this would be to replace NUS and NTU with an appropriate pronoun and see which works best – it should be obvious that the plural they rather than the singular it is needed here.

The Arts Inspire

This is from a series of outdoor advertisements that appeared throughout Singapore last year as part of the Arts Festival.

The arts inspires me is wrong because arts here is a count noun, and plural. The correct verb would have been inspire.


This example is from the Daily Telegraph (15 April 2013). Fewer is wrong here; less is normally used for statistical measures (e.g. less than 30% per cent, not fewer than ...). Fewer would have been correct if a raw figure had been used, e.g. Fewer than 200 readers scored full marks.

The error was particularly ironic because it appeared in an article about good grammar.

Saturday, January 19, 2013


This headline (Straits Times, 27 August 2012) caused much hilarity when it appeared, and rightly so. The intended meaning was, of course, that 40% of each cohort would get a chance to enter a local university, but apparently more people misintrepreted it to mean the 40% would be shot.

The intended meaning has shot as a noun, with an omitted indefinite article, a, while the unintended meaning is an example of a get-passive, where shot is a verb.

There is actually nothing wrong grammatically with the headline — function words are very often omitted in headlines because the reader can mentally fill them in. In this case, however, it was unfortunate because the omission of the article a led readers to interpret get shot as a passive verb group.


In Standard English, habitual events are usually expressed using verbs in the simple present tense, e.g. I go for a jog every morning before heading to work.

In Singapore English, however, this is very often expressed using the modal verb will, as in the example above: During his daily commute to work, Mr Henry Kwok will whip out his Samsung Galaxy Note ... (Straits Times Digital Life supplement, 9 January 2013). This is no doubt an influence from Chinese, which uses 会 (huì) to express habitual events. For a discussion of this, see David Deterding’s book Singapore English (Edinburgh University Press, 2007).

Collective Nouns

When this headline appeared (Straits Times, 2 August 2012), quite a few people apparently wrote to the folks at the Speak Good English Movement to ask if the singular verb win was a mistake.

It is not: in British English, collective nouns are often treated as plural, particularly sports teams — hence, Manchester United are the champions, and Singapore win individual Olympic medal.

While British English makes a distinction between collective nouns functioning as a single unit (= singular verb) or as individuals who happen to belong in the same group (= plural), American English and Singapore English almost always treat collective nouns as singular.

The exception in Singapore English, however, is sports reporting, which consistently follows British practice, as the headline shows.