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.