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.