Errors and Omissions: Grammar is not ruled by the writer’s assumptions

Our Letters editor puts this week's mishaps firmly in their place

Share

The distinction between singular and plural seems to be dissolving before our very eyes. This is from a review of the DVD, The Great Beauty, published in last Saturday’s Radar: “There are many delicious swipes at modern Rome, but it’s Jep’s regret and his gradual artistic re-emergence that compels here.”

That should be “compel”. If, say, poetry and beauty compel respect, then regret and re-emergence must also compel, not “compels”. This habit of treating two things as if they were one thing is becoming more and more common.

I think there could be two forces at work here. The phrase “his gradual artistic re-emergence” is longish, and by the time you get to the end of it you could easily forget about the “regret”.

You can also get into a way of thinking of the regret and the re-emergence as two parts of a single thing. There may be an unspoken “the combination of ...”. But for heaven’s sake, get a grip. Rules of grammar apply to words, not the things they signify, or may be assumed to signify. If the noun “combination” isn’t actually there in person, it cannot govern the number of a verb.

Journalese: “When the ratio begins to exceed 1.08, statisticians believe some other factor must be at play.” So we reported in a news story on Wednesday about gender-selective abortion.

Two things to observe. “At play” should be “in play”. “At play” is the opposite of “at work”. “In play” means taking part in the process.

And how can a ratio “begin to exceed” any particular figure? It either exceeds it or it doesn’t. I think the writer was trying to introduce a sense of continuing upward movement. How about “when the ratio passes 1.08 ...”?

Pillars of wisdom: “A signed copy of a book by Lawrence of Arabia has sold for more than double its original valuation at auction,” a News in Brief item reported on Thursday.

“A book”? The item continued: “T E Lawrence’s book The Seven Pillars of Wisdom was expected to fetch up to £20,000.” I think readers are familiar enough with this book not to be told that it is “a book by Lawrence of Arabia”.

Many of them will also be aware that its title is Seven Pillars of Wisdom, not The Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

Wrong who: In last Saturday’s magazine there was a profile of the television presenter Emma Willis. It contained this: "Willis’s mother is a hospital nurse, while her father, Billy, was a postman who now works as Willis’s personal assistant.”

No, he wasn’t. When he was a postman he wasn’t working for her as her personal assistant. That “who” is just factually wrong.

It is also very easy to get rid of that awkward repetition of “Willis”. So how about this: “Her father, Billy, was a postman, but now works as his daughter’s personal assistant.”

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Read Next
Former N-Dubz singer Tulisa Contostavlos gives a statement outside Southwark Crown Court after her trial  

It would be wrong to compare brave Tulisa’s ordeal with phone hacking. It’s much worse than that

Matthew Norman
The Big Society Network was assessed as  

What became of Cameron's Big Society Network?

Oliver Wright
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn