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

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


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

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

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Errors & Omissions: A widow’s tale with an unexpected twist

John Rentoul

For all his faults, Russell Brand is utterly sincere, something politicians should emulate

Janet Street-Porter
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing