Errors and omissions: There’s strength in numbers – as long as they agree

Our letters editor takes to task this week's Independent coverage

The more you look for lapses in number agreement, the more you find. And of course, complicated sentences are more prone to them than simple ones. This is from an interview with Ken Clarke, published on Monday: “He is not physically imposing… but his immensely long career and the blunt confidence and common-sense language he uses to express what he thinks has made him metaphorically big.”

“Has”, should be “have”, because “career”, “confidence” and “language” are three nouns denoting three things, not one.


Here is an overlong sentence from last Saturday’s Magazine: “Artwork from his recent degree course (more of which later) assumes proud prominence: portraits fashioned from newspaper print and papier maché; an abstract drawing; and a sculpture comprised of a huge (found) toy Mercedes, bent at the driver’s seat – a right-off – with red paint splattered across the dashboard.”

Three things to note here. First, if you are putting accents into a French word, put them all in: it is papier-mâché.

Second, the whole comprises the parts, not the parts the whole. So the sculpture comprises the toy Mercedes; it is not “comprised of” it. What’s wrong with “made of”?

Third, “right-off” should be “write-off”. A wrecked car is said to be an insurance write-off when the insurer has had to accept that it cannot be repaired, and its value is written off.


Everything, it seems, is in danger of toppling over, or sinking in boggy ground. People are terribly keen to make sure that everything is on a basis.

Here is a picture caption from last Saturday’s Magazine: “The Ivy Church now boasts more than 1,000 members, who meet on a weekly basis.” This “on a basis” stuff is just verbiage, extruded from the brain out of habit. “Who meet weekly” will do fine.


We ran a story last Saturday about the refurbishment of the Hotel Majestic in Paris. Hartley Heard has written in to point out a bit of slightly dodgy Latin: “The peace agreement to end the Vietnam war was concluded by inter alia Henry Kissinger after four years of talks and mutual insults.”

The word “alia” is in the neuter gender, so “inter alia” means “among other things”. If you want to say “among other people” you would need a masculine “inter alios”. Being a highly inflected language, Latin forces you to choose. Much better to stick to dear old ambiguous English and say “among others”.


Here is a puzzle from a political story published on Tuesday. We quoted an official of the Fabian Society as saying: “Labour’s own Ukip defection problem is mainly working class and often quite coastal.”

Coastal? Are working-class Labour voters in seaside constituencies particularly susceptible to the seductive charms of Nigel Farage? Or is “coastal” an arcane psephological metaphor, such as one might expect from the political brainboxes of the Fabian Society – something to do with the erosion of the vote at the edges perhaps? For the benefit of the general reader, some explanation was needed.