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.

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: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next

General Election 2015: The SNP and an SMC (Salmond-Murdoch Conspiracy)

Matthew Norman
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station  

General Election 2015: Despite all the seeming cynicism, our political system works

Ian Birrell
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk