Archive for the ‘pronouns’ Category

Pronoun/Antecedent Agreement Enters Political Arena

Friday, August 3rd, 2012

 

You have probably seen the recent political flak accusing President Obama of saying something to the effect that, if a person has a business, someone else built it. Charles Krauthammer began his July 21 column in The Birmingham News with this quote from Obama's speech:

If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made it happen.

That quote by itself  would bother most people, whatever their political preferences. However, Krauthammer did not quote the first sentence of Obama's paragraph, which was, "Somebody invested in roads and bridges." Common sense would suggest Obama was referring to ROADS AND BRIDGES, which support businesses, as having been built by someone else.

Although Obama was speakiing out loud (which might let him off the hook in anything but a political campaign), a more careful choice of pronouns could have saved him from Krauthammer's criticism. All Obama needed to do was use the word THOSE (plural, to refer to the ROADS and BRIDGES) instead of THAT and IT (singular). He should have said this:

Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business, you didn't build those. Somebody else made those happen.

Whenever you choose a pronoun, make sure it agrees with the noun it refers back to–especially if you are running for office.

 

 


Muddled sentence has multiple problems.

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

Here is a badly muddled sentence that appeared in a Birmingham News article last week.  A substitute teacher did not report the spill of a large vial of mercury in a school chemistry lab, and officials were concerned about exposure.  Here is the sentence:

Birmingham city school officials will get results from mercury tests it conducted Friday on Putnam Middle School students and faculty in about a week, but don't expect to find anything problematic after a spill shut down the school this week.

Oh my! Where do I begin to correct this? First, the pronoun IT is not clear.  What does it refer to?  If the BIRMINGHAM CITY SCHOOL OFFICIALS (plural and human) are going to get the mercury test results, then it seems logical that THEY (not IT) conducted those tests.

Second, the phrase IN ABOUT A WEEK is way out of place in this sentence. It needs to be much closer to what it refers to, which is the MERCURY TESTS. 

Third, as worded, this sentence makes it sound as if the verb phrase DON'T EXPECT is directed as a command or imperative to the reader, but I think the reporter meant to suggest that those Birmingham school officials at the beginning of the sentence are the ones who DON'T EXPECT to find anything problematic.  The simple fix for this is to use the pronoun THEY a second time to refer back to the officials.

Fourth, I think the information in this sentence should be reversed, putting the expectations of the officials before the BUT.

Here is my suggested rewording:

Birmingham city school officials don't expect to find anything problematic after a spill shut down Putnam Middle School this week, but they will get results in about seven days from mercury tests conducted Friday on students and faculty.

 

A NOTE OF WELCOME to new readers from my Grammar and Usage workshops in Mobile and Montgomery this week.  Please feel free to comment or ask questions, and don't forget to use the Search slot on the Home Page to find other blog posts that interest you.


Apostrophe epidemic continues with YOU’RE for YOUR.

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

As part of an email discussion about an upcoming workshop, I received this question yesterday:

Can you let me know what you're daily rate is?

Whoops! As I have "preached" before, YOU'RE is a contraction of the two words YOU and ARE.  It can only be used where the words YOU and ARE (subject and verb) would fit in a sentence.

This writer needed the word YOUR, which is a possessive pronoun that describes something (in this case, DAILY RATE) that belongs to YOU. The sentence should read this way:

Can you let me know what your daily rate is?

 

EASY REMINDER: YOUR and YOU'RE are not interchangeable. They have different meanings and different functions.


Each Woman’s Homes? Whoops!

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

Today's Grammar Glitch involves a criminal I would have to nominate for the "lowest of the low" award. A counselor on the approved list of providers for the Department of Human Resources in Alabama has been charged with using his position to force women to have sex with him. When DHR referred a woman to him for counseling, he would go to the woman's home and tell her that if she did what he asked, he would give DHR a good report and help her keep her children. He actually threatened these women with losing their children if they didn't comply.

Shame on him, double shame! I commend the young woman in her mid-20s who had the courage to set up spy cameras in her house and reported him to the police.

Now back to Grammar Glitches.  The sentence in this news article that bothered me was this one:

The prosecutor, Laura Poston, said (      ) used his position to coerce the women into having sex with him during sessions he held at each woman's homes.

 The word EACH is treated as singular.  Notice that it is used with WOMAN, not WOMEN.  Therefore, HOMES should be HOME to be consistent with the singular pattern.  The sentence should read this way:

The prosecutor, Laura Poston, said ( ) used his position to coerce the women into having sex with him during sessions he held at each woman's home.

Speaking of sentences, the judge who heard this case was frustrated by the fact that he had to reduce the charges because state law required proving "forcible" compulsion, and it was not possible to define the threat of losing one's children as "forcible" compulsion against a woman. Personally, most women I know would probably consider that "forcible" compulsion.


Benefits only available on Monday? Plus an ambiguous “it.”

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

WHERE you place a phrase in a sentence could make a huge difference in meaning.  Take a look at this sentence that appeared in the national news feed this morning:

A federal judge temporarily blocked Florida's new law that requires welfare applicants to pass a drug test before receiving benefits on Monday, saying it may violate the Constitution's ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.

 

Whoops #1: As worded, the phrase ON MONDAY sounds as if it refers to when the welfare applicants will receive benefits.  i seriously doubt that would happen only on a Monday. ON MONDAY needs to be placed closer to TEMPORARILY BLOCKED because it refers to when the judge did this.

 Whoops #2: Grammar Glitch has mentioned before the importance of making sure a pronoun (IT in this case) is close enough to its antecedent (what IT refers to) for clear meaning.  In this sentence, IT is supposed to refer to Florida's new law, but the pronoun is too far away from FLORIDA'S LAW for that to be clear. In this sentence, it is probably simpler to repeat THE LAW instead of trying to decide where to place IT.

This sentence should read as follows:

On Monday a federal judge temporarily blocked Florida's new law that requires welfare applicants to pass a drug test before receiving benefits, saying the  law  may violate the Constitution's ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.


WHO? WHOM? Bristol Palin article gets it wrong.

Monday, July 4th, 2011

Twenty-year-old Bristol Palin visits Birmingham this week to promote her memoir.  I doubt I had enough experiences or enough perspective at age twenty to write a memoir, but then, I'm not Bristol Palin.  (NOTE: The photo here shows Bristol at age 17, with her brother Trigg–not her son Tripp.)

Alec Harvey interviewed Bristol about the writing of the book and included this sentence in his comments:

In "Not Afraid of Life," Palin recounts her distrust of Meghan McCain, whom, she writes, wore thousand-dollar dresses and constantly complained about her treatment."

Whoops! Whether to use WHO or WHOM depends on the part the word plays in its own private clause.  In this sentence, WHO is the subject (WHO wore thousand-dollar dresses…).  Here are some examples of how WHOM (object) and WHO (subject) should be used in similar sentences:

Palin says she distrusted Meghan McCain, from WHOM (object) she heard constant complaints.

To WHOM (object) was Palin referring when she wrote about the thousand-dollar dresses?

WHO (subject) wore thousand-dollar dresses on the campaign trail?

Bristol Palin and Meghan McCain are both children WHO (subject) have politicians for parents.

 In "Lifestyle" writer Alec Harvey's sentence in The Birmingham News, WHO would be the correct choice.  The sentence should read as follows:

In "Not Afraid of Life," Palin recounts her distrust of Meghan McCain, who, she writes, wore thousand-dollar dresses and constantly complained about her treatment."


Ostrich farm doesn’t have IT’S head in the sand!

Monday, June 6th, 2011

The Birmingham News has a Sunday column titled "Outside Looking In: What They're Saying About Us." I was quite surprised to discover, when reading this column last Sunday, that Michael Hastings (Hastings Ostrich Farms in Australia) thinks everyone in Alabama wears boots. He does sell his ostrich leather boots in Alabama, but I believe his opinion is slightly exaggerated.  Perhaps he has Alabama confused with Texas?

Anyway, Greg Richter put this sentence in the column and gave me the opportunity to remind readers once again about the difference between ITS (possessive, as in belonging to an ostrich farm) and IT'S (contraction of IT + IS, as in IT'S an exaggeration to say that everyone in Alabama wears boots.)

Ostrich leather is the second most durable, behind kangaroo, they say down under, and Hastings Ostrich Farms doesn't have it's head in the sand over the opportunities that entails.

This sentence needs the possessive ITS (without the apostrophe) to show that the HEAD belongs to the HASTINGS OSTRICH FARMS. The sentence should read this way:

Ostrich leather is the second most durable, behind kangaroo, they say down under, and Hastings Ostrich Farms doesn't have its head in the sand over the opportunities that entails.


Pronoun Carelessness: Which of two women actually appeared in “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman”?

Friday, May 6th, 2011

The latest Hollywood death headline tells of a 1950s era Playboy playmate who appeared in several cult movies back in the 1950s. Her name was Yvette Vickers. An Associated Press article by Greg Risling (and quoted in The Birmingham News) contains an interview with one of Vickers' neighbors. The article uses the pronoun SHE in a confusing way. Here is the paragraph:

" There is a feeling of safety on this street," said author Terri Cheney, who has lived there since 1994. She was born Yvette Vedder on Aug. 26, 1928, in Kansas City, Mo. She took up acting and, in the 1950s, appeared in 'Attack of the 50 Foot Woman' and other cult films." 

 

Whoops! A pronoun takes the place of a noun, and the noun it replaces should not be far away. I'm sure the author Terri Cheney, a bestselling author and former entertainment attorney, would be surprised to find someone describing her as a cult film actress! It is the woman who died–Yvette Vickers–who was born Yvette Vedder in Kansas City, and it is Yvette Vickers who appeared in cult films in the 1950s. However, her name (which should be the antecedent noun for SHE) does not appear anywhere in this paragraph, which should read something like this:

"There is a feeling of safety on this street," said author Terri Cheney, who has lived there since 1994. Cheney's neighbor, Yvette Vickers, whose body was found this week, was born Yvette Vedder on Aug. 26, 1928, in Kansas City, Mo. She took up acting and, in the 1950s, appeared in 'Attack of the 50 Foot Woman' and other cult films."

Whenever you use a pronoun (SHE, HER, HE, HIM, for example), make sure its noun/antecedent is close by enough that the pronoun reference makes sense. Meanwhile, I'm wondering where the idea for a 50 foot woman came from–a wimpy man's nightmare, perhaps? SHE must have been quite a sight.

 

 


“Ladies happens”…”cash balances lags”…”gas prices pushes”…Agreement epidemic continues.

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

The subject/verb agreement virus struck again with vengeance this week. I will share three examples from among those I spotted. The first appeared in this online Associated Press headline on April 14:

Rising gas prices pushes wholesale costs higher

Whoops! I clicked to the story itself to see if the online headline was just a momentary glitch, but the story headline contained the same error.  The subject of this sentence is PRICES, not GAS.  Therefore, the verb should be plural, which is PUSH rather than PUSHES. The headline should read this way:

Rising gas prices push wholesale costs higher

The second example appeared in a Business section news story by Birmingham News staff writer Russell Hubbard who created this sentence:

The cash balances at metro-area companies lags  that  of the country's largest publicly traded corporations, some of which hold tens of billions.

Whoops again! The subject of this sentence is BALANCES, not CASH. Therefore, because BALANCES is plural, the verb should be LAG, which is plural. There is also a problem with the pronoun THAT, which is singular. It is supposed to refer back to BALANCES, not CASH, so the correct pronoun choice is THOSE, which is plural. Here is the correction:

 The cash balances at metro-area companies lag  those  of the country's largest publicly traded corporatiions, some of which hold tens of billions  .

The final example appears in Alene Gamel's "Weddings 911" column in a discussion about the difference between a bridal shower and a bridal tea:

If there happens to be a few ladies who are invited to both a shower and the tea, it will not be a major faux pas.

Whoops for the third time! As I have mentioned in previous posts, when the word THERE appears before the verb, the actual subject (in this case, LADIES) comes after the verb. LADIES is plural. Therefore, the verb should be HAPPEN, which is also plural.

I don't object to using THERE as a sentence construct, but I don't believe it is the best choice in this sentence. I would simply put it this way (with the plural verb ARE):

If a few ladies are invited to both a shower and the tea, it will not be a major faux pas.

That seems much simpler and more direct to me.


WHO addition confuses sentence + Answer to participle question

Monday, April 18th, 2011

I apologize for the unscheduled hiatus this week. I made the grave mistake of going out of town with my IPad and without my password codes.

Now, back to the Grammar Glitches. Today's Glitch comes from an article in Sunday's The Birmingham News about the devastating storms that raged across the South. I offer sincere condolences to all who were affected, including the families of seven people killed here in Alabama.

#1–Here is a 40-word sentence that became quite confusing because Associated Press reporter Tom Breen inserted the word WHO in a place that didn't make sense:

In the town of Sanford in central North Carolina, what could have been a deadly catastrophe was averted when a Lowe's hardware store manager who saw the approaching storm and corralled over 100 people to the back of the store.

The simplest fix for this sentence is to remove the word WHO. Then the sentence makes sense. If I were editing, I would suggest another change to improve the sentence even further. It is always a good idea to avoid passive voice when possible. Here we have COULD HAVE BEEN followed by WAS AVERTED for a double helping of passive voice. I'd suggest making the store manager the subject for a more direct approach and the elimination of one passive voice verb.

Here is my revision:

In the town of Sanford in central North Carolina, a Lowe's hardware store manager averted what could have been a deadly catastrophe when he saw the approaching storm and corralled over 100 people to the back of the store.

Hats off to this quick-thinking manager who probably saved many lives.

#2–Here is the participle question from last week: What is the difference between "All chairs are taken" and "All chairs were taken"? The reader wanted to know why ARE could be used with TAKEN if TAKEN is the past participle. I am sure this is confusing for non-native speakers of English.

Here is my answer: Both ARE TAKEN and WERE TAKEN are passive voice, and both are correct. ALL CHAIRS ARE TAKEN would be used in the present progressive sense. At the time (in the present) that I enter (present tense) the room, no chairs are available, so ALL CHAIRS ARE TAKEN. 

WERE TAKEN is past tense and would suggest that, when I entered (past tense) the room at a time in the past, ALL THE CHAIRS WERE already TAKEN.

 

Stop by again tomorrow to consider the latest epidemic of subject/verb agreement Glitches.