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The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Category: Singular vs. Plural

Sentence Subjects: Looking Past Nouns and Strict Verb Agreement

Posted on Wednesday, November 15, 2017, at 12:58 am

Sentence subjects are typically obvious in English grammar. Many are nouns, and they take corresponding plural or singular verbs. How then do we identify and explain the parts of speech in the following sentences? 1. Buying houses and flipping them has been netting him a small fortune. 2. To be alone is to find true …

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Collecting the Truth About Collective Nouns

Posted on Wednesday, October 18, 2017, at 10:00 am

American English offers us words as tools for efficient and clear communication. One such tool is the collective noun, a noun that is singular in form but singular or plural in meaning depending on the context. A collective noun represents a group of people, animals, or things. Examples include: band flock bunch crowd herd fleet …

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Using Apostrophes with Last Names Ending in s, ch, or z

Posted on Thursday, September 7, 2017, at 8:02 pm

Some topics in American English grammar may require repeat visits and discussions, mainly because they can remain elusive even after practice, review, and application. One of those topics is how to form the plural and possessive forms of last names ending in s, ch, or z. Most of us are likely comfortable with creating the …

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When to Add es to a Verb

Posted on Tuesday, May 16, 2017, at 3:08 pm

Our review of English verbs has included discussion of when to add s to a verb. You might also wonder when to add es to the end of a verb. As we point out in that other discussion, only verbs paired with a third-person singular noun or pronoun (he, she, boat, courage) as a subject add …

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In Print Is Forever

Posted on Wednesday, January 25, 2017, at 11:15 am

Oh, the things we see in print these days … From Time magazine: “General David Petraeus asked a famous question: ‘Tell me how this ends?’ ” Did you catch it? Here’s a clue: tell me how that’s a question. If Petraeus had asked a question, it would have been something like, “Tell me, how does this …

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You Can’t Coin What’s Already Coined

Posted on Tuesday, September 20, 2016, at 12:24 pm

Sometimes you hear statements like this: They threw him under the bus, to coin a phrase or To coin a phrase, he’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Those who say such things do not understand coin a phrase. You cannot coin a phrase that other people have already used. When you use phrases …

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Small Dishes (2016)

Posted on Tuesday, July 5, 2016, at 1:07 pm

• Here is the type of sentence that makes grammar sticklers crazy: one of the students forgot to bring their lunch. You probably know this old tune: laissez-faire scholars and editors say the sentence is just fine, whereas nitpickers demand a rewrite because one is singular and their is plural. Things took a turn in …

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Singular They Part II

Posted on Tuesday, June 9, 2015, at 4:12 pm

Despite curmudgeons’ howls, the singular they has become respectable. Many editors at the recent American Copy Editors Society conference declared themselves open to the once-frowned-upon use of they with a singular antecedent. English is an often imperfect language that makes the best of its shortcomings. We say “none are,” despite the prominent one in none, …

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How Can They Be Singular?

Posted on Tuesday, June 2, 2015, at 1:04 pm

Which of the following sentences is incorrect: A) It’s enough to drive anyone out of his senses. B) It’s enough to drive anyone out of his or her senses. C) It’s enough to drive anyone out of their senses. Those who consider themselves “old school” would likely consider C incorrect: their is plural but its antecedent, …

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What Kind of Rule Is Usually?

Posted on Tuesday, May 19, 2015, at 2:38 pm

A thought-provoking inquiry showed up recently in our inbox: I can’t decide which verb is correct in sentences like the following. Would I write There are three kilograms of flour in the kitchen or There is three kilograms of flour in the kitchen? Two meters of fabric is here or Two meters of fabric are …

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