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The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Category: Singular vs. Plural

When They Is a Cop-out

Posted on Monday, April 28, 2014, at 6:40 pm

Ours is a language of traps and pitfalls. Anyone serious about writing in English has to take on problems no one has ever quite solved. One of the most obstinate of these, as inescapable as it is confounding, concerns singular pronouns that have plural connotations (everyone, nobody, anyone, somebody, etc.). Even fine writers on occasion …

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The Wicked Of

Posted on Monday, March 31, 2014, at 5:03 pm

What would prompt H.W. Fowler to pick on the word of? Fowler (1858-1933), whom many regard as the dean of English-language scholars, ascribed to of “the evil glory of being accessary to more crimes against grammar than any other.” Do not be fooled by looks. Weighing in at a svelte two letters, this petite preposition …

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Christmas ’Log Review

Posted on Thursday, December 12, 2013, at 7:12 pm

Every year, for six weeks or so, I get a taste of what it’s like to be a superstar. From late October to early December, I am accosted daily by an aggressive mob of stalkers who know where I live. Their urgent need for my attention seems to be their only reason for being. No, …

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Look Who’s Talking

Posted on Tuesday, December 3, 2013, at 12:27 pm

On Nov. 15, a high-level government official caused quite a stir when he disparaged “white suburban moms” for resisting efforts to elevate teaching and learning in U.S. schools. “All of a sudden,” he said, “their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they …

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How Did They Get In Here?

Posted on Sunday, August 11, 2013, at 11:06 am

Writers today have problems keeping their sentences internally consistent. This is especially true of print journalists. Because of staff cutbacks at financially challenged newspapers, many articles are proofread hastily, if at all. Combine that with the shocking decline in Americans’ English language skills over the last fifty years or so and you get sentences unworthy …

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The Number vs. A Number

Posted on Thursday, December 9, 2010, at 9:01 am

The expression the number is followed by a singular verb while the expression a number is followed by a plural verb. Examples: The number of people we need to hire is thirteen. A number of people have written in about this subject. Pop Quiz Choose the correct word in each sentence. 1. The number of …

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Subject and Verb Agreement with Collective Nouns

Posted on Tuesday, August 10, 2010, at 2:47 pm

Do you use a singular or plural verb to match a collective noun such as team or staff? The answer is, It depends. If these nouns are acting as a unit, use a singular verb. Example: The team is heading for practice this afternoon. If the sentence indicates more individuality, use a plural verb. Example: …

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Apostrophes with Names Ending in s, ch, or z

Posted on Tuesday, July 28, 2009, at 9:17 am

Are you confused about how to show the plural and the possessive of certain names? Maybe you know to write I met the Smiths, I drove Brenda Smith’s Ferrari, and I visited the Smiths’ house. But what if the name is Sanchez or Church or Williams? Rule: To show the plural of a name that …

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None Were vs. None Was

Posted on Sunday, June 14, 2009, at 2:15 pm

Rule: With words that indicate portions—some, all, none, percent, fraction, part, majority, remainder, and so forth —look at the noun in your of phrase (object of the preposition) to determine whether to use a singular or plural verb. If the object of the preposition is singular, use a singular verb. If the object of the …

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Definite Ideas About Definite and Indefinite Articles

Posted on Thursday, February 5, 2009, at 10:13 am

Take a look at this sentence from a restaurant review that was sent in by a reader: The restaurant operates with an efficiency and authority that defy the chaos in the pleasant but cramped room. Is it correct to use the indefinite article an in front of an abstract noun (efficiency)? If so, should we …

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