Grammar Media Watch: Clarity, Definitions, Subjects and Verbs |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Media Watch: Clarity, Definitions, Subjects and Verbs

Here is another batch of bloopers from dailies and periodicals.

• “Canada is sending between 50 to 100 military advisers.” Can anyone explain the presence of “between” in that sentence?

• “He showed a much improved grasp of the English language than a year ago.” Someone who writes “much improved than a year ago” should concentrate on his own grasp.

• “It was as bad, if not worse, than expected.” Without the nonessential phrase “if not worse” we are left with “It was as bad than expected.” Here is the grammatical version of the sentence: “It was as bad as, if not worse than, expected.” That may be correct, but it’s no prize package. How about “It was as bad as expected, if not worse.”

• “Roast lamb and venison comprise the meat course.” Writers love to use comprise, but they keep getting it wrong. The word means “to consist of.” Do roast lamb and venison consist of the meat course? No, the meat course comprises roast lamb and venison. (Note: comprised of is always incorrect.)

• “The goal is to showcase the oddly gentle enormity of this 46-foot-high room.” This strange sentence becomes bizarre when one realizes that enormity means “great wickedness.” Better make it “immensity” or “vastness.”

• “South Koreans eat more instant noodles per capita than anyone in the world.” The sentence, taken literally, means that South Koreans and “anyone in the world” are two separate groups. One key word solves the problem: “South Koreans eat more instant noodles per capita than anyone else in the world.”

• Let’s close with two examples of the havoc caused by losing track of your subject …

“The first thing Ryan saw were her knees.” How’s that again? The first thing were? If the subject is singular, the verb must be singular: The first thing he saw was her knees. If the writer doesn’t like how that looks and sounds, how about “The first things Ryan saw were her knees.”

“Reading ‘thought pieces’ on our mobile devices are making us shallow.” Reading are making us shallow? The writer got distracted by “devices” and forgot that the subject, “Reading,” is singular.

That’s all for now. We’d love to retire Media Watch, but we can’t until the happy day that all writers proof their articles and avoid fancy words that they may have forgotten to look up.


Pop Quiz

The following are sentences recently heard over the airwaves. See if you can spot the errors. Our solutions are below.

1. “We’re in unchartered waters here.”
2. “It’s 3 a.m. on a Sunday morning.”
3. “Many Americans despise we in the media.”
4. “The likelihood of outbreaks are very low.”
5. “There was twelve men and one women in the room.”


Pop Quiz Answers

1. “We’re in uncharted waters here.”
2. “It’s 3 o’clock on a Sunday morning.” (Writing “a.m.” would be redundant)
3. “Many Americans despise us in the media.”
4. “The likelihood of outbreaks is very low.”
5. “There were twelve men and one woman in the room.” (Did you spot both mistakes?)

If the article or the existing discussions do not address a thought or question you have on the subject, please use the "Comment" box at the bottom of this page.

10 responses to “Media Watch: Clarity, Definitions, Subjects and Verbs”

  1. Shahidor Rahman says:

    Dear Jane,
    I really need your opinion on the following question which appeared in an exam in Bangladesh. Please help. Thank you.

    The Question: Select the correct sentence:
    a)You but I am guilty for the accident
    b)You and not I are guilty for the accident
    c)You and not I am guilty for the accident
    d)You but I are guilty for the accident

  2. Ravi Bedi says:

    1. “South Koreans eat more instant noodles per capita than anyone else in the world.”

    ‘Anyone else’ in this example is singular against ‘Koreans’, which is plural. Sounds odd to my ear.

    How about: A South Korean eats more instant noodles than anyone else in the world.

    People eat more instant noodles in South Korea than anywhere else in the world.

    • As you know, we do not make these examples up. What we generally do in Media Watch is just change what needs it, and let the rest of the sentence off easy. (Sometimes, though, we make further suggestions, as in the earlier sentence “It was as bad, if not worse, than expected.”)

      Your first version would be just fine. Your second one would need a slight adjustment on the end to keep it parallel: “… than in any other place in the world.”

      We didn’t change “anyone” because like “everyone,” it is singular in form but often plural in meaning, as in this case. We doubt that a reader who was fluent in English would seriously believe the sentence compares South Koreans to one other person.

  3. Renee says:

    “We’d love to retire Media Watch, but we can’t until the happy day that all writers proof their articles and avoid fancy words that they may have forgotten to look up.”

    Can you explain why “happy day that…” is better than “happy day when…”? And if you can, will you? Thank you.

    • “… happy day that” is standard English; “… happy day when,” although grammatical, sounds clumsy to our ears. You may recall a line from Don McLean’s iconic hit song “American Pie”: “This’ll be the day that I die.” Would you prefer “when I die” instead?

  4. Laurie says:

    I do not clearly understand how to appropriately use “absolute vs. absolutely.” I just came across this today:
    “absolute lowest possible price.” I would say “absolutely lowest possible price.” Help, please.

    Thank you.

    Laurie Magers

  5. Alex Ellsworth says:

    Webster’s, Cambridge, Collins, and Oxford dictionaries all define “comprise” as either “to consist of” OR “to make up or form something.” Here’s a usage example from M-W Learner’s: “Nine players comprise [=make up] a baseball team.” The standard Webster’s gets into a greater discussion of the controversy surrounding “be comprised of,” but ultimately rules it correct. M-W Learner’s and Oxford even put “be comprised of” in their example sentences.

    When the most renowned English dictionaries all say something is correct, even the most rigid prescriptivist may want to reconsider. Some people may still argue against “be comprised of,” but “comprise” as “make up” is well-established as a correct usage.

    • The country’s political polarity has now infected the politics of grammar, with the permissive branch and the traditionalists sniping at each other like conservatives and liberals. The word prescriptivist was never meant to be a pejorative term. There is validity in both points of view, and each side needs the other in order to stay honest. Furthermore, even the most liberal descriptivist embraces some level of prescriptivism, and still says “he doesn’t” rather than “he don’t.” Similarly, even the most fervent prescriptivist acknowledges that some change to the language is inevitable, and even beneficial.

      So if you want to use comprise to mean compose, even though you could simply say “compose” or several other available synonyms, that is your privilege. That is not the world we want to live in. We feel it impoverishes and coarsens the language. It annoys avid students and devotees of English, who cherish subtle distinctions and complex words.

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