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What better way to begin a Media Watch column than with headlines? Here are two recent ones that got our attention:
• “Bacteria has sickened more than 100.”
• “Foreclosure crisis makes taught thriller.”
“Bacteria has sickened” is incorrect because has is singular and bacteria is the plural of bacterium. If the
headline writer balked at “bacteria have sickened” or “bacterium has sickened,” we can sympathize, sort of—but why not
instead write “Germ has sickened more than 100”?
As for that second headline, who confuses taught with taut? This looks like the work of a distracted multitasker.
• “Hundreds packed the stands, looking for a chance to relish in a sense of community.”
You can revel in a sense of community, or you can relish a sense of community, but “relish in” is nonsense.
• “A completely new species of rat was discovered.”
This sentence gives adverbs a bad name. What does “completely” add, except flab?
• “He was forbidden from giving his name.”
Handy rule: Use to, not from, with forbid: “He was forbidden to give his name.”
• “The CEO receives nearly 2,000 times the compensation as an employee.”
Where did “as an employee” come from? It doesn’t fit. Did a prankster sneak in and write it? Make it “The CEO receives nearly 2,000
times the compensation that an employee receives.”
• “Her rivals tried to emulate her.”
Delete “tried to” and make it “Her rivals emulated her.” One does not “try to emulate.” To emulate
means “to try to be as good or successful as.” So when we emulate, we’re already trying. The original sentence is gibberish: Her
rivals tried to try to be as good as she was.
• “Stainless steel appliances await whomever inhabits the chef’s kitchen next.”
The whomever is incorrect. The writer would argue that whomever was required as the object of “await.” But then the verb
“inhabits” would have no subject, because whomever is always an object. You can’t have a verb without a subject, and objects
can’t also be subjects, so it has to be “Stainless steel appliances await whoever inhabits the chef’s kitchen next.”
• “He was clutching the leash of his dog, who was also shot.”
• “This is about political influence by a public utility who spends a lot of money in Sacramento.”
The pronoun who applies only to humans. The writer of the first sentence balked at using “which” for the dog. The writer of the second
sentence decided that corporations are people. They’re not, at least not grammatically. The fix is easy: “a public utility that spends a lot of
money in Sacramento.”
Because of the e-newsletter’s large readership, please submit your English usage questions through GrammarBook.com’s “Grammar Blog.”
The following are sentences recently heard over the airwaves. See if you can make them better. Answers are at the bottom of the newsletter.
1. “Neither her mother or the police believed his denial.”
2. “He is one of the men they can most afford not to lose.”
3. “I see you nodding your head no.”
4. “A cable from he himself established that.”
5. “I am one of many people that are trying to advance the art form.”
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Rules for Writing Good: Writing Tips
Here are more selections from a perverse set of rules that are guilty of the very mistakes they seek to prevent. English teachers, students, scientists, and writers have been circulating these self-contradictory rules for more than a century.
1. A writer must not shift your point of view.
2. About sentence fragments.
3. Don't verb nouns.
Pop Quiz Answers
1. “Neither her mother nor the police believed his denial.”
2. “He is one of the men they can least afford to lose.”
3. “I see you shaking your head no.”
4. “A cable from him himself established that.” (Correct grammar isn’t always pretty.)
5. “I am one of many people that are trying to advance the art form.” CORRECT
Learn all about who and whom, affect and effect, subjects and verbs, adjectives and adverbs, commas, semicolons, quotation marks, and much more by just sitting back and enjoying these easy-to-follow lessons. Tell your colleagues (and boss), children, teachers, and friends. Click here to watch.