Sometimes a Plural is a Singular

rogersgeorge on November 18th, 2017

Usually a plural is a plural. Simple enough. For example there’s this:

Our sanctioned cloud services contain sensitive and confidential information, from customer information to partner information…

Services is a plural, right? So you use a plural verb, in this case “contain.” But what if that plural is part of the name of something? Take this headline, for example:

Amazon Web Services Adds New Services to Bolster Cloud Security

And inside the article,

The company is launching the new Amazon Web Services (AWS)…In total, AWS is adding five new encryption and security features to S3 to help protect cloud storage, including default encryption, permission checks, cross-region replication access control list overwrite, cross-region replication with KMS (Key Management Service) and a detailed inventory report.

Turns out that Amazon has a department (or team, or something) named “AWS” for “Amazon Web Services.” So when you write about the whole named organization, you have a singular!

So heads up: Think about what you’re writing about!

And now I’m going to throw you a curve: “United States,” is is singular or plural?

Well, it’s singular now. Back in Abe Lincoln’s day and earlier, it was plural. People would say “these United States” instead of “the United States.” Hmm.

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Lots of People Get this Wrong

rogersgeorge on November 12th, 2017

“Who,” among other things, is an interrogatory pronoun. We use it when we ask a simple question about someone.

Who ate the last cookie?

To use “who” correctly this way, you need two things:

  1. The “who” must be first.
  2. “Who” must be the subject of the sentence.

The problem is that being the first word in the sentence is a stronger signal than being the subject of the sentence, and that leads to people using “who” when they should use “whom.” For example:

Who do you think ate the last cookie?

The subject is “you,” making that “who” be the direct object, which means you need “whom.” Here’s the sentence in declarative form to make it easier to see:

You think whom ate the cookie.

Let’s change the pronoun to make it more intuitive, because I have a surprise for you:

You think him ate the cookie.

“Huh??? Shouldn’t it be ‘You think he ate the cookie.’?” you ask.

And yes, you’d be right. “He” is the subject of the subordinate clause “-he ate the cookie,” even though the whole subordinate clause functions as the direct object. So in a declarative sentence, with the subordinate subject right there in the clause,  “he” is correct. Sorry to have to throw a grammatical weasel at you, but when you drag the word to the front of the sentence, as you must do when you ask a question, you have to use “whom” to warn your reader that you have a direct object coming up.

All that to praise the porcupine in this Grizzwells comic for getting it right:

Simple version of the rule: If the question has two verbs, use “whom.”

A little Quiz

rogersgeorge on November 10th, 2017

Scott Meyer is a pretty funny comic strip artist and writer. This recent comic made me twitch. See how many mistakes you can count. You should be able to find at least one in every panel. I counted more than a dozen. I don’t think he’s writing about me; I corrected him only once and that was years ago.

A good Explanation of Why Hyphens are Important

rogersgeorge on November 6th, 2017

I’ve mentioned the Oxford comma several times over the years. I’ve mentioned hyphens and dashes now and then, too, even compounding of adjectives. Well, here’s some of that again: compound adjectives.

Here’s the rule: If two (or more) adjectives together modify a word, hyphenate them. (If the first word happens to be an adverb, the hyphen can be optional, especially if it’s a common phrase.)

Okay, here’s a compound adjective done wrong:

Since “hand job” is a real thing, apparently (something salacious, I guess), the paper has pretty well embarrassed itself, because they meant “first-hand,” which is also a real thing. The error occurs inside the article, too, as “first hand experience.”

No wonder newspapers are on the decline: They are getting rid of their copy editors!

PS—Today I ran into a headline from someone who did it right:

Newberry Cabin, mammoth fossil provide science students hands-on learning opportunities

Also from a newspaper, by the way, the Star-Telegram. (Their name is a compound noun, not a compound adjective.)

Poor Old Adverbs—They are so Misused

rogersgeorge on November 2nd, 2017

First, I see now that we’re using adjectives as verbs! “Harsh,” an adjective, is now in style as a verb: “Don’t harsh my, um whatever.” I suppose “criticize” has become too long a word for some folks to use. Harrumpf.

But now that I mentioned verbs and adjectives, that leads to adverbs, another word that adjectives frequently replace. Here’s a Pickles to illustrate:

I don’t often see the guy correctly correcting the gal’s grammar in the comics, but in this case, he’s right. This mistake is easy to make; adjectives are typically shorter than their adverbial counterpart. See the reference to “harsh” above.

Now, having defended the adverb, I have to add that you can usually skip adverbial constructions correct or incorrect altogether. That comic isn’t a good example of leaving out adverbs (they’re used substantively here, but I digress), but most of the time, you make your writing tighter and punchier when you leave out the adverbs and use a good verb, one better than “make” and “do.” And please, try never to use “very”!