A Grammar Magazine?

rogersgeorge on February 26th, 2017

The genius of Dan Piraro’s Bizarro strikes again. I hardly know what to say, except that I’ve written about every topic mentioned on the cover. Except the lips.

Bizarro - 02/19/2017

Lessee… Participles (sort of), Adjectives (several; here’s one), adverbs (also several), S-V agreement (at least twice), pronouns (also more than once).

Well, The Writing Rag site has been around since January of 2009 (!), and more than 400 posts (!!) whaddya expect?

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Bad Grammar in a Headline

rogersgeorge on January 8th, 2017

From Engadget, which generally gets things right. The headline is in their newsletter. If you go to the site, they have it correct.

Intel’s next generation of PC chips are here

Do you see the goof? What’s the subject of the sentence? Is it singular or plural? Now look at the verb; singular or plural?

This mistake appears a lot in amateur writing, when the plural object of a preposition is right next to the verb, and the subject, a singular, is farther away.  Don’t let that proximity fool you!

(The answers, in case you didn’t get it: the subject is “generation,” a singular. The verb is “are,” a plural! It was attracted to all those chips. Guess you can’t eat just one, eh?)

Be Agreeable! part 2

rogersgeorge on June 9th, 2016

Last time we looked at compound subjects. This time we look at hard-to-find subjects. Read the first cell of this comic:


What’s the subject? It’s “last,” not “tulips”! Liv got it right.

We often add information about the subject of a sentence before we get to the verb, and that information doesn’t have to agree in number with the subject it’s referring to. Sometimes that information can be lengthy, and the subject, especially if it’s nondescript (such as Liv’s “last”), is easy to get lost. The temptation is to make the verb agree with the closest noun, so be careful.

Sometimes you don’t even have a nice neat noun for a subject, either. Look at this, from a recent Gizmag article:

But what exactly is going on beneath the atmosphere’s chaotic exterior is a question that has mystified astronomers for some time.

I made the main verb bold so you could find it. What’s its subject? It’s “what exactly is going on beneath the atmosphere’s chaotic exterior,” a noun clause with its own verb.

Finally (for now, anyway) the subject doesn’t always come before the verb. You already know this is common in questions (Do you not?) But sometimes the subject comes after the verb for effect. Here’s another sentence from the same article:

“Jupiter’s rotation once every 10 hours usually blurs radio maps, because these maps take many hours to observe,” says study co-author Robert Sault, from the University of Melbourne.

Putting the stuff about Jupiter’s rotation first has more punch than starting out with “Robert … says.”

Be Agreeable! part 1

rogersgeorge on June 7th, 2016

The technical term is subject-verb agreement. This means that if you have a plural subject, you need a plural verb form. Singular subject gets a singular verb. Third grade stuff. But sometimes it’s easy to get agreement wrong. The biggest pitfall is when you have a compound (more than one) subject. (The second pitfall is when you’re not sure what the subject is; you have so much stuff between the subject and its verb, you lose track. We’ll get to that in another post (ahem) the next one.)

Here’s the rule when you have more than one subject: If they’re joined by “and,” use a plural verb. If they’re joined by “or,” agree with the subject closest to the verb.

Planes, trains, and automobiles are types of transportation.

A plane, a train, and an automobile are in your display of transportation toys.

Trains, planes, or an automobile gets you there.

A train, a plane, or two automobiles get you there.

And now, a curve!

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is the name of a movie.

If the subject is a single entity, no matter what its form, it’s singular. You have to think!

Now an exercise for you. I found this sentence on the website of a place where I used to have a job, many years ago.

A welcome stop along the Glacial Ridge Trail, the Terrace Mill and the Terrace Mill Historic District features a 1903 Vintage Flour Mill, Keystone Arch Bridge, Weir Dam, Mill Pond, Log Cabin, and a Heritage Cottage.

Is the sentence correct or not?

Subject-Verb Agreement

rogersgeorge on May 29th, 2016

Subject-verb agreement is the technical term for the mistake that this article from NPR discusses. Read the whole article; I could hardly have said it better myself.

But since I want to post more than a mere link, here’s the gist:

  • The 2016 Republican party platform has a section about homosexuality.
  • The first sentence in that section has two nouns near the beginning, “homosexuality,” and “truths.”
  • The verb is singular.

The rule of subject-verb agreement says that singular verbs take singular subjects, and plural verbs take plural subjects.

The intent was to use the rest of the sentence to describe truths, but the grammar had it describing homosexuality. Oops.

I think the last sentence in the article is particularly interesting.

Pay attention to your English teacher, kids! And to be really sure, have another pair of eyes look at what you write.