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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Sometimes “Their” is a Plural

rogersgeorge on November 14th, 2017

For years grammarians and writers have unsuccessfully tried to figure out a good singular alternative to “him or her” (and its variants), because using three words is awkward. We have examples going clear back to Edmund Spencer of using the technically plural “their” or “they” as that singular. We even call it the singular they.

For example:

Somebody left his or her car running.

Usually we say

Somebody left their car running.

Sometimes you can recast the sentence to avoid the problem:

A car was left running out front.

But let’s face it, the singular they is pretty useful, and I think we curmudgeons just have to learn to live with it.

PS—I ran into an interesting (read tactful) use of the singular them:

Individuals who have shared intimate, nude or sexual images with partners and are worried that the partner (or ex-partner) might distribute them without their consent can use Messenger to send the images to be “hashed.”

Now having said all that, “they” and “their” are legitimate plurals, and you should be alert for when you have an actual plural. Here’s one where a professional writer (and the editor) missed the boat:

Kids will flock to a natural play area that sparks their imagination.

Plural “kids,” plural “their”—so far so good. But what about “imagination”? That should be a plural! Each kid has his or her own imagination, so the sentence should read

Kids will flock to a natural play area that sparks their imaginations.

I won’t embarrass the writer by identifying him. (I considered a little tongue-in-cheek humor by using “them” or “the person,” but I figured out that the writer is a guy, so I can safely use “him.”)

Mainly so I can have a picture in this post, here’s part of what he was writing about:

Rodney pond

Bad Apostrophe, Good Apostrophe

rogersgeorge on September 28th, 2017

I was going to post this Mallard Fillmore comic just because the comic’s funny and about grammar, but it reminded me of a rule: Don’t use apostrophes for plurals.

But English has two exceptions that you might get away with: plurals of numerals and plurals of abbreviations. You don’t need to write plurals of numerals very often, but when you do, it’s okay, but not necessary, to use an apostrophe, and the tendency these days is to use the apostrophe less and less.

So, for example, referring to a decade,  write “the 1960s.” If you really want to, you can write 1960’s and you’ll get away with it. Buying house numbers? The neighbor of the Beast bought two 6s and an 8. Or is it two 6’s and an 8?

Moving on to abbreviations; the rule is do what is easier to understand. Walking into the vacant space, she said, “Wow! This office has enough room for three AAAs.” Or three old-fashioned AAA’s.

Usually I leave off the apostrophe, and no one has fired me for it yet.


Watch your subject

rogersgeorge on July 10th, 2017

The rule is that if you have a singular subject, you must have a singular verb. (And if you have a plural subject, the verb must be plural.) We call it subject-verb agreement. Take a look at this sentence:

By July 15, an average of 2,500 tons of supplies was being flown into the city every day.

It’s from a passage in This Day in History for June 26. Is the sentence correct or not?

It’s an easy sentence to get wrong, but they got it right! The subject is average, not tons, and not supplies. The latter two words are objects of prepositions, so neither can be the subject of the sentence. So average has to be the subject.

Be careful out there. Those prepositional objects’ll get you if you’re not alert.

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?)