Archive for the ‘pronoun/antecedent agreement’ Category

One Jeopardy! contestant does not = THEY or THEM!

Monday, November 9th, 2015

Jeopardy!_Season_30_title_card  JEOPARDY! is about to start its 2015 Tournament of Champions, which I always enjoy watching. The email announcement the program sent out is not, however, a champion as far as good grammar goes. Consider these two sentences:

"When the dust clears, one contestant will be crowned the TOC Champion. Alex Trebek will present them with a check for $250,000, and they will hold on to bragging rights for the following year."

Whoops! Only one contestant wins the tournament. THEY and THEM refer to more than one person, and the prize money is not going to be split. However, what to do with the sticky problem of using HIS or HER or (shudder!) HIS/HER because we don't know if the winner will be male or female. Not an easy problem to solve, but here is my best suggestion:

When the dust clears, one contestant will be crowned the TOC Champion. Alex Trebek will present that champion with a check for $250,000, which comes with bragging rights for the following year.

For another example of an agreement problem, please check out today's Grammar Glitch Central entry on Facebook.


Two New Agreement Glitches

Friday, April 19th, 2013

If you visit this blog regularly, you know that subject/verb agreement and pronoun/antecedent agreement are among my pet peeves.  I have recent examples of each to share with you today. First, this sentence from an article by Barnett Wright for al.com:

The relationship between Sewell and some commissioners have been strained.

Whoops #1: The word RELATIONSHIP is singular. It is the subject of the sentence.  COMMISSIONERS, which is plural, is the object of the preposition BETWEEN and has nothing to do with the subject/verb connection. The verb should be HAS. The sentence should read this way:

The relationship between Sewell and some commissioners has been strained.

 

Second, this sentence from an article by Kent Faulk for al.com about abortion clinic bomber Eric Robert Rudolph:

Besides the fact that Rudolph had agreed in his plea deal, federal officials also have said that it is illegal for a criminal to profit from their actions.

Whoops #2: Rudolph is A CRIMINAL (singular), so unless he has an accomplice helping him write his autobiography (which he does not), the pronoun THEIR (plural) is incorrect. It should be HIS (singular). The sentence should read this way:

Besides the fact that Rudolph had agreed in his plea deal, federal officials also have said that it is illegal for a criminal to profit from his actions.

NOTE: For those who are uncomfortable using HIS to refer to CRIMINAL (because it suggests the exclusion of female criminals), simply change that part of the sentence to the plural and write it this way:

Besides the fact that Rudolph had agreed in his plea deal, federal officials also have said that it is illegal for criminals to profit from their actions.


Pronoun/Antecedent Agreement Enters Political Arena

Friday, August 3rd, 2012

 

You have probably seen the recent political flak accusing President Obama of saying something to the effect that, if a person has a business, someone else built it. Charles Krauthammer began his July 21 column in The Birmingham News with this quote from Obama's speech:

If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made it happen.

That quote by itself  would bother most people, whatever their political preferences. However, Krauthammer did not quote the first sentence of Obama's paragraph, which was, "Somebody invested in roads and bridges." Common sense would suggest Obama was referring to ROADS AND BRIDGES, which support businesses, as having been built by someone else.

Although Obama was speakiing out loud (which might let him off the hook in anything but a political campaign), a more careful choice of pronouns could have saved him from Krauthammer's criticism. All Obama needed to do was use the word THOSE (plural, to refer to the ROADS and BRIDGES) instead of THAT and IT (singular). He should have said this:

Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business, you didn't build those. Somebody else made those happen.

Whenever you choose a pronoun, make sure it agrees with the noun it refers back to–especially if you are running for office.

 

 


Muddled sentence has multiple problems.

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

Here is a badly muddled sentence that appeared in a Birmingham News article last week.  A substitute teacher did not report the spill of a large vial of mercury in a school chemistry lab, and officials were concerned about exposure.  Here is the sentence:

Birmingham city school officials will get results from mercury tests it conducted Friday on Putnam Middle School students and faculty in about a week, but don't expect to find anything problematic after a spill shut down the school this week.

Oh my! Where do I begin to correct this? First, the pronoun IT is not clear.  What does it refer to?  If the BIRMINGHAM CITY SCHOOL OFFICIALS (plural and human) are going to get the mercury test results, then it seems logical that THEY (not IT) conducted those tests.

Second, the phrase IN ABOUT A WEEK is way out of place in this sentence. It needs to be much closer to what it refers to, which is the MERCURY TESTS. 

Third, as worded, this sentence makes it sound as if the verb phrase DON'T EXPECT is directed as a command or imperative to the reader, but I think the reporter meant to suggest that those Birmingham school officials at the beginning of the sentence are the ones who DON'T EXPECT to find anything problematic.  The simple fix for this is to use the pronoun THEY a second time to refer back to the officials.

Fourth, I think the information in this sentence should be reversed, putting the expectations of the officials before the BUT.

Here is my suggested rewording:

Birmingham city school officials don't expect to find anything problematic after a spill shut down Putnam Middle School this week, but they will get results in about seven days from mercury tests conducted Friday on students and faculty.

 

A NOTE OF WELCOME to new readers from my Grammar and Usage workshops in Mobile and Montgomery this week.  Please feel free to comment or ask questions, and don't forget to use the Search slot on the Home Page to find other blog posts that interest you.


One child does not = THEY.

Friday, October 7th, 2011

My crusade to wipe out pronoun/antecedent disagreement continues.  Meanwhile, the tough new Alabama immigration law is creating difficulties in unexpected areas, including education. Here is a sentence from an article about the provision of this law that requires schools to check the citizenship status of students:

Craven in a press conference emphasized that no child will be blocked from enrolling in public school if they don't have documentation, and the names of those families will not be shared with anyone.

The primary problem in this sentence is pronoun/antecedent disagreement.  The word CHILD is singular, but the Birmingham News reporter chooses the plural pronoun THEY to refer back to CHILD.  That won't work.  I suggest changing CHILD to CHILDREN to avoid having to decide if the child should be referred to as HE  or SHE.

Second, the reading is much smoother if the phrase IN A PRESS CONFERENCE comes after EMPHASIZED instead of in front of it.

Third, THOSE FAMILIES doesn't really fit it.  You are talking about their children, so the term really should be THEIR FAMILIES.

Fourth, Craven emphasized two things in the press conference, but the lack of parallel structure in the sentence makes it sound as if he emphasized only the first point in the press conference.  A second THAT is needed to link the two things he emphasized. Here is how I think this sentence should be written:

Craven  emphasized in a press conference that no children will be blocked from enrolling in public school if they don't have documentation and that the names of their families will not be shared with anyone.

Four paragraphs later, pronouns get tangled up again. Consider these two sentences:

School systems will ask parents and guardians to provide a copy of the child's birth certificate when they enroll in public school for the first time.  If none is available, they will be asked for additional documentation and to sign a declaration that the student is a legal citizen or immigrant.

 Oh my! There are several problems here, too.  First, as written, it sounds as if the parents, not the child, are enrolling in school for the first time. THEY sounds as if it refers back to the PARENTS AND GUARDIANS. The word THEY cannot refer back to CHILD, and we know it is one child because it talks about THE CHILD'S (singular) BIRTH CERTIFICATE.

Second, by the time the reader gets to THEY WILL BE ASKED, it's totally unclear who THEY refers to, so the pronoun does not work.

Third, the second sentence is not parallel in structure.  FOR DOCUMENTATION is not in the same format as TO SIGN, and these two items should be parallel in format because they are both things the parents will be asked to provide if the birth certificate is not available. I would reword the sentence this way:

 School systems will ask parents and guardians to provide a copy of the child's birth certificate when the child enrolls in public school for the first time. If none is available, the parents or guardians will be asked to provide additional documentation and a signed declaration that the student is a legal citizen or immigrant.

 

Notice that I simply replaced the pronouns in the second example with the words they refer to (CHILD and PARENTS OR GUARDIANS).  Sometimes this is the best way to keep things clear.  COOK'S RULE: Use a pronoun only when its antecedent is perfectly clear.

 


Travel article contains pronoun/antecedent Glitch.

Monday, September 19th, 2011

I read an interesting article this weekend about continuing restrictions on U. S. travel to Cuba. In January of this year, many thought the 50-year-old embargo was about to be lifted, but according to Arthur Frommer ("Budget Travel"), interest groups in Florida may be pressuring the U. S. Treasury Department to keep restrictions on travel to Cuba in place.

I haven't written about agreement Glitches for a while (too busy with apostrophes and commas), but this sentence caught my eye in Frommer's article:

Other tour operators announced radically increased prices for its tour programs to Cuba, given the need to operate constant activites and meetings for which it would need to pay heavy fees to the Cubans who would actually operate such programs.

 The subject of this sentence is OPERATORS, referring to the other OPERATORS (plural) who increased their prices after Abercrombie & Kent canceled its Cuba tour program because the U. S. Treasury issued a statement requiring those who would tour Cuba to remain constantly with a group and have no one-on-one contact with Cubans as individuals. Notice that the first sentence of this paragraph has ABERCROMBIE & KENT (singular) as the subject and uses ITS (singular) correctly for the pronoun.the  that that  

The sentence highlighted above uses the pronoun ITS to refer back to OPERATORS, which is incorrect.  OPERATORS requires the plural pronouns THEIR and THEY.  The sentence should read as follows:

Other tour operators announced radically increased prices for their tour programs to Cuba, given the need to operate constant activites and meetings for which they would need to pay heavy fees to the Cubans who would actually operate such programs.


Artist/PR student has apostrophe problems.

Monday, August 29th, 2011

A local ad brochure arrived in my mailbox this week. It contained many colorful and attractive advertisements, including one for original artwork by a public relations student. Although the artwork samples shown were beautiful, the ad copy contained three apostrophe errors.  I sincerely hope this college student will get her punctuation straight before she applies for a job in PR.

Here is the first error:

While being here in college and not being able to paint inside my apartment, I have turned my grandparent's home into my own personal art studio. I use their kitchen, den, front door hallway, and covered garage as my own personal design workspace.

Whoops #1: When I read the first sentence, I concluded that this student had only one grandparent living in the house where she creates her art (because the S came before the apostrophe in GRANDPARENT'S).  Then I read the second sentence, which uses the word THEIR and clearly indicates two grandparents.  The apostrophe should come after the S.  Make GRANDPARENTS plural first, then plural possessive.  It should look like this:

While being here in college and not being able to paint inside my apartment, I have turned my grandparents' home into my own personal art studio. I use their kitchen, den, front door hallway, and covered garage as my own personal design workspace.

I HAVE SAID THIS BEFORE, AND I WILL SAY IT AGAIN: THE APOSTROPHE SHOULD NOT BE USED TO MAKE A WORD PLURAL. Consider this sentence:

A few years ago one of my teacher's saw some of my doodling on my notebook…..

Whoops #2: In this sentence, TEACHERS is just plural, not possessive.  Nothing belongs to the TEACHERS in this sentence; therefore, no apostrophe is needed.  It should read this way:

A few years ago one of my teachers saw some of my doodling on my notebook…..

 

There are several options to consider when correcting the third apostrophe error.  Consider this sentence:

There is no better feeling than seeing individual's eye light up, and hearing such positive, happy compliments after they view my whimsical, eclectic artwork!

Whoops #3: An INDIVIDUAL is one person.  Does only one of that person's EYES light up when viewing this artwork? If we are talking about one INDIVIDUAL, why is the pronoun THEY used in the second part of the sentence? The simplest way to untangle this sentence is to make it plural, suggesting that lots of people's eyes light up.  Then there is the problem of whether or not SEEING and HEARING should be described as FEELINGS. I would rewrite it this way:

There is no better experience than seeing people's eyes light up and hearing such positive, happy compliments after they view my whimsical, eclectic artwork!

 

Certainly, the art student should have learned how to use apostrophes correctly, but I would also fault the copy editor for not spotting the three errors and correcting them before the publication went to the printer. If I were hiring someone in PR, neither of them would get the job!

 

 

 

 


Reporter names bar manager’s cocktail for contest?

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

The Hot and Hot Fish Club is a great Birmingham restaurant, and the bar manager there recently won the local round of a contest for inventing an original cocktail.  Feizal Valli, who was born in Nairobi, does not name his wonderful cocktail in the local newspaper article, BUT the Birmingham News staff writer who wrote the article gives it an odd name by using the pronoun IT'S in the wrong place.  Take a look at these two sentences:

Last month, Valli won the Birmingham round of a contest sponsored by Bombay Sapphire Gin and GQ for inventing an original cocktail.  It's called the Nationwide Most Inspired Bartender Search, and the winner last year got a cover on the sponsoring magazine. 

A major rule of good pronoun usage is that the pronoun must refer to the previous noun closest to it.  Here, IT is the pronoun, so it should refer to COCKTAIL.  However, NATIONWIDE MOST INSPIRED BARTENDER SEARCH is the name of the contest, not the name of the cocktail.  The way to correct this is to replace the pronoun with THE CONTEST.

Last month, Valli won the Birmingham round of a contest sponsored by Bombay Sapphire Gin and GQ for inventing an original cocktail.  The contest is called the Nationwide Most Inspired Bartender Search, and the winner last year got a cover on the sponsoring magazine.

In case any of you are interested, this original cocktail contains two ounces of Bombay Sapphire Gin, a half ounce of lime juice, three muddled blackberries, and a half ounce of sumac simple syrup. (Sumac is an herb common in the Middle East.)

 


New York Daily News headline uses IT’S where ITS should be.

Friday, August 19th, 2011

An online headline for New York Daily News caught my eye on Tuesday.  Here it is:

Whoops!  IT'S with an apostrophe is always the contraction of IT + IS or IT + HAS.  The copy editor should have corrected to ITS without the apostrophe to show that the 'wealthy economy' belongs to the U.S. (Or so we continue to hope!)  This headline should read as follows:

Fitch Ratings: U. S. and its 'wealthy economy' still AAA.

FOOTNOTE: To the credit of New York Daily News, when I searched for this article again this morning, the headline had been corrected.

My sincere thanks to Michelle Baker for her two guest posts last week, which I'm sure you enjoyed.

 

 


“A dad” does not = THEM!

Monday, June 20th, 2011

I hope all the fathers out there were appropriately honored and thanked yesterday.  The "Birmingham Bargain Mom" had a column in yesterday's local newspaper about how to treat Dads inexpensively at home.

Her opening paragraph offers an opportunity for me to remind readers about pronoun/antecedent agreement.  More simply put, if you refer to ONE person, do not use the pronoun THEY or THEM to refer back to that one person:

Are you honoring a stay-at-home dad today? Here are some ways to make them feel extra special and show your appreciation without spending a lot of cash.

 

"A STAY-AT-HOME DAD" refers to one person. Therefore, the reference back to that one person in the next sentence should be HIM. The sentence should read this way:

Are you honoring a stay-at-home dad today? Here are some ways to make him feel extra special and show your appreciation without spending a lot of cash.