Posts Tagged ‘pronoun/antecedent agreement’

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.

 

 


Each Woman’s Homes? Whoops!

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

Today's Grammar Glitch involves a criminal I would have to nominate for the "lowest of the low" award. A counselor on the approved list of providers for the Department of Human Resources in Alabama has been charged with using his position to force women to have sex with him. When DHR referred a woman to him for counseling, he would go to the woman's home and tell her that if she did what he asked, he would give DHR a good report and help her keep her children. He actually threatened these women with losing their children if they didn't comply.

Shame on him, double shame! I commend the young woman in her mid-20s who had the courage to set up spy cameras in her house and reported him to the police.

Now back to Grammar Glitches.  The sentence in this news article that bothered me was this one:

The prosecutor, Laura Poston, said (      ) used his position to coerce the women into having sex with him during sessions he held at each woman's homes.

 The word EACH is treated as singular.  Notice that it is used with WOMAN, not WOMEN.  Therefore, HOMES should be HOME to be consistent with the singular pattern.  The sentence should read this way:

The prosecutor, Laura Poston, said ( ) used his position to coerce the women into having sex with him during sessions he held at each woman's home.

Speaking of sentences, the judge who heard this case was frustrated by the fact that he had to reduce the charges because state law required proving "forcible" compulsion, and it was not possible to define the threat of losing one's children as "forcible" compulsion against a woman. Personally, most women I know would probably consider that "forcible" compulsion.


Benefits only available on Monday? Plus an ambiguous “it.”

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

WHERE you place a phrase in a sentence could make a huge difference in meaning.  Take a look at this sentence that appeared in the national news feed this morning:

A federal judge temporarily blocked Florida's new law that requires welfare applicants to pass a drug test before receiving benefits on Monday, saying it may violate the Constitution's ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.

 

Whoops #1: As worded, the phrase ON MONDAY sounds as if it refers to when the welfare applicants will receive benefits.  i seriously doubt that would happen only on a Monday. ON MONDAY needs to be placed closer to TEMPORARILY BLOCKED because it refers to when the judge did this.

 Whoops #2: Grammar Glitch has mentioned before the importance of making sure a pronoun (IT in this case) is close enough to its antecedent (what IT refers to) for clear meaning.  In this sentence, IT is supposed to refer to Florida's new law, but the pronoun is too far away from FLORIDA'S LAW for that to be clear. In this sentence, it is probably simpler to repeat THE LAW instead of trying to decide where to place IT.

This sentence should read as follows:

On Monday a federal judge temporarily blocked Florida's new law that requires welfare applicants to pass a drug test before receiving benefits, saying the  law  may violate the Constitution's ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.


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!

 

 

 

 


“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.


Pronoun Carelessness: Which of two women actually appeared in “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman”?

Friday, May 6th, 2011

The latest Hollywood death headline tells of a 1950s era Playboy playmate who appeared in several cult movies back in the 1950s. Her name was Yvette Vickers. An Associated Press article by Greg Risling (and quoted in The Birmingham News) contains an interview with one of Vickers' neighbors. The article uses the pronoun SHE in a confusing way. Here is the paragraph:

" There is a feeling of safety on this street," said author Terri Cheney, who has lived there since 1994. She was born Yvette Vedder on Aug. 26, 1928, in Kansas City, Mo. She took up acting and, in the 1950s, appeared in 'Attack of the 50 Foot Woman' and other cult films." 

 

Whoops! A pronoun takes the place of a noun, and the noun it replaces should not be far away. I'm sure the author Terri Cheney, a bestselling author and former entertainment attorney, would be surprised to find someone describing her as a cult film actress! It is the woman who died–Yvette Vickers–who was born Yvette Vedder in Kansas City, and it is Yvette Vickers who appeared in cult films in the 1950s. However, her name (which should be the antecedent noun for SHE) does not appear anywhere in this paragraph, which should read something like this:

"There is a feeling of safety on this street," said author Terri Cheney, who has lived there since 1994. Cheney's neighbor, Yvette Vickers, whose body was found this week, was born Yvette Vedder on Aug. 26, 1928, in Kansas City, Mo. She took up acting and, in the 1950s, appeared in 'Attack of the 50 Foot Woman' and other cult films."

Whenever you use a pronoun (SHE, HER, HE, HIM, for example), make sure its noun/antecedent is close by enough that the pronoun reference makes sense. Meanwhile, I'm wondering where the idea for a 50 foot woman came from–a wimpy man's nightmare, perhaps? SHE must have been quite a sight.

 

 


Pronoun/Antecedent Agreement also a Problem

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

I didn't expect to use this tornado graphic again so soon, but as my readers must know from the national news, Alabama was devastated last Wednesday, first by high winds in the morning, and then by unimaginably destructive tornadoes in the afternoon. Many, many people here are hurting and grieving. The only good news is the many, many people who have helped in humble ways and huge ways in the past few days. Humanity and love of community are alive and well here, but it will be a long recovery.

Anyone interested in knowing what kind of help is needed can go to www.al.com and click on "Ways to Help."

Today's Grammar Glitch comes from an article about a man in Pratt City, Alabama, who lives near the worst tornado destruction in that area. He has turned his house and yard into a relief center where those in need can stop by and pick up items like diapers, bottled water, hygiene products, and even dog food donated by various groups.  Here is the Glitch sentence:

The Christian Service Mission offered to send items to Miller's home if he would distribute it.

The problem in this sentence is that ITEMS (the antecedent noun) is plural. Therefore, the pronoun that refers back to ITEMS later in the sentence should be THEM (plural) instead of IT (singular). The sentence should read this way:

The Christian Service Mission offered to send items to Miller's home if he would distribute them.

 I  wish the people of Pratt City healing and recovery in the coming weeks.

 


You’re budget?? Still another apostrophe Glitch

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

By far, the two most common Grammar Glitches I've encountered so far this year are APOSTROPHES and AGREEMENT.  An example of each appeared on page 2 in this morning's The Birmingham News

 

CONFUSING YOU AND YOU'RE

Christine Dedman writes the popular Birmingham Bargain Mom column, and today she offers some great suggestions for clever ways to celebrate Valentine's Day on a budget.  If you'd like to see her suggestions, go to www.blog.al.com/bargain-mom

I will only comment here on a sentence that appears in her suggestion about cooking and dining by candlelight with your loved one:

If you're budget doesn't call for dining out, dining in can be just as fun.

 WHOOPS! YOU'RE is a contraction of YOU and ARE.  It is not a pronoun adjective that can describe BUDGET.  That would be YOUR (like OUR or THEIR).  The sentence should read this way:

  If your budget doesn't call for dining out, dining in can be just as fun. 

 

 

PRONOUN/ANTECEDENT AGREEMENT (TWO HATS DO NOT EQUAL AN IT.)

Also on page 2 this morning, Jeremy Burgess has an interesting review of the Dr. Dog performance at WorkPlay on Monday evening.  I loved his quote from guitarist/singer Scott McMicken about the performance of the Black Eyed Peas during halftime at Sunday's Super Bowl: "I think that says a lot about music these days.  I'm not trying to be scathing.  I'm just seriously wondering what that was."  (Me, too!)

In the review, Burgess noted that three of the band members were wearing sunglasses, and four of them were wearing toboggans.  Then he wrote this sentence:

Two of those hats had the band's name on it.

WHOOPS!  There are TWO HATS in this sentence, and both of them sport the band's name.  Therefore, the appropriate pronoun is THEM, not IT.  The sentence should read this way:

 Two of those hats had the band's name on them.