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Media Watch

• From a review of an exhibition: “The society had in their possession a card imprinted with a 1872 photograph.” Two booby prizes in one sentence: society is singular, so make it “had in its possession,” not “their.” As for “a 1872 photograph,” is that the way you would say it? The misguided decision not to use an stems from the belief that an should only precede a vowel, and the 1 in 1872 isn’t even a letter. However, the actual rule is that an always precedes a vowel sound, which is why we say “an honor,” even though the silent h is technically a consonant.

• From a newspaper editorial: “California will join other states who have made alterations to their sentencing codes.” Make it “other states that.” A state is not a person, and who applies only to humans.

• “It was all so cliché.” What’s wrong with “It was all such a cliché”? Cliché is a noun, not an adjective. To sticklers, this sentence sounds as silly as “It was all so paper clip.”

• From a book review: “It’s impossible to predict it in advance.” Oh dear. Either change “predict” to “know” or delete “in advance.”

• “Their reticence to challenge the union is why this ruling is essential.” The writer meant “reluctance to challenge.” The two words are not synonyms; reticence means “habitual silence” or “reserve.”

• From a profile of an athlete: “His single-minded passion is one of the many qualities that has made him a star.” Make it “one of the many qualities that have made him a star.” The subject of the verb is “qualities,” not “one.” Many qualities have made him a star; his single-minded passion is one of them.

• “The inmates are trying to put distance between the men they are now with the crimes that landed them here years ago.” Make it “and the crimes.” Would you say, “The distance between my house with your house is three blocks”? The writer forgot the first half of his sentence before he finished the second half. And then he just couldn’t be bothered to proofread the mess he’d made.

Posted on Thursday, August 7, 2014, at 8:13 am


2 Comments

2 Responses to “Media Watch”

  1. Liam Hickey says:

    I am an EFL teacher in Mexico, and my classes make me think about English in new ways. Today’s question: is “a lot” singular or plural?

    I taught one class that anything following “of” in the subject does not count toward conjugating the verb as singular or plural. Then I realized that people commonly use plural with the phrase “a lot of people.” When used with inventory or real estate, “a lot” is singular. When used with money, “a lot of money” is singular. Should we be saying, “A lot of people is . . . ?”

    • As you pointed out, “a lot” can refer to a singular noun. Regarding using “a lot” with the word of followed by a noun, our Rule 6 of Subject and Verb Agreement says, “With words that indicate portions—a lot, a majority, some, all, etc. … we are guided by the noun after of. If the noun after of is singular, use a singular verb. If it is plural, use a plural verb. Therefore, write “a lot of people are” but “a lot of dust is.”

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