How Did They Get In Here?

Writers today have problems keeping their sentences internally consistent. This is especially true of print journalists. Because of staff cutbacks at financially challenged newspapers, many articles are proofread hastily, if at all.

Combine that with the shocking decline in Americans’ English language skills over the last fifty years or so and you get sentences unworthy of the average sixth-grader in 1963. Here is a sentence from a recent article in a major metropolitan newspaper on the West Coast: “Each side in the condo fight has spent more than $350,000 on their campaigns …”

Everything is fine until that jarring “their” at the end. Go back to the subject: “each side.” The writer is talking about two things but is taking them one at a time—each side has spent, not have spent. So writing “their” confounds the ground rules of the sentence. It’s like setting the table with a fork and then eating with your hands.

This is an easy one to fix: “Each side in the condo fight has spent more than $350,000 on its campaign…”



The following sentences or fragments from recent print or broadcast media reflect contemporary bad habits. Can you fix them?

1. McDonalds is doing everything they can to shift costs to operators.
2. There needs to be better screening and a more foolproof monitoring system.
3. East Haven, Conn. plane crash …
4. No listener is ever happy with how much time they get.
5. He didn’t believe in the peoples’ right to know.



1. McDonalds is doing everything it can to shift costs to operators.
2. There need to be better screening and a more foolproof monitoring system.
3. East Haven, Conn., plane crash …
4. No listeners are ever happy with how much time they get.
5. He didn’t believe in the people’s right to know.

Posted on Sunday, August 11, 2013, at 11:06 am

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14 Comments on How Did They Get In Here?

14 responses to “How Did They Get In Here?”

  1. Nancy Buehrens says:

    There need to be better…….sounds awkward. I personally would rephrase the sentence:
    There is a need for better……OR
    A need exists for better……

  2. Eve R. says:

    I have just read a novel with the term “homed in” mentioned several times. Isn’t it “honed in”? Thank you for you help.

    • Did you happen to see our weekly E-Newsletter of May 21, 2013? It was titled, “Word Nerds: Verbal Custodians Trapped in a Time Warp.” Here is one of the items from that newsletter:

      Hone in This is another mongrel, like the two that preceded it. It’s the brain-dead combo of hone and home in. We simply can’t allow confusion to be the basis of acceptable changes in the language. In recent years, “hone in” has achieved an undeserved legitimacy for the worst of reasons: the similarity, in sound and appearance, of n and m. Honing is a technique used for sharpening cutting tools and the like. To home in, like zero in, is to get something firmly in your sights: get to the crux of a problem.

      • Julie says:

        When do I use Opportunity instead of Opportunities?

        “The availability of benches increases opportunities for more people to enjoy the park.”


        “The availability of benches increases the opportunity for more people to enjoy the park.”

  3. Robert S. says:

    The answer to Pop Quiz question 2 repeats the redundancy, “more foolproof”.

    • That is a good observation. Perhaps we should also seek to revise the line in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution that calls for a “more perfect union”!
      Thank you for pointing this out.

  4. Sue F. says:

    2. Are there degrees of foolproof? Can something be more foolproof?

    4. Another possibility – No listener is ever happy with how much time he gets.

    • Those are good observations. See my answer to Robert S. immediately above.
      Regarding question no. 4, your suggestion also is grammatically correct. However, we prefer our answer as it avoids the gender he/she awkwardness.

  5. Ginnie S. says:

    I was just talking with a friend whose relative feels compelled to criticize/correct her grammar. My friend is quite smart and teaches at a college, but is from the country and just says a few things incorrectly. Her critic even criticized her 85 year old mother. I think this is tacky. Obviously, I care about my grammar and I do admit that it bothers me to listen to people botch the English language, but I think tackiness is worse. Do you have a one-liner for my friend to tell her relative, something that is not mean, but gets to the point?

    • How does, “I thought this was a nice informal visit, not a term paper” sound?

      Other than that, I would advise that your friend deal with her relative in a direct, but courteous manner, informing her relative that she and her mother would prefer that her relative please discontinue providing grammar criticism because (here insert the truth: it hurts my/our feelings, we are comfortable with how we speak at this point in our lives, there’s no point in correcting the grammar of an 85-yr-old, etc.). She could tell her relative she understands that she possesses considerable grammar expertise and your friend could request her permission to ask for advice when needed.

  6. Barry U. says:

    Care to comment/expound on the use of there’s instead of there’re? I.E., There’s three ways of looking at this problem, instead of There’re three ways of looking… to quote the reader whose statement you posted in a newsletter: ” rather because language evolves over time, leaving certain traditions behind and embracing others. At this point in the evolution of American standard English, academic and otherwise formal writers have largely moved away from it, as have the more punctilious copyeditors within the American publishing industry.”

  7. We deplore the metastasizing usage of “there’s” when “there are” is correct. To us it’s indefensible.

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