Posted by: Jack Henry | December 6, 2017

Editor’s Corner: Third Day of English (2017)

On the third day of English

Richard Lederer gave to me

Tricky grammar tidbits

Times the number three.

Oh yeah, we’re only on day three, people! My rhyming skills don’t get any better with time!

Here are some questions that come up often in grammar world. These are from Richard Lederer’s fans, and answered by the King Verbivore himself.

DEAR RICHARD LEDERER: Please explain the difference between the words historic and historical. –Dennis Cormier, Point Loma

Historic refers to events, places and artifacts of great significance, as in “President Reagan’s nomination of Sandra Day O’Connor to the Supreme Court was an event of historic importance.”

Historical refers to history, as a subject, as in “the San Diego Historical Society” or to a particular period of history, as in “Artifacts from the Revolutionary War are of historical significance.”

Use the article a before both historic and historical. An before these adjectives sounds stuffy and a tad weird. You wouldn’t say, “An history book,” would you?

DEAR RICHARD LEDERER: In a recent Union-Tribune Health section appeared this sentence: “CDC says one in three Americans aren’t getting enough sleep.” Should it not be “one in three Americans is not getting enough sleep?” One American is not and two Americans are. –Marie-Louise Nixon, La Mesa

Your analysis is spot on, O Conan the Grammarian. In the service of subject-verb agreement, the verb should be singular in order to connect with the singular subject one. Reversing the halves of the sentence reveals the grammar: “[Of] three Americans, one is not getting enough sleep.”

DEAR RICHARD LEDERER: A sentence in one of your recent columns begins “A bevy of readers have asked me. . .” The grammar confused me. I expected a singular verb agreement with the collective noun bevy. Please explain your use of the plural verb have? –Claire Crilly, San Diego

When a group noun is modified by a prepositional phrase that includes a plural noun object, the verb is usually plural. Which would you say or write: “A group of students is attending the dean’s symposium” or “A group of students are attending the dean’s symposium”?

Most U.S. Standard English speakers and writers would choose the second version. Same with my sentence.

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

619-542-6773 | Ext: 766773

Symitar Documentation Services

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