Grammar refresher for copy editors Knight Summer Institute Pam Nelson July 10, 2006
What we’ll cover • Best practices. • Grammar myths. • Tricky issues. • Subject-verb agreement. • Pronouns • Who and whom • Antecedents. • Hodgepodge of grammar and usage points • Sources for grammar knowledge
Do not distractthe reader. First rule of grammarfor copy editors
Best practices • Be sure you know what you think you know. • Keep your knowledge fresh. • Consult your best references. • Stand your ground when it’s important. • Bend when you find a good reason.
Grammar myths We don’t even need to talk about these: • Splitting infinitives. • Putting adverbs between parts of a verb. • Ending a sentence with a preposition. • Using incomplete sentences. • Starting a sentence with “and,” “but” or any other coordinating conjunction.
Coordinating conjunctions • For • And • Nor • But • Or • Yet • So FANBOYS
Tricky rules of agreement Subject-verb
Rules of agreement • If the subject consists of two or more singular words connected by or, either … or, neither … nor or not only … but also, use a singular verb. • Either Shana or Joanne is going with John to the fair. • Not only a movie review but also a record review needs to be copy-edited for A&E.
Rules of agreement • If the subject consists of two or more plural words connected by or, either … or, neither … nor or not only … but also, use a plural verb. • Neither the boys nor the girls have any idea what to do at the cotillion. • Not only the book reviewsbut also the record reviews are missing for Sunday’s paper.
Rules of agreement • If the subject is made up of singular and plural words joined by or, either … or, neither … nor or not only … but also, the verb should agree with the nearer subject. • Either Joey or his sistershave taken care of their mother day to day. • The Johnsons or their older sondrives to the airport to pick up the out-of-town wedding guests.
Rules of agreement • If one subject is singular and the other is plural, the sentence sounds better if you put the plural subject nearer the verb. • Either the Johnsons’ older son or his parents drive to the airport to pick up the out-of-town wedding guests.
Two words but one concept • If two words joined by and represent one concept or one action, use a singular verb. • Jerry Smith’s pride and joy is his shiny 1965 Mustang convertible. • The size and scope of the flooding after Katrina continues to overwhelm Americans. • The care and maintenance of an antique auto takes many hours of the hobbyist’s time.
Intervening words • Look for the true subject of the verb. Don’t be led astray by phrases and clauses that appear between the subject and the verb. • The budget for bonuses has been depleted. • The dinosaur skeleton, in addition to other fossils, has been moved to a new room. • The study, along with many others, has led the government to restrict the drug’s use.
Along with Together with And not As well as In addition to Accompanied by Plus Besides Including Except Rather than Not even Intervening phrasesCommon ones that don’t affect the number of the subject These phrases should be set off with commas.
One of … • Use a singular verb after the phrases one of or one of the. • One of my children has the flu. • One of the reviews for this week is missing.
One of … • Use a plural verb after phrases one of those who or one of the things that. • She is one of the senators who want the bill to pass this session. (Of the senators who want the bill to pass, she is one.) • I bought one of the copiers that were advertised in the flier in Sunday’s paper. (Several copiers were advertised in Sunday’s paper. I bought one.)
The one and only • Use a singular verb after a phrase that includes the only. • Adam is the only one of my children who does not have the flu. • Sara Howe acts as if she is the only copy editor who knows what she is doing.
Indefinite pronouns • Each, every, either, neither, one, another and much are always singular. • Each has been given the resources he needs to complete the task. • Neither boy wants to play on the team this year. • Much of what we discussed today was not helpful in trying to make the decision.
Indefinite pronouns • Other words that are always singular and require singular verbs. • Anybody, anything, anyone, everybody, everything, everyone, somebody, something, someone, nobody, nothing, no one. • Anyone who wants the Mustangs to win is going to be disappointed. • Somebody moves my chair every night.
NONE but the brave • None can be singular. • The children are old enough, but none goes to school. (not one) • None of the equipment was stolen in the break-in. • Or it can be plural. • None of the experts agree about oil prices. (no two)
THE number or A number • If the number is the subject, use a singular verb, regardless of the noun in the prepositional phrase. • The number of voters rises when parties conduct get-out-the-vote drives. • If a number is the subject, use a plural verb. • A number of voters find getting to the polls difficult.
Special cases • Money, time, organizations, food distances and diseases often require singular verbs. • In the 1960s, $3,000 was enough to live on for months. • Three months in prison is a long time. (as a unit) • The United Auto Workers has decided to strike. • Measles spreads quickly in a dormitory.
Phrases and clauses • When the subject of a sentence is a phrase or a clause, use a singular verb almost always. • That the incumbent will be re-elected is far from certain. • Editing entertainment calendars is tedious work. • Whoever wins the election is likely to face a tough adjustment period in the job.
Find the subject • In some sentences, the subject appears after the verb. Make sure that the agrees with the true subject. • What page are the record reviews on? • Enclosed are two copies of the disputed memo. • There are three steps each person must follow.
Here, there and … • If a sentence begins with here or there, the subject is after the verb. • Here is the problem with teaching grammar. • Here is the problem with teaching grammar. • There are 20 students in the class. • There are 20 students in the class. • Here is $20 to pay for a haircut. • Here is$20 to pay for a haircut.
Plural-looking words • Words that are plural in form but (perhaps) singular in meaning. • Politics is a difficult business for families. • The fugitive’s whereabouts is unknown. • The news from the front is not good. • We took a course in statistics.
Plural-looking words • But some can be plural. • The politics of city government are often dominated by special interests. (many aspects) • The mechanics of English are hard to teach. • The species found at the arboretum include many non-native plants. • The statistics the city manager cited in her report were staggering.
More plural-looking words • Some words are plural even if they refer to a single thing. • These scissors need sharpening. • BUT: This pair of scissors needs sharpening. • The odds of success are not very good.
Latin is alive! • Nouns with plural Latin endings take plural verbs. • The news media are responsible for spreading the false report. (singular is medium) • The alumni are not going to support tearing down the old stadium. (singular is alumnus or alumna) • The data have been carefully collected. (singular is datum)
The rise of the collective • Collective nouns that denote a unit take singular verbs. • The jury continues to deliberate. • The commission approves rules that will govern the debate. • But if the members of the collective body act individually … • A herd of cows meander through the canyon on their way to their favorite grazing ground.
Fractional thinking • Fractions and percentages are singular or plural depending on the noun or pronoun following them. • One-third of the book is a flashback. • One-third of the customers are Spanish-speaking immigrants. • Half of the cake is gone. • Half of the voters fail to show up on Election Day.
We’re with the band • Publications may choose follow the form of a band’s name to determine whether to use a singular or a plural verb. • Outkast performs Friday at the RBC Center. • The Black-Eyed Peas are moving up the chart. • But if we are using the word band, we consider it singular. • The band plays its hit at the end of every concert.
Cool things about pronouns How they are like alligators • Pronouns retain the inflections that were common in Old English. That is, they change form to indicate their grammatical function. • So, like alligators, pronouns are evolutionary throwbacks.
Cool things about pronouns • Pronouns have gender. • They are masculine (he, him, himself), feminine (she, her, hers, herself) or neuter (it). • They can be classified by person. • First (I, we); second (you); third (he, she, they).
Cool things about pronouns • They have number. • They are singular (I, he, she) or plural (we, they). • They also have case. • They are nominative (also referred to as subjective), objective or possessive.
Pronoun problems • Case • This is the who-whom-whose deal. • Who is nominative (used as the subject). • Whom is objective (used as the object). • Whose is possessive (used as, uh, the possessive). • Antecedent • This is a number failure. • We use a plural pronoun to refer to a singular noun. • Or a clarity failure. • It’s just unclear what the pronoun refers to.
Pronoun problems • Punctuation • The dreadful apostrophe mistake! • Its is the possessive form of it. • It’s is the contraction for it is. • Whose is the possessive form of who. • Who’s is the contraction for who is. • -Self abuse • This is the irritating misuse of the reflexive form: myself, himself, themselves, etc.
Who or whom? • Who/whoever is the subject of a clause. • Who is responsible for making English so complicated? • Please tell whoever needs to know that I have updated the file.
Who or whom? • Whom/whomever is the object of a verb or a preposition or the subject of an infinitive. • To whom do you wish to speak? • We are interested to see whom the voters choose Nov. 2. • We didn’t know whom to call when we found the dead cat lying in the middle of our cul-de-sac.
Complication • If the pronoun is the subject of the infinitive “to be,” the choice is trickier. • Who does the rock star want to be when he takes the stage? (The rock star wants to be who.) • Who was the intruder thought to be? (The intruder was thought to be who.) Think of the pronoun as a subject complement and use the nominative.
The -m trick • If you can substitute the pronoun “him” or “them” in the construction, use “whom.” • Or you can turn the sentence structure around to find the right case. • You wish to speak to HIM – use whom. • The voters choose HIM – use whom. • We could not persuade THEM – use whom.
And another thing … • People are who, not that, most of the time. • The pollsters try to find voters who are undecided. • But if the person is part of a class of people, you can use that. • She is the kind of reporter that always pencil-checks copy carefully.
Figuring it out • Isolate the phrase or clause. • Rearrange the words. • Substitute “he/him” or “they/them.” • Figure out how the phrase or clause is functioning in the sentence.
Up the antecedent • Make sure that the pronoun agrees in number, person and gender with the noun or pronoun that it refers to. • The sophomore class elects its officers today. • The couple left their troubles behind and flew to Maui. • The teacher asked everyone to get out his or her pencil for the test.
Up the antecedent • Make sure that the pronoun’s antecedent is clear. • When Gloria set the pitcher on the glass-topped table, it broke. (what broke?) • The pitcher broke when Gloria set it on the glass-topped table.
Up the antecedent • Make sure that the pronoun HAS an antecedent. • After braiding Ann’s hair, Sue decorated them with ribbons. (What is the antecedent of them?) • After braiding Ann’s hair, Sue decorated the braids with ribbons.
Up the antecedent • Watch out for a pronoun that appears to have a possessive noun for an antecedent. • Lottie Mae’s mother died when she was 30. (Who was 30?) • When Lottie Mae was 30, her mother died. OR • Lottie Mae’s mother died at 30.
Indefinite problems • Sometimes, the number of indefinite pronouns confuses us: These are singular: anybody, anyone, anything, each, either, everybody, everyone, everything, neither, nobody, no one, somebody, someone, something. These are plural: all (mostly), both, few, most, several, some.
Gerund weirdness • Use the possessive form of a pronoun before a gerund (a verbal that ends in –ing and acts as a noun.) • The mayor couldn’t understand why his taking a vacation with a city contractor was a problem. • The chance of your being hit by a rock is very slim, but wear a hard hat anyway.