Sunday, March 16, 2014

Confusion over Concord

Reliable historians tell us that when Monsieur Guillotin invented the famous beheading device, he had in mind muttonheaded ninnies such as the writers of ENGLISH AS IT IS BROKEN who have the gall to call themselves language experts when they probably can't even spell "grammar". I have shown about a few hundred thousand errors in their disgraceful books ENGLISH AS IT IS BROKEN and ENGLISH AS IT IS BROKEN 2 in my previous blog posts and if you are interested in having a look at a growing list of them (I update the list every time I post something new on the subject), please click here.

That the writers of the disgraceful books are a bunch of knuckleheaded blunderheads is a truth that I have established beyond the shadow of a doubt. They do not seem able to get even the simplest of grammar rules correct and they have the audacity to call themselves English language specialists and to write not one but two books on English grammar. Although I'm the last person on this planet to scoff at anyone, my attentive readers will notice that I have sometimes allowed my characteristic high level of courtesy to dip a little when mention is made of this group of village idiots.

I have nothing against village idiots who keep their idiocy to themselves. But when an idiot tells the world he's a language expert and writes books on grammar, I will have to put him in his place.

I've just done my blind test again. I allowed my fingers to pick up one of the two books written by Singapore's language "experts" and this time, I got the first book. I flipped the pages and by chance, I was at page 158. Looking into both books to find grammatical errors is like looking into a Spanish treasure chest for gold ingots. They're everywhere and on every page. I was pretty sure I'd be able to find some error on this page and and I was right. Here it is. The A or Answer is supplied by the English language experts from the the Ministry of Education (MOE).

To be fair to the English language experts from the MOE, this is one error most language teachers in Singapore make. I'm of course speaking from my own experience with language teachers from my kids' primary schools. But I expect more from MOE's language experts and I cannot accept such an error made in a book that has been re-printed at least ten times and has the full endorsement of the MOE and the Speak Good English Movement. Grammatical concord is easy in that you have a 50% chance of getting it right. It's either a plural verb or a singular one. It is as outrageous for a language expert to get it wrong as it is for a surgeon to cut off the wrong breast in a mastectomy.

One of the mistakes I made when my kids were in primary school was to enrol them in private schools for additional lessons. I did that only because every parent I knew enrolled their kids in private schools after normal school lessons. It may only be an hour or two each week but that's still precious time which could be put to better use if we parents conducted our own lessons for our kids. Of course I later pulled them out of the private school and spent a bit of time each week teaching them grammar and I achieved more in an hour what any school could do in a year. At least I don't make egregious blunders.

One day, my child showed me a question in a test paper in which he was marked wrong. It was a sentence similar to this sentence and he wrote the plural verb and his teacher said it was wrong. I wrote a note to his teacher and cited three references from renowned grammarians and told my child to give it to his teacher. The following week, I got a phone call from the teacher. She was a pleasant woman and she agreed with what I said. However, she said the other teachers in the school still insisted that the plural verb was wrong. She also sent me an email and I replied to her email by writing at great length, thanking her for teaching my child and saying all the pleasant things we normally say to others and I included in my email this paragraph.

What happened after that was entirely her fault. She printed my email and all the references I had quoted and approached her head of department. When he saw that paragraph in my email, he hit the roof. He accused her of not being a good "team player" because he insisted it was wrong of her to tell a student's parent that the other teachers didn't agree with a point of grammar even after they were shown references in support of it. He probably thought the worst of me too and that is one reason why I don't like to tell someone he is wrong. Some people react very badly when they are told they are grammatically wrong. I wrote about this a long time ago in this post and I think I told the story about a friend in my hostel who refused thereafter to talk to me throughout the duration of our stay.

I am not slamming teachers in private schools or the teachers in our schools employed by the MOE. They are all wonderful people who work very hard and they truly want the best for their students. But MOE's language experts are different. If they can't even sort out their own grammatical problems, they should have the decency not to accept any remuneration from the MOE as language experts. And they certainly should not have the effrontery to write a book on grammar and usage.


  1. hi just wondering, why is 'one of the boys who likes' wrong?

    1. Thank you very much for the comment. You ask why the singular verb is wrong. In an exam situation where you are only allowed one answer, it is sure to be marked wrong. In 1926, Fowler had no trouble saying categorically that it's 'a blunder' to use the singular verb. He also referred to the common use of the singular verb as 'constant blunders' and said they produced 'nonsense'. Strong words like these are now avoided by today's grammarians who are well aware that the blunders of today will soon become the accepted usage of tomorrow. Michael Swan puts it very clearly when he says, 'Strictly speaking, a plural verb is correct.... However, singular verbs are also very common in these structures.'

      In the above article, I referred to my email to the teacher in Learning Lab who marked my son wrong when he used the plural verb. In my email to her which I only produced a small excerpt because there were names that I didn't want to disclose, I first stated quite clearly that the plural verb is without any doubt correct. I then quoted the acceptable use of the singular verb in both the grammars of Burchfield and Quirk. I then said this: 'I have previously told [my son] not to rely on the exception because it is really exceptional and the intention of making "one" govern the subordinate clause is fraught with so much difficulty that I am sure no child his age can handle it appropriately. In any event, in such a construction, the use of the plural verb will always be defensible...'

      In other words, you can never go wrong with the plural verb, not even in 1926 with Fowler breathing down your neck. Also, in an exam situation, you will probably be marked wrong if you use the singular verb.

      I'm not complaining about the demise of prescriptive grammar. I'm not a pedant who dreams of the days when grammar was strictly observed and grammarians were quick to brand those who erred as illiterate fools. What I'm horrified about is the Speak Good English Movement's book on grammar and usage which contains an error on every single page. Picking the singular verb as the answer in both questions certainly shows a severe lack of knowledge of grammar. And it's this lack of knowledge of grammar that informs everything the Movement writes and says and you can see ample evidence of this in my blog.

      I have no problem with people who insist on using the singular verb in such a construction. But they must never say that the plural verb is wrong.