Subject: How Did They Get In Here?

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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…”

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Pop Quiz

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.

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Most of us are fascinated by palindromes, words or phrases that read the same forward and backward. A famous one that most of us have heard is: "A man, a plan, a canal—Panama!"
Here are a few we recently ran across:
Never odd or even.
A nut for a jar of tuna.
Borrow or rob?
Was it a car or a cat I saw?

Pop Quiz Answers

These are suggested answers. There may be more than one way to fix some of these items.

1. McDonalds is doing everything it can to shift costs to operators.
2. There need to be better screening and a foolproof monitoring system. (In addition to using the plural verb need to agree with the subjects screening and system, the redundant more has been dropped.)
Better screening and a foolproof monitoring system are needed.
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.

English In A Snap:
68 One-Minute English Usage Videos FREE

Learn all about who and whom, affect and effect, subjects and verbs, adjectives and adverbs, commas, semicolons, quotation marks, and much more by just sitting back and enjoying these easy-to-follow lessons. Tell your colleagues (and boss), children, teachers, and friends. Click here to watch.

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