Welcome back, fellow grammarphiles – and grammarphobes! Today the Grammar Cop will focus her razor-sharp-but-jaundiced eye on several related misdemeanours.
As we did last week, we’ll look at all the infractions first, then the corrections.
- BLOOMBERG VIEW (a division of Bloomberg News): “Employers, like most people, tend to trust their intuitions. But when employers decide whom to hire, they trust those intuitions far more than they should.”
- MONTREAL GAZETTE: “A few years ago the alumni was trying to raise money for some scholarships. And they wrote to…”
- NEW YORK TIMES (in an op-ed piece by a regular columnist, which just goes to show you – everybody makes misteaks! Er, mistakes.): “…none of us understand it yet…”
Did you spot the gaffes?
- Intuitions should not be plural. Look how much better this sounds: “Employers, like most people, tend to trust their intuition. …they trust their intuition far more than they should.” The reason is this: By making it plural, it seems as though each person has more than one intuition… which of course is nonsense. So let’s put some sense back into this, by using the singular form, intuition.
- This one really set my teeth on edge! The word alumni is plural. Maybe it doesn’t seem like it, since it doesn’t end with an “s” – but it is indeed plural. It’s a Latin word, and the singular is alumnus (or alumna for a female; the plural for females is alumnae). (The Grammar Cop is aided here by the fact that she was forced to study Latin for four years way back in high school. This would be followed by an “eye roll” emoji, but for the fact that I do not have any emoji here on my desktop. Another eye roll.) So: Since alumni is plural, the sentence above should read “A few years ago the alumni were trying to raise money for…”
- Now, really, the New York Times can afford a copyeditor or proofreader, surely? The word none should be singular. It is short for “no one.” So one should write, “…none of us understands it yet…” HOWEVER – the Grammar Cop feels compelled to admit that this may just be a mere preference of hers. Here is an explanation which says that the plural is acceptable too. (Heresy!)
Usage Note: It is widely asserted that none is equivalent to no one, and hence requires a singular verb and singular pronoun: None of the prisoners was given his soup. It is true that none is etymologically derived from the Old Englishword ān, “one,” but the word has been used as both a singular and a plural since the ninth century. The plural usage appears in the King James Bible (“All the drinking vessels of king Solomon were of gold … none were of silver”) as well as the works of canonical writers like Shakespeare, John Dryden, and Edmund Burke. It is widespread in the works of respectable writers today. Of course, the singular usage is perfectly acceptable. Choosing between singular or plural is thus more of a stylistic matter than a grammatical one. Both options are acceptable in this sentence: None of the conspirators has (or have) been brought to trial. When none is modified by almost, however, it is difficult to avoid treating the word as a plural: Almost none of the officials were (not was) interviewed by the committee. None is most often treated as plural in its use in sentences such as None but his most loyal supporters believe (not believes) his story. See Usage Notes at every, neither, nothing.
Sheesh! Nothing is simple in the world of Grammar! That’s where a cop comes in handy! 😉