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Wrong number - don't learn this
Thread poster: Oliver Walter

Oliver Walter  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:19
Member (2005)
German to English
+ ...
Nov 14, 2010

I frequently hear and read (here in the UK) a grammatical error which some people may think is now so common that it is acceptable, although to me it is definitely wrong, unacceptable, and I can't imagine it ever becoming considered to be correct. It usually consists of a sentence containing "one of" followed by a relative clause with an (incorrectly) singular verb. Examples, from what are normally regarded as respectable sources (wrongly singular verb underlined):
  • "One of the things that pains me, Jonathan..." (BBC radio, September 2010)
  • "That's one of the things that does work about the..." (BBC radio, September 1020)
  • "One of the councils that has been struggling with the consequences of..." (BBC radio, July 2010)
  • "In the meantime, should you be one of the investors who pushes Smith towards his first £300m?" (Money Week, November 2010)

Your comments?

Oliver


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Daina Jauntirans  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:19
German to English
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Correct in the US Nov 14, 2010

I can't speak for the UK, but that usage is absolutely correct in the US. This Web site pretty much explains the way I learned it - see #5.

http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/599/01/


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Nesrin  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:19
English to Arabic
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Agree with Oliver Nov 14, 2010

Daina Jauntirans wrote:

I can't speak for the UK, but that usage is absolutely correct in the US. This Web site pretty much explains the way I learned it - see #5.

http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/599/01/


Sorry, Daina - I don't believe that's the same thing Oliver's talking about. No.5 in the document you refer to states:

5. Do not be misled by a phrase that comes between the subject and the verb. The verb agrees with the subject, not with a noun or pronoun in the phrase.

One of the boxes is open
The people who listen to that music are few.
The team captain, as well as his players, is anxious.
The book, including all the chapters in the first section, is boring.
The woman with all the dogs walks down my street.


...the phrases coming between the subjects and the verbs are indeed to be ignored as they are (if I remember correctly) parenthetical phrases that can be taken out of the sentence without affecting the sentence structure:

The team captain, as well as his players, is anxious.--> The team captain is anxious.

The exception is the first sentence "One of the boxes is open" - it's not a parenthetical phrase but the subject is "one of the boxes" which is clearly single (the other boxes are closed).
If however you changed that to "One of the boxes which are in the attic" - the subject becomes "the boxes [which are in the attic]".

So in Oliver's example, the subject is indeed the plural noun, e.g

in: "One of the things that pain me..." there are several things that pain me, but I am only mentioning one of them.

Unlike the parenthetical phrases above, you can't take "of the things" out of the sentence. You would have to rephrase that to say: "One thing that pains me".

[Edited at 2010-11-14 23:40 GMT]


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milinad  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:49
Member (2006)
German to English
agree with Nesrin Nov 15, 2010

the explanation given by Nesrin is correct. verb agreement (singular / plural) depends on the context

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Mrudula Tambe  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 00:49
English to Marathi
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Learned and learnt Nov 15, 2010

Well said Oliver. It is seen that People studied in English Medium / having English as a mother tongue also often use incorrect English e.g. to use past tense twice in a single sentence, "I did washed my clothes" or “I did wrote that article”.

Also as per my knowledge word 'Learned' is not a past tense of the verb "To learn" but learned means an adjective: (of a person) having acquired much knowledge through study while 'Learnt' is a past tense of a verb "To learn".

[This definition is taken from oxforddictionaries.com ]

But on large scale, people all over the world, are using the term 'Learned' as a past tense of "To learn".

[Edited at 2010-11-15 08:49 GMT]


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Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Finland
Local time: 22:19
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
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Right is what the natives say Nov 15, 2010

Grammar changes over the time. I agree that the examples are wrong grammatically, but if English natives start to speak and write like that then the rule is about to change and wrong becomes right.
There are many examples in history, e. g. the dative taking over the role of the genitive in modern German.
In Finnish you know someone speaking correct Finnish must be a foreigner or a Swedish native, Finnish natives just don't speak according to grammar.


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Daina Jauntirans  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:19
German to English
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I see what you are saying Nov 15, 2010

Nesrin wrote:

in: "One of the things that pain me..." there are several things that pain me, but I am only mentioning one of them.

Unlike the parenthetical phrases above, you can't take "of the things" out of the sentence. You would have to rephrase that to say: "One thing that pains me".

[Edited at 2010-11-14 23:40 GMT]


OK, I see what you're saying. Found this interesting explanation with a note at the bottom about exceptions to this rule (there always seems to be wiggle room somewhere):
http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/one.htm

As for "learned" vs. "learnt" - In US English, we do use "learned" to describe an erudite person, but "learned" is also the legitimate past tense of "to learn." I "learned" that "learnt" was British English.


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David Wright  Identity Verified
Austria
Local time: 21:19
German to English
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Grammar Nov 15, 2010

is the way people use the language. It is not something laid down in rules by self appointed guardians of the queens' english or whoever. Languages change all the time: i have no problem whatsoever with the structure complained of here, it strikes me as just as acceptable as using the appropriate plural.

While we're on the topic, there is of course one expression that always annoys me, namely "There's an expression that always annoys me" and equivalents, suggesting that the writer considers he or she has a superior kind of English that the hoi polloi always get wrong and that must for this erason be condemned.

Mind you, people asking for the bathroom when they mean the toilet ought to be made a capital offence!


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 20:19
Member (2007)
English
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Verily, dost thou speak correctly? Nov 15, 2010

Heinrich Pesch wrote:
Grammar changes over the time.


The language must evolve just as the native speakers evolve. We don't go around speaking the way Chaucer did, do we? (BTW, sorry if my title is all wrong - I'm getting on, but I'm not that old) Somewhere along the line his English became unusual if not downright incorrect.

I agree that the examples are wrong grammatically, but if English natives start to speak and write like that then the rule is about to change and wrong becomes right.


Swann, in his "Practical English Usage" bible for EFL teachers, says:

"Although [use of a singular verb] is not strictly correct ..., structures of this kind are very common in informal Engish.
Alice was one of the students that was/were late for the lecture"

In Finnish you know someone speaking correct Finnish must be a foreigner or a Swedish native, Finnish natives just don't speak according to grammar.


The same is true of many non-native speakers of English who have a very high level of fluency - their spoken English is somehow "too correct" - not that you can fault them for it but it just isn't English as I know it.


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Jenny Forbes  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:19
Member (2006)
French to English
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Strictly speaking Nov 15, 2010

Strictly speaking, Oliver. You are right. A singular subject should have a singular verb.
Along the same lines, one of the things that annoyS me IS the use of a plural verb with a singular collective noun, now almost universally adopted (on TV and in the papers, at least), e.g.:
The committee HAVE decided ...
The team ARE off to Australia ...
David Wright is right, too, that language evolves all the time - always has and always will, and it's fruitless to get annoyed about it, but I guess I'm entitled to be annoyed by things and to express my annoyance, however crusty and old-fashioned my feelings may be.
Ever crustily,
Jenny


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David Wright  Identity Verified
Austria
Local time: 21:19
German to English
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@ Jenny Nov 15, 2010

I was taught (back in the 50s when things like this were taught) that collective bodies like the government, the family, the team, the police can be, and in the case of the police, must be plural, particularly if one is considering it as a bunhc of individuals and not a body as a whole (and I confess I have taught this to learners for over 30 years). What I have noticed is that the plural form seems to be extending to cover cases where it is clearly a freference to the body as a whole rather than its individual member. This surprises me, but nothing in language change "annoys" me (except for people looking for the bathroom to have a pee - not sure where they were brought up to do such disgusting things!)

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Noni Gilbert
Spain
Local time: 21:19
Member (2007)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Dear Crusties Nov 15, 2010

I fight hard against my old-fashioned reactions to some modern developments which make structures which sound anathema to me acceptable (too painful to quote many, but a selection wd include sth about split infinitives and negative of used to...).

I too am a Michael Swan groupie, and tried to take it on the chin last year at a lecture when he explained that missing off the third person singular in the present simple is not an important error!

But it does boil down to what is being said = the norm = eventually the correct version, and if we don't like it, we'll have to lump it. However, I make that statement with an enormous proviso, and the proviso is that the language continue to be efficient. Does the new development make it more difficult to understand what is being said? If that is the case, then off with its head!

As for Oliver's original gripe over number agreement, my students often used to spot these contradictions, and I used to pacify them with talk of the irrestible lure of proximity - the plural word is closer to the verb and so imposes itself.

There are, however, still some uses up with which I shall not put.


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Rachel Fell  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:19
French to English
+ ...
bathroom use Nov 15, 2010

David Wright wrote:
nothing in language change "annoys" me (except for people looking for the bathroom to have a pee - not sure where they were brought up to do such disgusting things!)

Are you referring to this?
http://www.proz.com/forum/teaching_and_learning_languages/185303-i_need_to_go_to_the_loo_toilet.html


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xxxDesdemone
Local time: 16:19
French to English
But... Nov 15, 2010

David Wright wrote:

is the way people use the language. It is not something laid down in rules by self appointed guardians of the queens' english or whoever. Languages change all the time: i have no problem whatsoever with the structure complained of here, it strikes me as just as acceptable as using the appropriate plural.

While we're on the topic, there is of course one expression that always annoys me, namely "There's an expression that always annoys me" and equivalents, suggesting that the writer considers he or she has a superior kind of English that the hoi polloi always get wrong and that must for this erason be condemned.

Mind you, people asking for the bathroom when they mean the toilet ought to be made a capital offence!


You're being awfully prescriptive! (I would never say "where's the toilet?" Ugh. It's bathroom or washroom for me (and many if not most Canadians). We're asking for the location of the item, not the item itself.

My bugbears? People using lay instead of lie / good instead of well / "him and me" followed by verb.
Drives me nuts.
I'm all for language changing but....


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Romeo Mlinar  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 20:19
Member (2009)
English to Serbian
+ ...
References, "deep structure" & the BBC Nov 15, 2010

Oliver Walter wrote:
Your comments?
Oliver


Don't get me wrong Oliver, but you are so convinced that I believe there should be no problems whatsoever to cite the reference(s)?

Also, the BBC must have lower their standards... I wonder what would they say?

I'm with Sheila Wilson were, verily I am.


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