Thursday, August 29, 2019

poor subject-verb agreement

John McCrarey, in his most recent post (which features a slyly exposed dick among its many photos, so be warned), linked over to Ann Althouse's blog, which is currently showing a post in which is embedded a grammatically flawed letter from Forrest Maltzman, the George Washington University provost. At one point, Maltzman writes:

Our commitment to academic freedom and free speech are integral to GW's mission.
I winced. An educated man really ought to know better. Subject-verb agreement (SVA) is fundamental in European languages, which are all highly conjugated. The form of the verb depends on the person (first, second, third—I, you, he/she/it/one) and the number (singular, plural) of the subject. The simple subject of the above sentence is the third-person singular "commitment," and the simple predicate ought to be the verb "is," but as you see, Provost Maltzman fell into the trap of looking at the two objects of the first preposition "to" and thinking that those two objects were, in fact, the sentence's subject. Analyze the sentence this way, putting subject and predicate closer together:
Our commitment... IS integral to GW's mission.
This sort of grammatical analysis isn't that hard, and it becomes a reflex once you start practicing it routinely. Remember to ignore prepositional phrases (as well as parenthetical expressions surrounded by commas and em dashes) when trying to determine subject-verb agreement in English. Got that, Mr. Provost?

One other SVA rule regarding correlative conjunctions like "either... or" and "neither... nor" is that SVA is determined by the subject that's physically closer to the verb.
"Neither Jack nor his dogs are very tasty," muttered Thrag, disappointed.
Either Tom's evil sisters or Tom himself is bringing the sandpaper dildo.
More SVA rules:

Compound subjects (e.g., "Bill and Ted") are grammatically plural.
Candi and Toni have the clap, alas.
"Both... and" constructions are also plural.
No one mentions the fact that both Candi and Toni are lepers.
The expressions "a lot of + [plural noun]" and "a number of + [plural noun]" are treated as plural subjects. These are exceptional cases: the same doesn't go for, say, "a group of" or "a family of," both of which are treated as singular.
A lot of Antifa cunts were at the rally.
A number of squirrels have expressed an interest in your vibrator.
A group of Vikings is quietly snoring and farting in the corner.
An adorable family of otters was recently eaten by our mini dachshund.
Trivia: in British English, many collective nouns and company/organization names are treated as plural. Collective nouns are generally singular in US English.
My crew are being rescued?
Ford are experiencing a drop in stock prices.
"Chunks" of normally countable units, expressed as a single unit, are grammatically singular.
Three years is a long time to have an erection.
Ten meters is impressive when it comes to how far she squirts.
Gerund phrases taken as a single nominal (noun) "chunk" are treated as singular, but can be grouped into plural compound subjects:
Licking your girlfriend's nipples from ten feet away is quite an achievement. (singular)
Stamping on a leprechaun and mud-wrestling a fairy are not the same thing! (plural)
Some practice for you: figure out which of the following sentences have poor SVA.

1. The story of his three testicles make for quite an interesting read.
2. Sam—as well as his friends Lucy and Jenna—isn't coming to the orgy.
3. Each of the breasts you see, whether you examine the breasts singly or collectively, is a delightful horror of plastic surgery.
4. Neither my asshole nor my other holes is available for my lady-love's delectation tonight.
5. The mice of the infinite multiverse are, on average, far more intelligent than the relatively retarded mice that have the misfortune of living on Earth.

Answers [highlight the text to see]:
1. The story...makes (incorrect)
2. Sam... isn't coming (correct)
3. Each... is a delightful horror (correct)
4. other holes are available (incorrect)
5. The mice...are (correct)

There are other SVA rules, but they're a bit more obscure, nuanced, and pedantic (e.g., how US English deals with the singularity/plurality of collective nouns like "team"). The above rules all deal with fairly common, everyday situations.


John Mac said...

Thanks for the lesson, I'm sure I get SVA wrong with some frequency, along with my other grammatical sins.

One quibble with your quiz: Shouldn't #2 be "Sam isn't cumming..."?
By the way, it was really cool how you were able to hide the text like that.

Kevin Kim said...

To hide the text, it's simply a matter of changing the font color to white.

I don't think "cumming to the orgy" makes sense. If Sam is at the orgy, and he stands on a platform and spoos gleefully over all the other participants, he could be said to "cum ON the orgy," but that's about as close as I can get to making that idea make sense.

John Mac said...

Eh, it was funny in my head. If I went to an orgy I would hope to be cumming... Yeah, I know. Thousands of comedians out of work and I'M trying to be funny.