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For English teachers, scholars, fusspots, and others

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  1. #1

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    For English teachers, scholars, fusspots, and others

    Someone wrote this comment: "I think the biggest peeve of mine here is that people have no sense of others around them." I replied with the following post:

    People understand intuitively how much space they are taking up - but not how much space their rucksack is taking up.
    Later, I realised that I had changed from the plural People understand ... they are taking ... their to the singular rucksack is. Why did I do that?

    I consulted a book I often use, A Dictionary of Modern American Usage by Bryan A. Garner. He says that this "seeming sloppiness" is particularly common in British English (my English) and is afraid it is going to invade American English. He quotes several examples; this one is with his corrections: "In school, seats are not assigned, yet students tend to sit in the same seats or nearly the same each time, and sometimes feel vaguely resentful if someone else gets [read others get] there first and takes 'their' seat [read take 'their' seats]."

    In the last few days I have heard this pattern twice. I heard myself say to Mrs R.O. that we shouldn't do something "in case we change our mind." I heard someone on a radio programme say, "Many new mothers are frightened they'll harm their baby."

    In my original sentence, about people with rucksacks, I think that while writing my mental image changed from people in general to a single person with a rucksack; so the singular was emotionally right but grammatically wrong. Perhaps this explains the other examples.
    TigerSun, jgl and bookblogger like this.

  2. #2

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    Just to express an opinion, I should say it is unnecessary grammar fussiness. Some prescriptivists tend to forget that grammar is not mathematics. The first example perfectly conveys people in general and then each individual (as does the example of new mothers). Changing our mind implies we are of one mind. Information would be lost through insisting on enforcing plurals all the way through. The way you and Mrs R.O. are inclined to speak conveys your meaning more precisely. IMHO

    R.O., shri and HK_Katherine like this.

  3. #3

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    The Queen's English

    In her Christmas message, the Queen pronounced "often" orphan: " ... help victims of Ebola, orphan at great personal risk."



    The King's English

    In one of his broadcasts, George VI used the phrase "from the depths of my heart", to avoid the word "bottom".

  4. #4

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    If you really want to drive yourself insane, keep a look out for the use of 'less' instead of 'fewer' for countable nouns.

    Less people, less marks, less reasons, etc.

    I had to teach the rule to my young HK students, and since then I've found these errors invading my eyes and ears from all angles... Broadsheet newspapers, BBC podcasts, even on good old Geoexpat.

    Oh, and if there are any grammatical errors in my above post, feel free to ignore them


  5. #5

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    Oh and I am in agreeness with guitarist. Language is evolving, and it should be mentioned that the 'rules' of English grammar only came about by coincidence, and aren't in any way optimal. At the time when English was standardised, there were hundreds of greatly varying dialects, the remains of which can still be seen in colloquial language.

    Check the eWave atlas to see just how much variety there is:

    http://ewave-atlas.org/languages

    Last edited by justjoe86; 27-12-2014 at 10:23 AM.
    R.O. likes this.

  6. #6

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    Obviously, you need a Rechtschreibrefrmchen.


  7. #7

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    Less people, less marks, less reasons, etc.
    I had to teach the rule to my young HK students
    Those poor students had to learn less money but fewer coins but less than $10.


    - - - - - - - -


    Rechtschreibrefrmchen
    Speling riform? The Jermans rijektid it, didn't thay?

  8. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by R.O.
    Those poor students had to learn less money but fewer coins but less than $10.


    - - - - - - - -




    Speling riform? The Jermans rijektid it, didn't thay?
    Indeed, but in fairness the HK students get to grips with it pretty well. Mostly, that 'error' is made by native English speakers. I expect the language may evolve and it may become acceptable usage one day.

  9. #9

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    takes 'their' seat
    Perfectly acceptable use in English.

    Collins Dictionary: their: belonging to or associated in some way with an indefinite antecedent such as one, whoever, or anybody

    Cambridge Dictionary: their: used to refer to one person in order to avoid saying "his or her"
    moberndorf likes this.

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by Claire ex-ax
    Perfectly acceptable use in English.

    Collins Dictionary: their: belonging to or associated in some way with an indefinite antecedent such as one, whoever, or anybody

    Cambridge Dictionary: their: used to refer to one person in order to avoid saying "his or her"
    He's talking about how he changed from talking about people (plural) to a person (singular).

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