March 30, 2015

Subject-verb Agreement with Linking Verbs



A sentence like "His greatest source of pride is cars" sounds weird verging on wrong. But there's an easy way to ensure these sentences matching singular and plural things are grammatical.

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Excruciating Differences in Editing Styles
Posted by June on March 30, 2015


Learning copy editing can be hard because there are so many little rules that, in the real world don't matter, but in editing do. For example, in editing, there are strict rules on when to use "that" and "which" that don't apply in the real world. However these words come naturally to you is probably right.

It's even harder when you have to learn two or three different editing styles because the styles can disagree on how you do certain things. Case in point: spacing around dashes. In Chicago editing style, a dash (meaning an em dash or a long dash) should touch the word on either side of it, with no spaces in between. But the Associated Press Stylebook specifies the opposite: a dash should have a space on either side.

Styles also have different rules on the serial comma, also known as the Oxford comma, which is the comma before "and" in a list like "red, white, and blue." Chicago says to include that last comma, but AP's style is to always omit it: "red, white and blue."

But the hardest thing about working in multiple editing styles is that they use different dictionaries as arbiters of all matters not covered in the style guide. As a result, there are countless points on which they could differ and you just can't know what they are until you look them up. "Healthcare"/"health care" is the quintessential example. AP's designated dictionary, Webster's New World College Dictionary, has it as one word. That means you can "healthcare" as a noun or even as an adjective, as in "a healthcare policy." But Merriam-Webster's Collegiate, which Chicago uses, says "health care" is two words. So that's how you write it as a noun. But, in keeping with the hyphenation rules that say to put a hyphen in compound modifiers (think: two-word adjectives), "health-care" does take a hyphen when modifying a noun: a health-care policy.

Maybe someday everyone will be on the same page. Until then, I'll just try to stay sane.


June Casagrande is a writer and journalist whose weekly grammar/humor column, “A Word, Please,” appears in community newspapers in California, Florida, and Texas. more

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  • A Reminder About "John and I" vs. "John and Me"

    June Laura: The choice between "I" and "me" depends on the sentence structure, and your example isn't a sentence. It's just some nouns. So either "Marsha, John, and I" or "Marsha, John, and Me" could be correct. It's when a verb is present -- or even implied -- that the rules kick in. If the photo caption is an implied way of saying, "Marsha, John, and I visited the Eiffel Tower," then you need a subject for the verb "visited." And because "I" is the subject form, it would be correct in this context. In "The Eiffel Tower dwarfs Marsha, John, and me," the object pronoun "me" is correct because it's the object of the verb. But there's a twist here: A truncated photo caption like this might be understood to mean "HERE ARE Marsha, John, and I/me," and that structure is a weird one. Think about "Here we are" then flip it into "Here are we." That's kind of what a photo caption might mean. And note that, while this works with "we" (a subject), it doesn't work with "us" (an object). Here we are. not here us are. So subject pronouns like "we" and "I" make more grammatical sense here. However, to follow this rule to the letter would be a bit like saying, "Laura is taller than I" in casual conversation. Grammatical, sure. Natural, not really. So grammatically, if the caption is a truncated way of saying "Here are Marsha, John, and I/me," you can choose either. "I" would make a bit more syntactical sense, but "me" would probably be more natural. And that's the form I'd use in almost every casual situation: Marsha, John, and Me.

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    laura Which is correct in a situation such as a caption to a photo labeled "Marsha, John, and I"? It looks odd to me, and I think "I" should perhaps be "me," but I can't find any proof. If I turn it into a sentence it should be me?[This photo shows] Marsha, John, and me. What do you think?

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    June Jim: That was my summary of how I see it done and some in-house policies I've known about. I don't see it cited in the AP guide, either.

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    Ken That's why copy editors would do well to actually read classic literature and not limit their efforts to "two passes of a text". What you speak of is a palpable distinction familiar to anyone who is not a stranger to the great works of literature. Unfortunately, this has become a minority group, as the bite-sized culture takes firm hold.

  • 'Born Of' or 'Borne Of'

    burp Your test relies on the correctness of Helen Reddy's spelling. I found 373M hits on Google for "man born of woman", and only 25M hits for "man borne of woman", but one of those 25M hits is Job 14:1 (1611 King James Bible): "Man that is borne of a woman, is of few dayes, and full of trouble."