Grammatical Stumpers and Moral Indignation

Grammatical Stumpers and Moral Indignation

By Amy Einshohn
Author, The Copyeditor's Handbook

From the May 16, 2002 forum:
When the Word, Phrase, and Even the Sentence Are Not Quite Right

Edward D. Johnson, The Handbook of Good English (Washington Square Press, 1991), p. 416: [Some usage books] seem overanxious to find things in current usage to deplore; they might be said to uphold the Princess's English, because they complain about ever smaller peas under the mattress of generally accepted usage. Their air of moral indignation is not entirely inappropriate, since there is something shameful in the laziness and thoughtlessness of much public expression, but it makes their readers overanxious.

  1. When a manuscript contains a split infinitive
    1. I always reword.
    2. I warn the author ("this usage is controversial") and propose a rewrite.
    3. I reword only if the entire sentence (not the split infinitive per se) is awkward.

  2. Everyone . . . their (anyone . . . their; someone . . . their)
    1. I never allow these constructions.
    2. I follow the author's lead.
    3. I used to be, but am no longer, troubled by this usage.
    4. I prefer this solution to the generic he or strings of "his and her"s.

  3. Hopefully as a sentence adverb (Ex: Hopefully, the negotiations will lead to a truce)
    1. I never allow authors to use "hopefully" as a sentence adverb.
    2. I query this author ("this usage is controversial") and propose a rewrite.
    3. I have other fish to fry.

  4. One in nine Americans _____ in California. [lives/live/rewrite]

  5. One in five children _____ not covered by health insurance. [is/are/rewrite]

  6. The data ___ inconclusive. [is/are/choice depends on the context]


  7. Due to: adjective or compound preposition?
    1. The delays at the Denver airport were due to bad weather in Chicago.
    2. Planes were delayed at the Denver airport due to bad weather in Chicago.

  8. Fewer than and less than with percentages
    1. _________ 7 percent of professionals who apply pass our rigorous test. [Less than/Fewer than/rewrite]

  9. Is "e-mail" a count or noncount noun?
    1. We received twenty e-mails in response. We received many e-mails in response.
    2. We received twenty e-mail messages. We received much e-mail in response.

  10. Subject-verb agreement with "one of those who"
    1. She is one of those copyeditors who tries to rewrite around this construction.
    2. She is one of those copyeditors who try to rewrite around this construction.

  11. Commas with Inc.
    1. Placebo, Inc., is our principal supplier.
    2. Placebo, Inc. is our principal supplier.
    3. Placebo Inc. is our principal supplier.


Copyright 2004, Amy Einsohn.

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