Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Borg Grammar


Winter Scene in Brooklyn,
Francis Guy, 1820,
oil on canvas.

I think I screwed up recently.

And I don't think dialogue excuses it. Not in this case.

And Miss Emily Bustlewhistle, head of the Select Academy for Young Ladies and instructor in Grammatical Deportment, would not be pleased with her former student.

The collective noun.

I have Lillie say, "The family have requested this."

The rule for collective nouns and their verbal agreement explains that a collective noun takes a singular verb when the group is thought of and a plural verb when the individuals are thought of.

I did not comply.

One says "My history class has decided to visit the museum" -- because the decision is presented as coming from a singular body, a group, a collective.

One also says "My history class are discussing plans for the visit" -- because individuals are yapping about options involved.

I might have gotten away with " the family have" -- if it were a case where the requests (plural) came from individual family members. Unfortunately, earlier in my narrative, I have made it plain that the request arises from a single document, does not encompass a set of individual petitions, and implies a single spokesperson as the assimilated voice for said family.

I lacked cohesion, logic.


32 comments:

M.E Ellis said...

LOL

This is one of the hardest things to try and explain when editing--why there is a was instead of were, a has instead of have.

However, in dialogue, you'd get away with it because 'that is how she speaks' wink-wink.

:o)

SzélsőFa said...

Does it imply that the writing of writers with bad grammar tend to be mostly dialogues between undereducated people?
I don't think so :)))

BernardL said...

Duly noted. :)

Bernita said...

I could use that excuse, Michelle, but I don't think I should.

I don't quite understand your point, Szelsofa.
In conversation, even people who have a good grasp of grammar are sometimes careless, but I'd prefer not to be quite that authentic in this case.

It's a seat of the pants situation, Bernard.

StarvingWriteNow said...

I learned in a writing class ages ago to always read your stuff out loud because your ears will pick up errors/awkwardness that your eyes dismiss.

And, better to find errors in the crafting phase than be inundated with letters later on saying how you screwed this or that up.

Oh, and--don't beat yourself up. It happens. You are a fab writer.

Jaye Wells said...

Sadly, I'm not sure most people would hear the grammatical dissonance in that sentence. Good catch.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Starving.
Actually, the use of "has" or "have" may depend on context for family.
If I hadn't been so specific earlier, I could have used "have" with impunity.

Yes, it was, Jaye. Regretfully, not mine.
I dithered over the correct form and chose the wrong one by not thinking it through.

SzélsőFa said...

It was just an attempt to justify bad grammar of writers by suggesting that these writers mask their grammatical ignorance by constantly writing having characters with bad grammar.

I'm sorry it did not come through.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

wow, you're a grammar goddess!

Demon Hunter said...

I love grammar. Thanks for sharing, Bernita. This is why it's so great to read over everything. I had an English teacher who told us to read everything over, even just a quick note to your mother. It helped tremendously! :*)

Bernita said...

I thought that was what you meant, Szelsofa, but I wasn't sure. Thank you.
That's one way to get around shaky grammar, I suppose!

Be nice, SS.

The logic underneath and behind grammar is interesting,I agree, my Demon.

Robyn said...

Thanks. Now if I could only get that whole "lie, lay" thing I'd be set.

Wavemancali said...

Burn Her! Put her on the stake. Fetch the kindling.

Ooooo grammar mistake you say? I thought you said witchcraft... nothing to see here, go about your business. Good day to you Bernita.

raine said...

(Raine, breaking out the cat-o'-nine-tails...)
You are so hard on yourself! I know that feeling...

Miss Bustlewhistle?
I am SO stealing that name, lol!

Bernita said...

Eh, Robyn!
Of lie and lay I have a pretty good grasp, other stuff, sometimes...

I wear the demon mark, Wavemancali.

Bernita said...

Nothing teaches like an example of wrongdoing, Raine.
But I should have known better. I'm a good girl gone bad.

Charles Gramlich said...

I prescribe twenty lashes with a wet noodle.

Bernita said...

~whimpers~

Lana Gramlich said...

"Winter Scene in Brooklyn" 2008 certainly wouldn't be so romatically wonderful. Thanks for sharing.

Bernita said...

Lana,painting has a certain everyday-life, Brueghel quality, to my untutored eyes.
Apparently it's also one of those paintings valued as a historical resource.
It seems that a book by one Henry Styles ( History of the City of Brooklyn) put out in 1898, identifies the buildings and many of the figures.

Ello said...

It's ok Bernita. Completely excusable grammatical error, have/has done it meself many a time! But the one that I am deeply ashamed of myself is my utter stupidity in grasping the then/than distinction properly. I know than is always for comparison and yet I find myself time after time making the same stupid mistake. I need a lashing.

spyscribbler said...

Hey, thanks for the lesson! I didn't know that. Or if I did, it was only on a subconscious level, which is where most of my knowledge of grammar lives.

Bernita said...

Hey, Ello ( and others) I'm not upset. I long ago accepted that fact that at times my brain will be out to lunch and I'll screw up on finer points.
I just though it might illustrate one of those grammatical mouse-traps that English sets for us. Maybe save someone's fingers.

Bernita said...

Most of my knowledge does too, Natasha, but every now and then I find it helpful to review the guidelines, especially the equivocal cases, to bring it back to a conscious level.
Internet can rot your brain after seeing repetitive examples of it done wrong.

The Anti-Wife said...

Oh, my God, Bernita! Shame on you. Is that a kink in your armor?

Bernita said...

Absolutely, AW.
Completely shot.

Church Lady said...

Bernita's collective verb skill set is/are worth twenty lashes with chocolate-covered noodles.

:-)

Sam said...

I get caught with these collective nouns too. It's a tricky thing. Almost as bad as lay, lie, laid, lain.
:-)

Vesper said...

You're too harsh on yourself, Bernita - after all, it was you who caught it...
Thank you for the lesson! :-)

Bernita said...

Have been into the ferrero rochers ever since, Chris.

Sam, I find them worse.

Sad thing is, Vesper, I didn't really. I wondered, but someone else caught it.

Rachel said...

You could always say you were using British grammar. That was a perfectly correct sentence in British English as they don't have the collective noun rule. A headline from a local paper in Bahrain, where I live: "Bahrain team gear up for Asian handball clash." (Bahrain was a former British colony and is bilingual: English and Arabic.)

Bernita said...

Thank you, Rachel.
Nevertheless, in Rome...