ERRORS IN USING NOUNS
Errors in the use of nouns can be classified conveniently under the following headings: (1) errors in agreement with verbs; (2) errors in the use of plurals; (3) errors in case.
This section treats errors in agreement and in plurals; errors in case are treated under a separate heading.
Errors in agreement with verbs can be avoided by determining the noun or pronoun which is the true subject of the verb and then determining whether it is singular or plural. An important rule to remember is:
A verb agrees with its subject in number and in person. If the subject (the noun or the pronoun) is first person singular, the verb must be first person singular. For example,
Chirnjibi is the coordinator. I am the chairperson.
- Determining the Real Subject
The following sentences illustrate the errors that arise when the true subject of the verb is not determined.
Wrong A box of apples are on the table.
Right A box of apples is on the table. (Right because the subject in the sentence is singular ‘a box’. So the auxiliary verb ‘is’ agrees with the subject.)
Wrong Agenda were not thoroughly discussed in the meeting. (Wrong because the word ‘agenda’ was borrowed from Latin. In old English singular form the word is agendum and agenda was used as a plural form, but not it is outdated.)
Right Agendas were thoroughly discussed in the meeting.
Wrong He and I am very happy at the moment. (Wrong because we there are two pronouns before the verb, so the subject of the sentence is plural. The auxiliary verb ‘am’ does not agree with the plural subject.)
Right He and I are very happy at the moment.
- Collective Nouns
Frequently there are situations wherein two or more persons, objects, or ideas which are otherwise singular combine to make a collective thought. For example, in the sentence
Apekshya and Anjana at the same table is unthinkable.
The noun ‘Apekshya’ and ‘Anjana’ constitute a collective thought. Hence, the singular verb ‘is’ rather than the plural verb ‘are’ is used.
The important point to be noted is that the collective idea requires a singular verb.
Wrong Soup and salad are too light a lunch. (Wrong because the words ‘soup and salad’ represent a collective idea.)
Right Soup and salad is too light a lunch.
Wrong Playing the guitar and singing simultaneously are difficult.
Right Playing the guitar and singing simultaneously is difficult.
- Subject joined by the Conjunction ‘or’ and ‘as well as’
When two nouns or pronouns acting as the subjects of a verb are joined by the conjunction ‘or’, the second noun or pronoun governs the choice of the verb. For example,
Farsha or I am to shovel the snow.
They or he is to occupy the first table.
The reason for this rule is that the conjunction ‘or’ really makes two sentences. The first sentence above, for instance, actually states
Farsha is to shovel the snow or I am to shovel the snow.
Akhil as well as his friends is going on a tour. Unlike in the previous sentence, the first noun ‘Akhil’ governs the choice of the verb. Hence, we have to use a singular verb.
Jeevan’s classmates as well as his girlfriend have collected a sum of 5 thousand rupees.
- Pronouns ‘you’ and ‘we’
We and plural you (but not other personal pronouns like I, he, she, it , you (singular), they) can be put directly before nouns.
We men must respect women’s rights.
You girls should not underestimate yourselves.
I woman know the importance of women’s rights.
They guys are discussing an issue.
- Collective nouns in UK and US English
In UK English, singular words like family, team, government, which refers to groups of people, can have either singular or plural verbs and pronouns.
The team is/are going to win.
Plural forms are common when the group is seen as a collection of people doing personal things like deciding, hoping or wanting. Singular forms are more common when the group is seen as an impersonal unit. Compare:
My family have decided to move to Pokhara. (considering individual family member)
My family has decided to move to Pokhara. (as a whole)
Many native speakers prefer who as a relative pronoun with plural forms, and which with singular forms.
The committee, which is elected at the annual meeting, is going to announce important changes.
The committee, who are hoping to announce important changes, are pressed by the opponent party.
Some examples of collective nouns.
bank committee government public the BBC Nepal football
team jury school choir ministry staff
class family orchestra team club firm
In US English, plural verbs are rarely used.
- Countable and uncountable nouns
Countable nouns are the names of separate objects, people, ideas etc which can be counted. We can use numbers and the article a/an with countable nouns; they have plurals.
a goat a newspaper four dogs two magazines
Uncountable (or mass nouns) nouns are the names of materials, liquids, abstract qualities, s, collection and other things which we see as masses without clear boundaries, and not as separate objects. We cannot use numbers with uncountable nouns, and most are singular with no plurals. We do not normally use a/an with uncountable nouns though there are some exceptions. For example,
We need a receptionist with a first-class knowledge of English. (knowledge (an abstract noun) has been defined by an adjective ‘first-class’.
She has always had a deep distrust of strangers.
The new child shows a surprising understanding of adult behavior.
My parents wanted me to have a good education.
You have been a great help.
My child needs a good sleep.
Can we have two coffees, please?
We have a selection of fine wines at very good prices.
- Often we can make an uncountable word countable by putting ‘a piece of or a similar expression in front of it.
Wrong Shambhu never listens to an advice.
Right Can I give you a piece of advice?
Here are some other examples of general/particular pairs. (Note that some words that are uncountable in English have countable equivalents in other languages. )
accommodation a place to live
baggage an item/piece of baggage
bread a piece/load of bread
chess a game of chess
chewing gum a piece of chewing gum
chocolate a bar of chocolate
corn an ear of corn
dust a speck of dust
equipment a piece of equipment
furniture a piece/article of furniture
grass a blade of grass
information a piece of information
knowledge a fact
lightning a flash of lightning
luck a piece/bit/stroke of luck
luggage a piece/item of luggage
money a note; a coin; a sum
news a piece/item of news
paper a sheet of paper
poetry a poem
progress a step forward; an advance
publicity an advertisement
research a piece of research; an experiment
rubbish a piece of rubbish
soap a bar of soap
slang a slang word/expression
thunder a clap of thunder
traffic cars, buses, etc
vocabulary a word/expression
wind a gust of wind
work a job; a piece; a stroke of work
Note that when uncountable noun are used as plurals, their meanings can vary in different contexts.
Excuse me, give me two papers. (newspapers)
My friend, who is an author, has been famous because of the latest works. (books)
The names of illnesses are usually singular uncountable in English, including those endings in –s.
If you have already measles, you can’t get it again.
The words for some minor ailments are countable: e.g. a cold, a sore throat, a headache. However, toothache, earache, stomach-ache and backache are usually uncountable in UK English. In US English, these words are generally countable if they refer to particular attacks of pain. Compare:
I’ve got toothache. (UK)
I have a toothache. (US)
- Plural Nouns Misused as Singulars
Following is a list of nouns that are always plural. While many of these nouns are commonly misused as singulars by giving them singular verbs, they are plural. Therefore, they require plural verbs.
annals nuptials snippers
ashes oats spectacles
billiards obsequies suds
clothes pants thanks
dregs pliers thongs
eaves pincers tongs
entrails proceeds trousers
goods remains tweezers
leavings riches victuals
lees scissors vitals
links shears wages
Wrong My scissors is not very sharp.
Right My scissors are not very sharp.
Wrong I would like to buy a pant.
Right I would like to buy pants/ a pair of pants.
- Singulars Misused as Plurals
acoustics hydromechanics phonics
aeronautics linguistics physics
alms magnetic pneumatics
analytics mathematics poetics
athletics means (wealth or way) politics
bellows measles spherics
comics metaphysics statics
dynamics molasses statistics
economics mumps tactics
esthetics news United States
ethics optics whereabouts
Right The acoustics of the two buildings are sharply different.
Right The athletics of the school are football, basketball, and volleyball.
Wrong The politics of the three brothers is sharply different. (Wrong because ‘politics’ in this sentence means political beliefs.)
Note: some of the above words can be plural on rather unusual occasions. For example, some words ending in –ics (e.g. politics, statistics) can also have plural uses.
What are your politics? But Politics is a complicated business.
The unemployment statistics are disturbing. But statistics is useful in language testing.
- Plural Same as Singular
Some words ending in –s do not change in plural. Common examples:
Singular Plural Singular Plural
barracks barracks headquarters headquarters
series series works (factory) works
crossroads crossroads means means
species species Swiss Swiss
- Dated Words
Some words borrowed from other languages are on the verge of extinction. These words exist only in old dictionaries and old books. They are no longer used in modern English. Some of the words are as follows:
accomplished well trained
agendum This word is a Latin word. Agendum is the matter of business to be discussed, especially at a meeting or a list of things.
albeit It is a conjunction. It is can be used instead of the word ‘although’.
ale Ale is used especially in trade names. It is a type of beer, usually sold in bottles or cans.
alms This word is always used in plural form. Its meaning is money, clothes, food, etc given to poor people.
Amerindian Amerindian refers to Native American. This word is no longer used in modern English.
asylum An asylum is a hospital for the care of mentally ill people.
beanfeast It is also spelled beano. Beanfeast is a happy celebration or party in the UK.
beget When you beget someone, you father him or her.
bloomer a serious mistake
bounty Bounty is an uncountable noun. Bounty is money which is given generously as a gift or a reward.
breast(V) Breast something means to touch something with one’s breast.
chaff tease or joke at someone
cobbler A cobbler is a person who repairs shoes. In modern English, it is polite to say a shoe maker.
deflower When you deflower someone, you break her virginity. This word no longer is used in modern English.
dice This word is originally the plural of die, which is not now often used in this sense; in modern English ‘dice’ is generally used as both singular and plural.
data This word is originally the plural form of datum, which is not now used. In modern English data can be used either as an uncountable noun or as a plural with no difference of meaning. But some Indian grammarians use it as a countable noun. For example, a data shows….
fish This word has a rare plural fishes, but the normal plural is fish.
game One of the meanings of this word is ‘a person’s leg which is permanently injured. Nowadays we rather use other alternatives like lame (offensive), physically challenged or differently abled, etc.
goose a foolish person
gramophone A gramophone is a record player which can be seen in old films.
jailer A jailer is a person who is in charge of a prison or
mite very small amount
prisoners. A criminal
media This word is originally the plural of medium. The plural expression the media (meaning radio, TV, newspapers, the internet…’) is now quite often used as uncountable noun with a singular verb.
motor a car
natty It is an adjective. A natty dresser is neat and fashionable.
nay It is an adverb. ‘Nay’ means more than that; and indeed.
obliged We feel obliged to express thanks or making a polite request
pleasure You are free to come and go at your pleasure. (desire)
rascal A dishonest and bad person, especially a child who likes playing tricks.
retarded If a child is retarded, they are slower in development than others.
scold to talk angrily to someone
spectacles This word has already been old-fashioned. Instead of this word, we nowadays use glasses.
trousseau Clothes and other possessions collected by a bride to begin married life with someone.
usurer an usurer is a person who lends money at excessively high rates of interest.
unseemly not suitable behaviour
zephyr a soft gentle wind
- Common Fixed Expressions
We use ‘do’ in the informal structure do….ing, to talk about activities that take a certain time, or are repeated (for example jobs and hobbies). There is usually a determiner (e.g. the, my, some, much) before the –ing form.
During the holidays I’m going to do some walking and a lot of reading.
Let your fingers do the walking. (advertisement for telephone shopping)
Note that the verb after do cannot have an object in this structure.
I’m going to watch some TV. (NOT I’m going to do some watching TV.)
But ‘do’ can be used with a compound noun that includes verb+object.
I want to do some bird-watching this weekend.
It’s time I did some letter-writing.
We sometimes use ‘do’ in place of make, to sound casual about a creative activity—as if we are not claiming to produce any very special results.
What shall we eat?—well, I could do an omelette.
- Common Fixed Expressions
Do good do harm do business do one’s best do a favour
do sport do exercise do one’s hair do one’s teeth do one’s duty
do 40 mph
make a journey make an offer make arrangements
make a suggestion make a decision make an attempt make an effort make an excuse make an exception make a mistake make(a)noise make a call make money make a profit
make a fortune make love make peace make war make a bed make a fire make progress
- Typical Expressions (Informal)
Have breakfast/ lunch / supper / dinner / tea / coffee / a drink / a meal
Have a bath / a wash / a shave / shower
Have a rest / a lie-down / a sleep / a dream
Have a good time / a bad day / a nice evening / a day off / a holiday
Have a good journey / flight / trip etc.
Have a talk / a chat / a word with somebody / a conversation / a disagreement / a row / a quarrel / a fight
Have a swim / a walk / a ride / a dance / a game of tennis etc
Have a try / a go
Have a look
Have a baby (give birth)
Have difficulty/ trouble in………ing
Have an accident / an operation / a nervous breakdown
Note: US English take a bath / shower / rest / swim / walk.
Have can also be used to mean ‘receive’ (e.g. I’ve had a phone call from Subhash.)
ERRORS IN USING PRONOUNS
Errors in the use of pronouns can be classified conveniently under the following headings: (1) errors in agreement with verbs; (2) errors arising with the use of antecedents; (3) errors in case; and (4) miscellaneous errors.
The basic rules for agreement of subject and verb which were treated in the preceding section on Errors in Nouns should be reviewed because they pertain to pronouns also. Errors in case are covered under a separate heading. This section, therefore, treats errors in agreement with verbs that pertain only to pronouns; errors arising with the use of antecedents; and miscellaneous errors.
One of the most important rules to remember in regard to errors in agreement of pronouns serving as subjects is the one stated on previous page.
A source of genuine difficulty in handling pronouns lies in the fact that some are always singular; some are always plural; some may be either singular or plural. The following discussion treats common errors in agreement of pronouns.
After expressions like one of the…..singular and plural verbs are both used in relative clauses beginning who, which or that.
Simran is one of the few girls who has/have been crowned Miss Chelsea.
This is one of those horror books that are/is read by everyone.
‘One of’ is always followed by a plural noun.
One of the movies I have recently watched is Titanic.
Strictly speaking, a plural verb is preferred.
I. Indefinite Pronouns
Pronouns like everyone, all, someone, nobody, everybody etc are singular. In using these pronouns, one must always be careful to make the verb agree, and the one must also make any pronoun substituted for one of them singular.
Someone was shouting at a beggar.
Everyone was praising the dancer.
Wrong Everyone accepted his/her responsibilities.
Right Everyone accepted their responsibilities. (Right because everyone means all.)
Wrong Nobody was late, was he/she?
Right Nobody was late, were they?
This singular use of they / them / there is convenient when the person referred to could be either male or female (as in the examples above). He or she, him or her and his or her are clumsy, especially when repeated, and many native speakers of English dislike the traditional use of he / she / his in this situation.
II. None, all, some—use of as Pronouns
The words ‘none’, ‘all’, ‘some’, used as pronouns may be singular or plural, according to their meaning.
Wrong All I have left are a few books.
Right All I have left is a few books. (‘all’ represents, in essence, a collective idea.)
Right Some of the roof was torn away from the wall. (some as uncountable pronoun)
Right Some of the politicians are planning a reunion. (some as countable pronoun)
Right None of my friends is overweight. (formal)
Right None of my friends are overweight. (informal)
Right Neither of us sings a song. (formal)
A pronoun must agree with its antecedent in number, gender, and person. (The term ‘antecedent’ means the noun or the pronoun to which a later pronoun refers.)
Suman is one of beautiful girls who have a sweet voice. (In this sentence, the pronoun ‘who’ directly agrees with ‘girls’ not ‘Suman’. In other words, all of the girls including Suman have a sweet voice. So the antecedent in the sentence is ‘girls’. If an emphasis is laid on only Suman, we have to select a singular verb.
Suman is one of the beautiful girls who has a sweet voice. (In this sentence, we place emphasis on only Suman.) Unlike in the past, in modern English, both singular and plural verbs are accepted.
Wrong It is I who is next.
Right It is I who am next.
Right It is me who am next. (informal)
Both pronouns are correct. When you address a second person, you might use one of these two reflexive pronouns. If you are addressing only a one, use yourself. But if you are addressing more than one, use yourselves.
Please serve a meal by yourself.
Please solve the problem by yourselves.
In days past, authorities did not permit the use of the pronoun ‘whose’ in any instance where it did not refer to a person. Now, there is almost no opposition to its use in many instances where its antecedent is an inanimate object.
This is a newspaper whose circulation has risen rapidly. (The antecedent of ‘whose’ is the inanimate object ‘newspaper.’)
This is the newspaper the circulation of which has risen rapidly. (Rather formal)
This is the chair whose two legs are cracked. (Acceptable)
This is the chair two legs of which are cracked. (Very formal)
ERRORS IN CASE
Many errors in usage stem from a lack of knowledge of case. The term ‘case’ actually means the relationship of a noun or a pronoun to another word in the sentence. If, for instance, a non or a pronoun is serving as the subject of a verb, it is said to be in the ‘nominative case.’ If it is serving as the object of the verb, it is said to be in the ‘objective case.’
So as to comprehend case, one should remember three basic facts: (1) every noun and every pronoun is in one of three cases—nominative, objective, possessive; (2) the case of a noun or a pronoun is determined purely by its function; (3) the so-called ‘rules’ for case involve simply the recognition of the function of the noun or the pronoun.
Before one can determine the function of nouns of pronouns, he must learn to divide sentences into elements, for only in this way can he see function clearly. The term ‘element’ means a natural grouping of words—usually the verb and every word related to it.
The following are the pronouns for the three cases.
Nominative Case Objective Case Possessive Case
I me my
you you your
she her her
he him his
it its its
we us our
they them their
who whom whose
1) We often use object forms in double subjects in informal speech.
Jeevan and me are going canoeing this weekend.
Me and the kids spent Saturday at the swimming pool.
‘Us’ is sometimes used as a subject together with a noun.
Us men understand these things better than you men.
And ‘I’ is often used informally in double objects.
Between you and I, I think his marriage is in trouble.
That’s a matter for Amit and I.
2) It is considered polite to mention oneself last in double subjects or objects.
Why don’t you and I go hiking for the weekend? (NOT Why don’t I and you………….?)
3) When a relative clause comes after an expression like It is/was me/I, there are two possibilities:
Object form + that (very informal)
It’s me that needs your help.
Subject form + who (very formal)
It is I who need your help.
He who does not socialize with others is avoided by other people. (Exists in old English)
The person who does not socialize with other is avoided by other people. (modern English)
4) Gerunds—Modified by Possessive
A ‘gerund’ is the ‘ing’ form of a verb used as a noun, e.g., ‘running’, ‘swimming,’ ‘dancing,’. If the gerund is to be modified by a noun or a pronoun (which really becomes an adjective in this instance), the noun or the pronoun must be in the possessive case if it stands for a person.
Wrong Father objected to Manisha singing.
Right Father objected to Manisha’s singing.
Wrong We were not impressed by him speaking softly.
Right We were not impressed by his speaking softly.
ERRORS IN USING VERBS
The principal errors in the use of verbs can be classified logically under the following headings: (1) errors in agreement with subject; (2) errors in tense; (3) errors in voice; (4) errors in mood; and (6) miscellaneous errors.
Errors in agreement are treated under the section on ‘Errors in Using Nouns’. This section treats the other principal classifications. To speak one’s English one must be well conversant with the irregular forms of verbs. It is also known as strong verbs. Below are listed the three forms, i.e., the principal parts, of verbs most likely to present difficulty:
Present Past Past Participle
beat beat beaten (beat in the US)
bet bet, betted bet, betted
bid (offer) bid bid
bid (command) bade bidden
broadcast broadcast broadcast
(broadcasted in the US) (broadcasted in the US)
burn burnt, burned in the US burnt, burned in the US
bust bust, busted (US) bust, busted (US)
dive dived, dove (US) dived
dream dreamt, dreamed dreamt, dreamed
dwell dwelt, dwelled dwelt, dwelt
forecast forecast, forecasted forecast, forecasted
get got got, gotten (US)
hang (kill someone) hanged hanged
hang (to fasten) hung hung
input input, inputted input, inputted
kneel knelt, kneeled knelt, kneeled
lean leaned, leant lean, leant
leap leaped, leapt leaped, leapt
learn learned, learnt learned, learnt
let let, letted let, letted
lie lay, lied lain, lied
light lit, lighted lit, lighted
mow mowed mown, mowed
plead pleaded, pled (US) pleaded, pled (US)
prove proved, proven (US) proved, proven (US)
saw sawed sawn, sawed (US)
sew sewed sewn, sewed
shear sheared shown, showed
sow sowed sown, sowed
speed sped, speeded sped, speeded
spit spat, spit (US) spat, spit (US)
stink stank, stunk (US) stunk
strive strove, strived striven, strived
swell swelled swollen, swelled
weave wove, weaved woven, weaved
wet wet, wetted wet, wetted
Shifts of Tense
Many non-native speakers of English cannot maintain consistency in their use of tense; they must be very careful while shifting tense.
Wrong: I told my teachers that I will be a good citizen.
Right: I told my teachers that I would be a good citizen. (Right because I am talking about the past action.)
Wrong: I should have liked to have heard Sabin Rai sing. (Wrong because the two present perfect constructions create a conflict that cannot be resolved.)
Right: I should like to have heard Sabin Rai sing. (Right because action of ‘liking’ is now present, thereby preventing a conflict that cannot be resolved.)