Thursday, October 4, 2007

Indianapolis Star, 10/3/07

From a weekly column on Business Etiquette: "...conducted two studies with managers and corporate recruiters to see if impressions of professionalism are tainted by references to personal life. The answer was yes." No, the answer IS yes! Since the study attempted to see if impressions ARE tainted (present tense), then the response must also be stated in present tense. Truth be known, I would have used past tense for both sentences, since the study has obviously already taken place.

Then, from later in the same column: Researchers say if more than one in five items that adorn your office are personal in nature, you may be viewed as unprofessional." NO! First, I would have used "one in five items WHICH adorn your office." But more importantly, "more than one in five items IS personal in nature," not ARE. One is a singular word. Therefore, it IS personal in nature, not ARE. We never say "One person are coming to the party tonight." We say "one person IS." Common sense, people. Common sense.

8 comments:

Dr. Zoom said...

I'm afraid you're only one for three here.

"...conducted two studies with managers and corporate recruiters to see if impressions of professionalism are tainted by references to personal life. The answer was yes."

This is debatable, but I would say the mixed tense use is ok because while the phrase about impressions of professionalism refers to a continous phenomenon, the survey results indicated an answer for a specific past point in time.

I would have used "one in five items WHICH adorn your office."

And you would have been wrong. From the AP Stylebook (although the same rule is illustrated in numerous other style guides):

"Use that and which in referring to inanimate objects and to animals without a name. Use that for essential clauses, important to the meaning of a sentence, and without commas: I remember the day that we met. Use which for nonessential clauses, where the pronoun is less necessary, and use commas: The team, which finished last a year ago, is in first place.

(Tip: If you can drop the clause and not lose the meaning of the sentence, use which; otherwise, use that. A which clause is surrounded by commas; no commas are used with that clauses.)"

But more importantly, "more than one in five items IS personal in nature," not ARE. One is a singular word. Therefore, it IS personal in nature, not ARE. We never say "One person are coming to the party tonight." We say "one person IS." Common sense, people. Common sense.

Can't argue with you here.

Jenn S said...

I'd have to disagree with you about the 3rd item. If the article was referring to "one of five items," then IS would be mandatory. But to say "one in five items" treats the phrase as a % of a total (i.e. 20%). You would say 20% of the items ARE, so I think that ARE would be appropriate here, as well.

I'm willing to be proven wrong, however.

And maybe you could do a column on the difference between less and fewer? Biggest peeve ever.

Dr. Zoom said...

Actually, I'd still say 20% is. Because your talking about a portion. You wouldn't say "A portion of personal items are."

Lesley (El Zed) said...

Researchers say if more than one in five items that adorn your office are personal in nature, you may be viewed as unprofessional.

On 'more than one', Fowler's says:
'Despite its plural appearance, the phrase is normally followed by a singular noun and verb: e.g. more than one journalist was killed (not journalists, not were).
But if one is replaced by a larger number, naturally a plural verb is required: more than ten journalists were killed.'

That's all straightforward, but then Fowler's goes on:
'Any other slight disturbance of the phrase more than one (e.g. if it should be immediately followed by an of-phrase) leads to the use of a plural verb: e.g. In the positions defined above in which more than one of these morphs occur ...'

So I reckon that in our example, the more than one phrase has been 'disturbed' and the plural verb is okay.
Try reading it to yourself with all singular verbs and it jars - especially as 'adorn' will have to convert to singular as well.

I'm with Dr Zoom on the other two points.

Andy Ray said...

Dr. Zoom, your AP Stylebook examples are great. One would never say, "I remember the day which we met," or "The team, that finished first a year ago..." But the rule stating that we are to use "which" for nonessential clauses seems to apply to my example. We could just as easily say, "If one in five items is personal in nature..." and not lose the meaning of the sentence (at least not in the context of the paragraph). Therefore, "which" would seem to make sense.

Andy Ray said...

Jenn S, I am in complete agreement with you. "Fewer" must always be used with quantifiable objects. Therefore, Wal-Mart is incorrect with its "12 Items Or Less" lane. In fact, I never shop at Wal-Mart for this very reason. Had the sign read, "12 Items Or Fewer," I'd shop there all the time -- except for the clothing manufactured in foreign sweatshops.

fireleefowler said...

Former English teacher here. You are correct that "one in five items IS;" however, you should not replace "that" with "which."

Great blog idea, by the way.

Dr. Zoom said...

Let me borrow from another resource. Bear with me: it's a bit lengthy, but it states the "that/which" rule a bit more clearly.

1. Use "that" with restrictive clauses. A restrictive clause is one that limits -- or restricts --the identity of the subject in some way. When writing a restrictive clause, introduce it with the word "that" and no comma. (However, if the subject is or was a human being, use "who" to introduce the clause.)

Correct Restrictive Use:

The painting that was hanging in the foyer was stolen.

Explanation: The use of "that" in this sentence is correct if the reader intends to single out the one painting that was in the foyer as the stolen painting. However, if there were several paintings hanging in the foyer, this use would be incorrect, since it would mislead the reader into believing that there had been only one painting in the foyer. The restriction here tells us that the one painting that had been hanging in the foyer was stolen -- not the painting in the living room, or the one in the drawing room, or any of those in the parlor.


2. Use "which" with nonrestrictive clauses. A nonrestrictive clause may tell us something interesting or incidental about a subject, but it does not define that subject. When writing a nonrestrictive clause, introduce it with "which" and insert commas around the clause. (However, if the subject is or was a human being, use "who" to introduce the clause and insert commas around the clause.)

Correct Nonrestrictive Use:

The painting, which was hanging in the foyer, was stolen.

Explanation: While this nonrestrictive use tells us that the painting was hanging in the foyer, it does not tell us which of the several paintings in the foyer was the stolen painting. It would be incorrect to use this nonrestrictive clause if there had been only one painting in the foyer, as the sentence leaves open the possibility that there were others.