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Public editor: Readers sound off on their grammar bug bears

Annaleise Carr is surrounded by supporters as she finishes a record breaking overnight Lake Ontario swim from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Toronto on Sunday August 19, 2012.


This week I wanted to share with you a sample of questions readers have sent in on grammar and language.

Last week, I posted a note to staff from our senior editor in charge of style, Martina Blaskovic. She said we needed to stop "begging the question" because it is misused more often than it is used properly.

One reader wrote that his own bête noire "is the adage 'The proof of the pudding is in the eating' which gets misquoted to 'the proof is in the pudding'. This mess of verbiage is often heard coming from the mouths of sportscasters and American politicians; it  should not heard on the CBC nor read in the Globe and Mail," he said.

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Another reader questioned the use of the word "elevates" showing a photograph of a football player reaching for the  ball over the head of an opposing player.

The caption reads "The BC Lions' Cauchy Muamba elevates over Chris Gelzlaf of the Saskatchewan Roughriders for the first of his two interceptions on Sunday."

"In what manner did he elevate," the reader asked. "Was this magic, was he assisted in his elevation by fellow players or did he simply jump higher than his opponent?"

Another reader enjoyed our feature profile of the young swimmer Annaleise Carr who became the youngest person to swim across Lake Ontario.

"Nice article about Annaleise Carr.  She is a remarkable young woman… strong, determined, capable and caring.  I was just sad to see that if she reads this column she would see herself described as 'toothy'. Really – was that necessary?"

Our reporter Tu Thanh Ha felt it was a good description of a young woman with a bright smile and that it was not meant in a negative way.

Here's another reader: "Our family had a long discussion this weekend at the cottage over irritating changes in English grammar. One bug bear of mine is the distinction between 'less' and 'fewer' – fewer oranges, less butter. Even on CBC, 'less' is replacing 'fewer'. Another irritation is that almost everyone uses 'bring' when 'take' should be used."

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This one is simple. Less is an amount and fewer a number. This is what The Globe and Mail Style Book says: "Use fewer to refer to the number of individual items, and less to refer to the quantity of a single thing or collective. Say fewer dollars, less money; fewer cookies, less dessert; fewer people, less of a crowd."

And on bring and take, here's the guide again: "It must reflect the location of the writer and take is usually the correct choice. Say that parents were asked to take (not bring) their children for vaccination. Say that immigrants bring their traditions to Canada, just as Canadians take theirs overseas."

We also didn't follow our usual practice this week in a story about the cyclist, Darcy Sheppard, who died in the confrontation with Michael Bryant. We spoke to Mr. Sheppard's father, but described him as his "adoptive father".

That is not our practice. Here's again the style guide: "A child who is adopted becomes part of the family, and is as much the new parents' own child as their biological children. Unless their status is relevant to the story, do not single out children as adopted...."

One other reader pointed out that we made a publishing error in a front-page article on the U.S. election titled "Republicans push abortion into spotlight with platform, comment."

The article was recast by an editor in the evening with some paragraphs moved up higher in the story. This happened between editions. Then the error was that the earlier turn of the story, the paragraphs which ran inside the paper, was used in the final version while the front page paragraphs were changed. As a result four paragraphs were repeated from the final edition's front page to the turn page on A10. We apologize to our readers for this error and if anyone would like to see the correct version, please e-mail me and I would be happy to send it to you.

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If you have any concerns about this or anything else you read in The Globe and Mail, please comment below or send me an e-mail at

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About the Author
Public Editor

Sylvia Stead has been a reporter and editor at the Globe since 1975, after graduating from the University of Western Ontario in Journalism with a minor in Political Science. She won the Board of Governors Award there in 1974. As a reporter, Sylvia covered courts, education and Queen's Park. More


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