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If you can score at least 30 on our grammar quiz, you should consider working at The Globe

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Are you smarter than a Globe and Mail editor? Find out with our quiz


Globe and Mail Public Editor Sylvia Stead.

Over the past year, I have received notes gently and not so gently pointing out grammatical errors that slipped into the pages of this newspaper. And so, I bring you the second annual edition of our quiz, Are You Smarter Than a Globe and Mail Editor? Think of it as a chance for you to learn from our mistakes.

Every one of the examples below is a phrase or sentence that was read by a Globe editor before being published. And while we openly own those errors, it's worth noting that you're starting this quiz with a leg up on us. For one thing, you know for certain that there are errors to be found. For another, you don't have to keep an eye out for all the perils our editors face: issues of consistency, imprecise writing, wholesale restructuring, facts that require updating as a situation changes, libel concerns – the range of challenges, faced on deadline, that can make it a little harder to catch every mistake. Still, errors are errors, and we made a few for sure.

As with last year's quiz, I rely on Victor Dwyer, an editor in our Focus section, to write the final rulings on what is wrong, what is right, and why. But even he points out that grammar is nothing more than a set of provisional rules that ebb and flow as they follow the dictates of (ideally, educated) usage; choosing when to discard a rule as newly irrelevant or to embrace it as newly applicable involves at least some measure of subjectivity.

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So, take the test – it's multiple choice. To add to the challenge, some questions will have two correct answers. But you need only get one of those to score a point. There are 23 main questions and a dozen quick ones. If you get 30 or more correct overall, consider yourself a charter member of The Globe's Good-Grammar Fan Club; 27 to 29, decent job. Fewer than that? Perhaps you fell asleep in grammar class (like an idiom that bends grammar to its will, the very definition of a time-honoured tradition). But don't despair. It's not always intuitive, especially with those "rules" that are barely holding their own against popular usage. Neither will we despair if you catch us breaching rules it is our job to observe.

Grammar, after all, is the product of dialogue.

What is wrong in each of the following?

1 For months, this sketch has been a preoccupation of Cameron Thomas’s.
a. Correct
b. For months, this sketch is a preoccupation of Cameron Thomas’s.
c. For months, this sketch has been a preoccupation of Cameron Thomas.

Answer: Both (a) and (c) are correct.

As the sentence appeared in The Globe, it contained what’s known as a double genitive, defined by Merriam-Webster as “a syntactic construction … in which possession is marked both by the preposition ‘of’ and a noun or pronoun in the possessive case.” The Globe and Mail Style Book favours, but does not demand, avoiding the double genitive, noting that “the ear usually does not demand a possessive (a colleague of his aunt, a quirk of Mr. Trudeau). But we leave it up to individual writers to make the final call in individual situations.” Of course, an even clearer way of putting this would have been: For months, Cameron Thomas has been preoccupied with this sketch.

2The accused had a bright future ahead of him.
a. Correct
b. The accused had a future ahead of him.
c. The accused had a bright future.

Answer: (c). Both the original sentence and (b) contain a redundancy; the future is always ahead of one.

That said, teachers at report-card time and judges justifying lenient sentences often depend on the cliché that The Globe printed, which, in its defence, has a heart-warming ring about it in such circumstances (and, like many clichés, is the kind of phrase H.W. Fowler would call a “sturdy indefensible”: short on logic, but long on the loyal support of those who speak and write English.)

3 Another protestor lays on the ground.
a. Correct
b. Another protester lies on the ground.
c. Another protester laid on the ground.

Answer: (b). The verb lay takes an object, as when hens lay eggs, and in fact the protester could lay himself on the ground; without that reflexive pronoun, he simply lies there. Protester is spelled with one O and two E’s, although The Canadian Oxford Dictionary offers protestor as an alternative spelling.

4 He managed to drive it into a telephone poll.
a. Correct
b. He managed to drive it into a telephone pole.
c. He managed to drive it in to a telephone pole.

Answer: (b), which both spells pole correctly and pinpoints the driver’s final destination with the appropriate preposition.

5 His office has been digitizing historic slave deeds, making it easier for historians and ancestors to see them.
a. Correct
b. … making it easier for historians and descendents to see them.
c. … making it easier for historians and descendants to see them.

Answer: (c). Ancestors are people from whom one is descended. Descendants are people descended from their ancestors.

6 Us grandparents fought hard.
a. Correct
b. We grandparents fought hard.
c. Us grandparents fight hard.

Answer: (b). We is the nominative case of the first-person-plural pronoun.

It’s worth noting, however, that the us formation seems to be slipping from the tongue more idiomatically than ever, which may foretell its soon becoming proper grammar, and which has already bestowed what some people would consider a too-genteel sound to (b). (Even more quickly is the traditional construction of such sentences as “Mary and I went to the fair” being replaced by “Me and Mary went to the fair” – in which the objective Me replaces the nominative I, and the grammatical etiquette of putting oneself at the end of such a phrase is thrown out the window – where, if speakers aren’t careful, it may find itself wrapped around a telephone poll.)

7 Woe to we who belittled the clout of the white working class.
a. Correct
b. Woe to us who belittled the clout of the white working class.
c. Woe to those of us who belittled the clout of the white working class.

Answer: (b) or (c). In any case, not (a). The main clause here is the one beginning Woe to, in which the pronoun that comes after to is the object, and so should be in the objective case. The writer wrote we presumably in the mistaken assumption that we is the subject of belittled the clout; in fact, the pronoun who is the subject of that relative clause. Again, though, it’s worth noting that in a case such as this, when both sound correct to the ear (and we might even be the colloquial favourite), it’s perhaps best to let him or her who is without grammatical sin cast the first stone.

8 There are 16 analysts whom has issued research reports.
a. Correct
b. There are 16 analysts whom have issued research reports.
c. There are 16 analysts who have issued research reports.

Answer: (c). As in Question 7, who is the subject of the relative clause that completes this sentence.

9We hunt seals in the flow wedge.
a. Correct
b. We hunt seals in the floe edge.
c. We hunt seals in the flow edge.

Answer: (b). The Canadian Oxford defines “floe edge” as “the limit of landfast ice” (and defines “landfast” as an adjective applied to ice “covering a frozen body of water [that is] firmly attached to the shore”).

Etymology.com notes several examples of how “faulty separation” has added and subtracted letters from English words over time. A napron thus became an apron; a nadder, an adder; and an umble pie (umbles being Middle English for numbles, or offal) now the h-word that grammar know-it-alls must eat when they make a grammar error of their own. (See entire premise of this story.)

10 Filled with half-a-kilo of cocaine, Spanish police couldn’t resist tweeting a photo of Mr. Big’s unusual excess baggage, alongside the inevitable message, “A suspicious package between his legs.”
a. Correct
b. Spanish police couldn’t resist tweeting a photo of Mr. Big’s unusual excess baggage – filled with half a kilo of cocaine – along with the inevitable message, “A suspicious package between his legs.”
c. Filled with half a kilo of cocaine, Spanish police couldn’t resist tweeting a photo of Mr. Big’s unusual excess baggage, alongside the inevitable message, “A suspicious package between his legs.”

Answer: (b). In both (a) and (c), the Spanish police are filled with cocaine. Note as well that half a kilo requires no hyphens.

11 Beauty regimes are often seen as indulgent.
a. Correct
b. Beauty regimes often are seen as indulgent.
c. Beauty regimens are often seen as indulgent.

Answer: (c). That said, there could be an argument – not accepted in these quarters – for allowing regime to replace regimen in this case. The Canadian Oxford defines a regimen as “a prescribed course of exercise, way of life, or diet.” But that same dictionary variously defines a regime as “a method of government or dominance of a country or state,” “a system of managing or organizing something (a tax regime)” and “a (medical) regimen.” It’s arguable that beauty regimens require managing and organizing; if they make you feel better, they might even have a medical purpose. But The Globe’s editing regime prefers the clarity of regimen when beauty is the goal, as it is even in these parts.

12 He’s one of the outliers in town, who flaunts tradition.
a. Correct
b. He’s one of the outliers in town who flouts tradition.
c. He’s one of the outliers in town who flout tradition.

Answer: (b) or (c).

As The Globe Style Book notes, “Flout is by far the more common in news stories, meaning to defy contemptuously, scoff at, as in flout the law, flout tradition, flout convention. Flaunt means to display brazenly, as in flaunt one’s wealth.” So, flout it is. As for (b) vs. (c), either could be correct. It’s likely that all the outliers in town flout tradition, making (c) the right answer. But because the sentence is out of context here, it’s not impossible that the town’s other outliers could have earned that status by doing something other than flouting tradition.

13 I learned the COC had agreed to let my child and I attend the Ring cycle.
a. Correct
b. I learned the COC had agreed to let I and my child attend the Ring cycle.
c. I learned the COC had agreed to let my child and me attend the Ring cycle.

Answer: (c), me being the objective case (in this case, the object of the verb let) of that first-person-singular pronoun.

14 Businesses should provide a fulsome answer in a timely basis.
a. Correct
b. Businesses should provide a complete answer in a timely basis.
c. Businesses should provide a complete answer on a timely basis.

Answer: (c). The Globe Style Book on fulsome: “It means distastefully excessive in an insincere way. A fulsome compliment or fulsome praise is hypocritical bootlicking.” As for in vs. on, things happen on the basis of something, not in it; confusion (and perhaps eventual slippage to grammatical acceptability) might arise from the equally idiomatic “in a timely manner.”

15 Backing down on health care augurs poorly for Mr. Trump’s ability to push through legislation.
a. Correct
b. Backing down on health care augers poorly for Mr. Trump’s ability to push through legislation.
c. Backing down on healthcare augers poorly for Mr. Trump’s ability to push through legislation.

Answer: (a). This sentence is correct.

The Globe Style Book: “For drilling, it’s auger. Augur, as a verb, means foretell, prophesy or be an omen of (it augurs well). In its rare use as a noun, it means one who foretells.” Meanwhile, the phrase health care comprises two words. (And note: never is comprised of; whenever you use comprise, determine whether you can swap it for contain and all will be right or close to it.)

16 In a subsequent interview with The Globe and Mail, Dr. Fortier differentiated between the academic freedom enjoyed by professors and that of faculty, who also have administrative duties.
a. Correct
b. In a subsequent interview with The Globe and Mail, Dr. Fortier differentiated between the academic freedom enjoyed by professors and that of faculty who also have administrative duties.
c. In a subsequent interview with The Globe and Mail, Dr. Fortier differentiated between the academic freedom enjoyed by professors and that of the faculty, who also have administrative duties.

Answer: (b). A school’s faculty includes both teaching and non-teaching individuals. Because of that, a the before faculty confuses things. By the same token, who also have administrative duties would make sense only as a restrictive clause; such clauses require no preceding comma.

17 Steel is cheaper, which takes some pressure off of taxpayers.
a. Correct
b. Steel is cheaper, which takes some pressure off taxpayers.
c. Steel is cheaper, which takes pressure off of taxpayers.

Answer: (b) Off is pronoun enough for one phrase.

18 A volunteer army of online supporters has his back.
a. Correct
b. A volunteer Army of online supporters has his back.
c. A volunteer army of online supports have his back.

Answer: (a). This sentence is correct.

Supporters have is a classic case of false attraction: Because supporters immediately precedes have, there’s a temptation to make the verb agree with that plural noun. But the subject of this sentence is army, not supporters, and so the verb must be has. (Again, this is a case where day-to-day usage is quickly threatening to turn that answer into something close to pedantry.)

These five appeared as headlines:

19 With her 90th birthday on the horizon, Globe writer shines a spotlight on Sonya Bata
a. Correct
b. With her 90th birthday on the horizon, Sonya Bata speaks to Globe writer …
c. As Sonya Bata approaches her 90th birthday, Globe writer …

Answer: Either (b) or (c), although (c) would be clearest.

As the sentence appeared in The Globe, the noun phrase Globe writer seemed to be pairing with the possessive pronoun her from earlier in the sentence, retroactively making that pronoun dangle. The writer thus appears to be about to turn 90.

20 Cleveland Indians logo wont be blocked
a. Correct
b. Cleveland Indians logo won’t be blocked
c. Cleveland Indians’ logo won’t be blocked

Answer: Either (b) or (c). Cleveland Indians may be taken to simply describe the logo or to possess it. There are, of course, many who object both to the team’s name and its mascot (Chief Wahoo) as forms of ethnic stereotyping, but that is another issue.

It might be worth noting as well that the phrase to simply describe will be flagged by some readers as a split infinitive. In fact, split infinitives are not bad grammar, or at least never should have been considered so; the rule against them stemmed from earlier grammarians’ insistence that English follow the rules of Latin grammar; in Latin, the infinitive is a single word and so can’t be split; there’s no reason the two-word English version can’t be. Regardless, in the sentence above, putting the simply elsewhere would cause confusion: To describe simply the logo could be read as describing only the logo. Simply to describe the logo would invite readers to wonder whether the simply modifies the phrase to possess it as well.

21 Italy’s Foreign Minister tapped to be the countries’ next PM
a. Correct
b. Italy’s Foreign Minister tapped to be the countries next PM
c. Italy’s Foreign Minister tapped to be the country’s next PM

Answer: (c), the singular possessive. Italy may have a fractious history, but it’s a single country.

22 Mixed Marital Arts 8pm
a. Correct
b. Mixed Marriage Arts 8pm
c. Mixed Martial Arts 8 p.m.

Answer: (c), although (b) might have been the better-read story.

And note, never 8 p.m. in the evening, a redundancy that is moving uncomfortably close to becoming legitimate idiom.

23 Men, women and their money
a. Correct
b. Men, women, and their money
c. Men women and their money

Answer: (b). As it appeared in the paper, this headline could have created the impression that the story below it was about men, on the one hand, and women and their money, on the other. With the second comma, it’s clear that the piece is about both genders and their respective approaches to money.

Bonus round:

A The younger or youngest of her two children?
a. Younger
b. Youngest

Answer: (a). The younger of her two children.

B A row to hoe or a road to hoe?
a. Row
b. Road

Answer: (a). A row to hoe.

C Whet or wet your whistle?
a. Whet
b. Wet

Answer: (b). Wet your whistle.

D Bailing hay or baling hay?
a. Bailing
b. Baling

Answer: (b) Baling hay.

E Alright or all right?
a. Alright
b. All right

Answer: (b). All right.

F Canadian geese or Canada geese?
a. Canadian
b. Canada

Answer: (b). Canada geese.

G A shoe-in or a shoo-in?
a. Shoe-in
b. Shoo-in

Answer: (b). This one's a shoo-in.

H Valour or valor?
a. Valour
b. Valor

Answer: (a). Valour.

I Vicious or viscous drunk?
a. Vicious
b. Viscous

Answer: (a). Vicious (unless the drunk himself is thick and oily, not an impossibility).

J Raises or begs a question?
a. Raises
b. Begs

Answer: Could be either. Raises, if a question is simply being introduced. To beg a question is to base a conclusion on a premise that itself needs proving. When a politician says, “The citizens support our going to war,” and a reporter asks, “How do you know that?” and the politician replies, “Because part of being a citizen is to support your country’s military,” a question has been begged.

K Sir Harold or Sir Evans?
a. Sir Harold
b. Sir Evans

Answer: (a). Sir Harold.

L A wake or a wash of a ship?
a. A wake
b. A wash

Answer: Either could be right.

As the website for the Sidney, B.C.-based Gulf Islands Cruising School describes it, “Wash is the disturbed water caused by the propeller or jet drive. Wake is the disturbed water caused by the motion of the vessel’s hull passing through the water.”

Answer all of the questions to see your result
You did great.*
You didn't do too bad.*
You didn't do well at all.*
* If you answered (b) to Question 1, (c) to Question 7, (b) to Question 12, (b) to Question 19, (b) to Question 20, (b) to Question J, or (b) to Question L, give yourself an extra point per question.

Grammar is nothing more than a set of provisional rules that ebb and flow as they follow the dictates of usage. Choosing when to discard a rule as newly irrelevant or to embrace it as newly applicable involves at least some measure of subjectivity.

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