Are you better at grammar than The Globe and Mail is? Let's find out. The following quiz consists of complaints sent to me over the past year by sharp-eyed readers, invariably decrying what they call the ceaseless erosion of language standards.
But are the complaints justified – and, if so, why?
Now, I don't completely trust myself against the combined knowledge of Globe readers. So I selected which complaints to address, then turned to Victor Dwyer, an editor in Focus, to help determine which are valid and explain why.
So, take the test – it's multiple-choice and, just to add to the challenge, a question may have more than one right answer.
There are 15 points in all. If you score five to 10, well done. Higher than that makes you a charter member of The Globe's good-grammar fan club.
Under five? Don't despair, just blame the education system – that's what many of the complainants did. Good luck.
What is wrong in each of the following?
Answer: B. The comma isn’t needed
C is also correct.
The comma is unnecessary, and “those” refers to people, so should take the pronoun “who.”
Answer: B. “Players” should have an apostrophe
C is also correct, although some may beg to differ. The trade value belongs to the players. And the top players belong to the Leafs. But there are some who would argue that Leafs needs no apostrophe, for reasons somewhat akin to why it often falls off the proper name of a “teachers college” (or a “parents association”): because the college is made up of teachers (or, alternately, is for teachers) but is not possessed by them.
Answer: B. “It’s” should be “its”.
“Its” is the possessive pronoun; “it’s” is a contraction of “it is.” But equally problematic is the sentence’s quasi-dangling participle. The proximity of the word “brand” to the pronoun “its” would point to “brand” (not “Vancouver’s”) as the pronoun’s logical antecedent; in any case, “Vancouver’s” is a possessive adjective, not a noun, so can’t really take a pronoun anyway. I’d change the sentence to read: “Another report found that Vancouver’s ‘green brand’ is worth about $31-billion and that the city’s economy could suffer a $1.2-billion loss.”
Answer: B. Should read: “Parents find surprise goodbye note from 6-year-old son after his death”
C is arguably more readable, although technically B is a bit more correct, because it doesn’t use “his” before establishing who “he” is. But good grammar doesn’t always make good reading; B or C score a point here.
Answer: Ouch. B and C.
“On a dramatic rise” reads as a needlessly jarring remake of a settled idiom, “on the rise.” And “fewer” is used with nouns that can be counted; “less” with nouns that can’t. I’d also add “the” before “outdoors,” which here is a noun rather than an adverb (as in “He was standing outdoors”). Finally, “the outdoors and fewer devices” are not one solution but two.
Answer: B. “I” should be “me”
“I” should be “me” because “me” is the object of “gave,” so it takes an objective pronoun. Also, “my wife” is not only more specific than C’s “her”; putting yourself ahead of others in a sentence just isn’t polite. (Especially appalling is the increasingly common “Me and her did such and such … ” – presumably a result of the Me Generation at work.)
Answer: C. Cut all the clichés
Answer: B. Harper announces “spending in U.S. markets to encourage tourism to Canada”
As it stood, “Canadian tourism” could mean us going there or them coming here
Answer: B. It is either “the only” or “one of the few,” not both
Some say “one of the only” is no more or less dopey than “one of the best” or “one of the most,” both common idioms (because you could have several things in a tie for best or for, say, most interesting). But nothing can be tied for “only.”
Answer: B. “Raise” should be “rise”
Now decide which word is write … er, right. (The Globe got them all wrong.)
Answer: B. Site.
Site, which, to cite the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, is a place where some activity is conducted.
Answer: B. Flak.
It is, the Globe style guide points out, the far more common of the two, and originally meant anti-aircraft fire (from Fliegerabwehrkanone, German for the gun being used). Now it means, figuratively, heavy criticism, whereas flack is slang for a press agent (not to be confused with hack, a type of writer never found at The Globe).
Answer: A. Flair.
Again, the style guide: Flair means an aptitude or talent, but for anything to do with a blaze or sudden burst, use flare.
Answer: B. Please. Told.
Answer: B. Flout.
According to the style guide, it is by far more common in news stories, and means to defy contemptuously, scoff at, as in “flout the law.” Flaunt means to display brazenly, as in “flaunt one’s wealth” (as by the man in No. 13, above, although in the absence of his tax returns, some would argue he’s hiding it instead).