Tuesday, 9 August 2011

All is revealed

This time, the illustration shows the book I co-wrote with a friend. It has lots of examples of the sort of things I've highlighted in the awful passage I concocted for the last posting. And here’s the passage again, with the mistakes highlighted and ‘explained’ – some obvious, some less so.

Health issues in humans have always been compared with animals in the wild[1] and the balance between activity and reward, in the way of nutrition, is a vital part of the equation. It was those factors that’s[2] behind the establishment of the fitness and health survey of January 2011. As a consequence of collecting data from various social groups on their eating habits and the amount of exercise they do each week, and taking age and other fitness-related factors into account.[3] Researchers got a clearer picture of the overall population’s general attitudes to health. Less[4] people said they feel[5] satisfied with their skill sets and general fitness levels. The amount[6] of middle-aged women joining health clubs has almost doubled and much[7] of the current research projects are showing unexpected results. There’s less obesity and less[8] sweets and chocolates on the average shopping list. If we keep on seeing that much[9] more changes are being made, we’ll all need to look again at what we mean by ‘normal’. The leader of the research team, not being really sure of how effective their results would be in persuading groups and individuals in all the towns which had taken part in the survey to change their eating habits, were[10] ready to repeat the process across a wider area. Her team was[11] preparing to send out the questionnaires and, indeed, were[12] already drawing up lists of target groups. The person that[13] represented their sponsors was satisfied that the findings of the researchers were more reliable indicators of the current state of affairs than the leader of the town council[14] and the sponsors themselves were convinced that their products would soon eliminate variations in obesity levels, age-related survival rates and increasing the use of health facilities[15] by a wider range of people. Speaking at[16] the launch of the report, it was obvious that their financial director was prepared to invest even more in the project. ‘Between you and I,’[17] he told the team leader, ‘I think it’s fair to assume that your contract will certainly be extended for another year and perhaps even beyond that.’ However, none of the team were[18] surprised by his words. They knew they’d done a good job. The general consensus of opinion[19] was that thorough preparations, careful cross-checking, and a meticulous observation of research etiquette always leads[20] to client satisfaction

Don't worry, we'll get back to normal human trivial absurd things next time.

[1] False comparison – ‘health issues’ with ‘animals’. The correct version would be ‘compared with those of animals in the wild’.
[2] Plural subject needs a plural verb ‘Those factors that were’
[3] This isn’t a sentence. It doesn’t have a verb in it. Change the full stop after ‘account’ to a comma and ‘Researchers’ to ‘researchers’.
[4] ‘Fewer’ for things you can count, ‘less’ for things you can’t – ‘fewer people’ but ‘less obesity’.
[5] ‘said’ is past tense, so this should be too – ‘felt’.
[6] ‘Number’ for things you can count, ‘amount’ for things you can’t – ‘number of women’ but ‘amount of exercise’.
[7] ‘Many’ for things you can count, ‘much’ for things you can’t – ‘many more changes’ but ‘much more success’.
[8] See 4 above.
[9] See 4 above.
[10] The subject of this verb is ‘The leader of the research team’ so it should be singular ‘was’.
[11] See 12 below.
[12] These verbs both have the same subject ‘Her team’ should they should both be either singular or plural.
[13] If it’s a person, the pronoun should be ‘who’.
[14] False comparison as in 1 above.
[15] This is similar to the comparison errors. All the things that ‘variations in’ covers should be the same part of speech. Here, the first two are nouns – ‘obesity levels’ and ‘survival rates’ but the third is a verb. The correct version would end with ‘increases in the use of health facilities’ – another noun.
[16] This is called an unrelated (or hanging) participle. It’s a common fault. When you start a sentence with a participle (in this case, ‘speaking’), it must relate to the subject of the sentence. So this should be ‘Speaking at the launch of the report, their financial director made it obvious that he was prepared… etc.’
[17] Very, very common fault. ‘Between you and me’ is the correct form. You wouldn’t say ‘he was standing behind I’, would you? If it’s governed by a preposition, it’s always ‘me’.
[18] Another common error. Expressions such as ‘neither of them’, ‘none of them’, each of them’, etc. are singular so the verb should be singular, too – ‘none of the team was’. (That’s the correct form but, as Gilly said, it sounds wrong.)
[19] ‘Consensus’ means ‘general or widespread agreement’, so there’s no need for ‘general’ or ‘of opinion’ – ‘The consensus was that…’ is enough.
[20] This verb has a plural subject – ‘preparations… cross-checking… observation’ so it should be ‘lead’.

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  1. Oh, my head hurts. Can I go home now?

  2. Owwww! It's like being back in English Grammar. Guess what - I make those exact mistakes all the time, but I can't always see them when I read through!

  3. Yes, Janice. You're excused. Just make sure that homework's on my desk by noon tomorrow.

    Why Owwww, Tiger? It's fun but we're also talking about the tools of our trade. Writers and journalists HAVE TO get this stuff right. Nobody else will and the language will be poorer for it.

  4. Oh, very good. Like like like. (Is that a sentence?)

  5. I'm afraid it would take an impenetrable 2000 word academic article to answer your question, Greta.

  6. Thanks for the corrections, au total, Bill. Best of luck with the new book releases.

  7. Thanks, Marley. Best of luck with the snowballs (that'll intrigue the others).

  8. Of course I noticed every single one of them, Bill - aye, right! Gave up half way through as I was too lazy to get to the end.

  9. Lazy is not a word which sits easily with you Rosemary, but if you say so...

  10. Wow, Bill! This was a fantastic exercise. Thank you tremendously. I'm looking forward to more challenges.

  11. Thanks Jackie, but I think you may be in a minority. I can't resist them sometimes, though, so there'll probably be more.

  12. Interesting exercise,Bill! When does a 'popular choice' in language usage become acceptable in a living language? The use of text speech,for example,is already having an effect.

  13. Good point, Myra, and one I should have made myself. Insisting on 'correctness' in this way seems to counteract the notion of a living, evolving language with a variety of registers. That's not what I believe. I love the flexibility of language, the inventiveness of texting, the coining of new words and expressions. But, as I think (hope) I said somewhere, it's fine for writers to exploit that flexibility and those variations but they should know the basics, too. Unless I'm doing it deliberately or putting words into the mouth of a character, if I write 'We was ready' I'm not using my tools properly and I wouldn't expect to find or keep many readers.