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The customer is not always right

Sharp-eyed as our readers are, and as much as we welcome their comments, they do not always hit the mark.

+ A reader, under the heading “Proper English,” advised us: “You wrote “between her and the basket”, and it should have read “between she and the basket”.

Well, no. The pronoun is the object of the preposition between and should properly be her. This seems to be akin to the common error in speech, between she and I.

+ Another wrote that “the howler of a grammar error in the first sentence of your 4/406 article on jill carroll's return the CSM newsroom is a great teaching tool.”

That sentence read: “Former hostage Jill Carroll met yesterday with the staff of The Christian Science Monitor, visiting the newsroom of the paper that hired her a week after she was taken captive in Iraq.”

I may well be as thick as a plank, but I see no glaring error. Perhaps the reader misunderstood the clause that hired her a week after she was taken captive in Iraq. Going a couple of sentences deeper into the article would have clarified that the paper, which had engaged Carroll on a freelance basis, hired her as a staff member after the kidnapping. If that wasn’t the problem, what could be?

+ A published letter to the editor: “For a long time I have been uncomfortable with the title that sometimes appears at the bottom of The Sun's obituary page: ‘Other Notable Deaths.’ The easy inference is that the deaths of the listed persons were ‘notable’ and the deaths of persons who did not appear in this section were ‘not notable.’ That seems harsh. I would suggest a less exclusive title, such as ‘Other Noted Deaths.’”

This one also leaves me puzzled. Other notable deaths says pretty much the same thing as additional notable deaths would. It takes some straining to read that other as slamming the people not included in the category.

Posted by John McIntyre at 9:54 PM | | Comments (4)


I once got a phone call from an irate reader who wanted to know why WE didn't know any better than to spell "hone in" h-o-m-e ...

It took about 15 minutes and a couple of dictionaries, but he did eventually acknowledge that maybe it was "home in." And he sounded SOBER.

Some journalism texts contend that a predicative participial phrase, like "visiting the newsroom ..." in your example, modifies the nearest noun rather than the grammatical subject. Postposed modifiers can create some confusion ("piano for sale by retired teacher, with carved legs"), but there isn't a real "rule" that bans the construction in question. And it's pretty easy to find examples of it in literary English:

"And so he who had received five talents came and brought the other five talents, saying ..." (Matt. 25:20)

That participial phrase "visiting the newsroom ..." appears to function as an adverb, modifying "met." Perhaps the reader complaining about the howler holds, as do some grammarians, that participles can function only as adjectives. Other grammarians say that they can function as adverbs as well.

Perhaps this could be made into a drinking game: Line up shots of single-batch bourbon on the bar. For each authority who says "adjective," take a drink. For each authority who says "adverb," take a drink. In a remarkably short time, no one will care.

Check out this introduction article on Copy_editing:
1.Use of the term
2.Tasks involved
3.The influence of technology
4.Required skills

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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