Grammar points to ponder

Since the semester is just a couple of weeks old, writing assignments have yet to begin rolling in. (And they’re likely to be fewer as first-year students branch out from Craft I into broadcast and interactive.) In this slow season, let’s review some recurring grammar points.


Is the following sentence, from student work, correct or incorrect?

She is a 22-years-old Mexican-American Disney fan.

Incorrect — and one of the most common errors among non-native English-speakers, in both writing and speaking. If you say She is 22 years old, the age is a predicate adjective and takes no hyphens. But when an age comes before the noun it modifies, it becomes a compound modifier, which demands hyphens but drops the S. Rendered correctly:
She is a 22-year-old Mexican-American Disney fan.
Bring and take, come and go
Is this sentence, from a student’s story on the killing of a policewoman from Martinique in Paris, correct or incorrect?

Today, Clarissa’s family is in France, waiting . . . to bring her body home.

Incorrect. Words like bring and take and come and go imply directions. You bring something to where you are; you take it somewhere else. Since the policewoman’s relatives were in Paris at the time, they were waiting to take her body home to Martinique.

Similarly, from a cover letter by another student:

It would give me an international perspective and the ability to work in English when I will come back to France. 

You come to where you are; you go somewhere else. This student was writing from New York and so meant when I go back to France. (Notice that I dropped will; in this case, present tense is used to indicate future. That’s one of the many quirks of English.)

Another student made the same mistake in a story on an East Side grocery store:

That’s what shopping in Todaro Bros is about for Andrea DiCarlo, 64, an executive who comes there a couple of times a week. 

DiCarlo probably said “I come here . . .” when she was interviewed at the store — and come would have been perfectly fine in a direct quote. But except for Todaro’s employees, most people probably won’t be in the store when they read the story. Goes is correct.



A reflexive pronoun consists of a pronoun plus the suffix -self: myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves. (Never hisself or theirselves!)  Reflexives refer back to the antecedent and are often used to emphasize it. If I ask a student, “Did you write this?”  I’m asking a simple question: who wrote it? If I ask, “Did you write this yourself?” I’m doublechecking to make sure it’s not plagiarized — hence the emphasis.

Reflexives should never be used as subjects, though sometimes as objects (direct object: I hurt myself; indirect object: I gave myself a haircut.) Consider these two examples:

From LinkedIn for Journalists: Myself and a colleague have a few ideas for articles we would love to work on together.

It should read: A colleague and I have a few ideas for articles we would love to work on together.

And from a student:  As both the neighborhood and himself have changed, so has Robinson’s original mission.

Better: As both he and the neighborhood have changed, so has Robinson’s original mission.

Note the positions of the pronouns. In the first, a colleague and I is correct because it is considered polite for the speaker to mention himself last. But he and the neighborhood sounds more graceful than the neighborhood and he.

One note on English idiom: by (one)self means alone: He was sitting by himself = he was sitting alone. He did it himself means he did it personally; he did it by himself means he did it without help.
Is this sentence from The New York Times correct or incorrect?
The group . . . highlighted growing anger nationwide over recent police deaths, including that of Mr. Garner, 43, who officers had accused of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes.
Not even the pros always get who/whom right (or have time to think it through). It should be whom. Once again: who is a subject; whom is an object.  In this complex sentence, officers had accused Mr. Garner of selling what (as international students learned at pre-orientation) are known as loosies. The subject of the clause is officers; the object, referring to Mr. Garner, is the relative pronoun linking the two clauses — which needs to be whom.
Also notice how Mr. Garner’s age is rendered as simply 43, set off by commas, rather than 43 years old or who was 43. That’s tightening.
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