Welcome to the website woven for wordaholics, logolepts, and verbivores. Carnivores eat meat; herbivores eat plants and vegetables; verbivores devour words. If you are heels over head (as well as head over heels) in love with words, tarry here a while to graze or, perhaps, feast on the English language. Ours is the only language in which you drive in a parkway and park in a driveway and your nose can run and your feet can smell.

Readers’ Questions

 

DEAR RICHARD LEDERER: Please explain the difference between the words historic and historical. –Dennis Cormier, Point Loma

Historic refers to events, places and artifacts of great significance, as in “President Reagan’s nomination of Sandra Day O’Connor to the Supreme Court was an event of historic importance.”

Historical refers to history, as a subject, as in “the San Diego Historical Society” or to a particular period of history, as in “Artifacts from the Revolutionary War are of historical significance.”

Use the article a before both historic and historical. An before these adjectives sounds stuffy and a tad weird. You wouldn’t say, “An history book,” would you?

DEAR RICHARD LEDERER: In a recent Union-Tribune Health section appeared this sentence: “CDC says one in three Americans aren’t getting enough sleep.” Should it not be “one in three Americans is not getting enough sleep?”One American is not and two Americans are. –Marie-Louise Nixon, La Mesa

Your analysis is spot on, O Conan the Grammarian. In the service of subject-verb agreement, the verb should be singular in order to connect with the singular subject one. Reversing the halves of the sentence reveals the grammar: “[Of] three Americans, one is not getting enough sleep.”

DEAR RICHARD LEDERER: A sentence in one of your recent columns begins “A bevy of readers have asked me. . .” The grammar confused me. I expected a singular verb agreement with the collective noun bevy. Please explain your use of the plural verb have?  Claire Crilly, San Diego

When a group noun is modified by a prepositional phrase that includes a plural noun object, the verb is usually plural. Which would you say or write: “A group of students is attending the dean’s symposium” or “A group of students are attending the dean’s symposium”?

Most U.S. Standard English speakers and writers would choose the second version. Same with my sentence.

DEAR RICHARD LEDERER:  In a recent edition of the Union Tribune, in the Crime & Public Safety section, directly below your column, appeared an article that left me confused until I read it again. 

The headline of the article was “Live-in boyfriend suspected in woman’s slaying.”  The first paragraph of the article read, “A 38-year old woman was found slain on her bedroom floor by one of her children in Mountain View Friday morning.”

My impression was that the boyfriend had killed the woman. However, the way the first sentence was worded, it looked like the child killed her.

 What’s your opinion of that sentence? –Iris Price, Ramona

I agree with you that the sentence is ambiguous and should be fixed, probably by making the passive voice active: “One of her children found a 38-year-old woman . . .”

More frequently than one would guess, misplaced modifier accompanied by a passive-voice verb  conveys the impression that the police are perpetrating crimes and that the courts are corrupt pr confused. Each of the following examples is genuine, certified, authentic and unretouched:

  • Nathan Koenig, 19, of Riverside, was arrested for illegal consumption of alcohol by the  police on Saturday at 11:14 PM.
  • A 6-year-old boy was found handcuffed to a bed by policemen.
  • The cause of the blaze has been determined to be arson by Sheriff Detective Ronald Walker.
  • The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation presented an eight-inch thick report on the alleged involvement of Vanderbilt University officials in the distribution of illegal anabolic steroids to District attorney Paul Rizzo.
  • A convicted sex offender was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole on Monday.
  • Larson, who drives a 1999 Honda Accord, was convicted of driving while intoxicated in the New London District Court.
  • The marriage was annulled in December 2015  on the grounds of adultery  in the Philadelphia County Court.
  • Hunters have gained the right to hunt deer in the Illinois Supreme Court.