71 – Frolic: Government in a grammatical trap

“What does HM stand for?”

“Her Majesty. Why?”

“I’ve been looking online …”

“Uhm?”

“It says HM Revenue and Customs.”

“Oh yes, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. It’s the people who collect British taxes.”

“Aren’t they kind?”

“Kind? Well, I’m sure they can be. I mean, it’s a government department after all.”

“A-a-a-a, but our tax officials wouldn’t do this.”

“Do what?”

“Make applications for people. It says here that, from April, people will be able to apply for the new Marriage Allowance.”

“Oh yes, I’ve heard about it.”

“But it looks as if your HM Revenue and Customs are trying to save them the bother.”

“What bother?”

“Of applying.”

“Look, you are not making any sense.”

“It’s not me; that’s what they wrote – your government people.”

“We’ll give you more detailed information before making your application.”

“Oh this – ha, ha, ha!”

“What’s so funny?”

“The grammar.”

“What do you mean?”

“They obviously don’t realise that this making has no choice but to relate to the subject of this sentence, which is the pronoun ‘we’.”

“They don’t? Well, at least they are trying to be helpful …”

“No, no, no, you don’t get it, do you? What they should have written is this.”

We’ll give you more detailed information before you make your application.

“A-a-a-a, so your officials won’t actually be applying on people’s behalf?”

“Of course not – how could they? They don’t have the information, do they? The point is that participles, such as this making, are less explicit than complete – or finite – verb forms, which is why they are much easier to misrelate.”

“Are you saying that your government misrelates its participles?”

“It evidently does.”

“Blow me down.”

“But they are not the only ones.”

“They are not?”

“Nope. I’ve told you that participles are a minefield, haven’t I?”

“You did mention something, yes.”

“And this type of mistake is quite common.”

“It is?”

“Yep. I remember this example from The Sunday Times.”

 

“The suspect entered the apartment via an unlocked balcony and confronted three female tenants while sleeping.”

“Well, he did have a lucky escape: it’s easy to slip when you are sleepwalking.”

“Oh, for goodness’ sake: he was NOT sleepwalking! What they meant was this.”

The suspect entered the apartment via an unlocked balcony and confronted three female tenants while they were sleeping.

“I s-e-e-e-e.”

“And how about this one? It’s also from The Sunday Times.”

“‘Lifestyle enhancements’ are crucial if markets slide when approaching retirement.”

“Hmmm, markets don’t retire, do they?”

“Of course not; what you want is this.”

‘Lifestyle enhancements’ are crucial if markets slide when you are approaching retirement.

“So this Sunday Times is as bad as your government?”

“Well, it’s not just The Sunday Times; I’ve collected lots of examples from different sources. These two are from The Times Educational Supplement.”

 

INCORRECT

“Youthful misdemeanours can come back to haunt you while job hunting.”

CORRECT

Youthful misdemeanours can come back to haunt you while you

are job hunting.

INCORRECT

“Social exclusion is inevitable when faced with restrictions of mobility.”

CORRECT

Social exclusion is inevitable when one is faced with restrictions of mobility.

“Blow me down!”

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9 thoughts on “71 – Frolic: Government in a grammatical trap

    • Thank you, Ankur. Well, English grammar is my passion, and I do have thousands of examples. The difficulty lies in making it accessible to a non-specialist audience, so I’m experimenting with different formats.:)

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    • Thank you so much! I do try to be jocular whenever I can; in fact, most of my November 2014 posts (published daily as a challenge) are humorous. I’m delighted you’ve enjoyed it, Prajakta. 🙂

      Like

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