90 – Grammar shot: The proximity trap

Yippee, my revised textbook, Grammar and Punctuation for Key Stages 3 and 4, has now been published by First and Best in Education! The book is enlivened (I hope) by examples of grammatical and punctuation booby traps, one of which is illustrated in this post. It is called the proximity trap, and it ensnares even professional writers.

As for the book itself, the link can be found on my books page; it is also given below.
http://shop.firstandbest.co.uk/product_info.php?cPath=21&products_id=828

 From my revised textbook: Grammar and Punctuation for Key Stages 3 & 4

In standard English, a verb must agree with its subject in number and person: i.e. The improvement of standards is not an easy task – not *are an easy task. Familiarity with clause elements allows us to realise that it is the entire phrase the improvement of standards that is the subject of this sentence. Thus, this rule can be further refined as follows: if the subject is a multi-word phrase, the verb must agree with its head (the most important word). In the example given above, the singular noun improvement is the head of the noun phrase the improvement of standards that constitutes the subject. This is why we have to use a singular verb, despite the fact that immediately before the verb comes the plural noun standards.

Violations of the principle of subject-verb agreement are relatively common even among educated adults, including education professionals, such as OFSTED (Office for Standards in Education) and its school inspectors as well as teachers – and even professors of English. A handful of examples, all attributed, from my huge selection is given below.

One of the main culprits is the so-called ‘proximity trap’. Writers who fall into this trap make the verb erroneously agree with the noun nearest to it – whether this noun is indeed its subject (or, to be precise, the head of the noun phrase acting as its subject) or not. This mistake is exemplified below, with both the head of the noun phrase constituting the subject and its verb being emboldened and italicised. The asterisk marks the sentences whose authors have fallen into the proximity trap.

Subject-verb disagreement

*Team inspector covering IT needs to see whether improvement in standards are sufficient since last inspection. (OFSTED’s Handbook for Inspecting Primary and Nursery Schools; Effective from January 2000)

Subject-verb agreement

Team inspector covering IT needs to see whether improvement in standards is sufficient since last inspection. [= improvement is]

Subject-verb disagreement

*Check if your preliminary analysis of performance and other output data indicate if there are any significant differences in the attainment. (OFSTED’s Handbook for Inspecting Primary and Nursery Schools; Effective from January 2000)

Subject-verb agreement

Check if your preliminary analysis of performance and other output data indicates if there are any significant differences in the attainment. [= analysis indicates]

Subject-verb disagreement

*Teachers’ implementation of the strategies are good. (OFSTED inspection report)

Subject-verb agreement

Teachers’ implementation of the strategies is good. [= implementation is]

Subject-verb disagreement

*The importance of good attendance and punctuality rates are well promoted by the school. (OFSTED inspection report)

Subject-verb agreement

The importance of good attendance and punctuality is well promoted by the school. [= importance is]

Subject-verb disagreement

*Teachers’ skills in developing pupils’ creative awareness varies between the classes. (OFSTED inspection report)

Subject-verb agreement

Teachers’ skills in developing pupils’ creative awareness vary between the classes. [= skills vary]

Subject-verb disagreement

*Sometimes oral learning of tables or facts are set. (OFSTED inspection report)

Subject-verb agreement

Sometimes, the learning by rote of tables or facts is set. [= learning is]

Subject-verb disagreement

*The remains of the body was found in the vessel. (The Independent)

Subject-verb agreement

The remains of the body were found in the vessel. [= remains were]

Subject-verb disagreement

*The development of the tests play a pivotal role in teaching and learning. (The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority)

Subject-verb agreement

The development of the tests plays a pivotal role in teaching and learning. [= development plays]

Subject-verb disagreement

*No evidence of any ability, experience or qualifications were required. (The Sunday Times)

Subject-verb agreement

No evidence of any ability, experience or qualifications was required.[= evidence was]

Subject-verb disagreement

*Participation in these courses have been coupled with high success rates. (The Times Educational Supplement)  

Subject-verb agreement

Participation in these courses has been coupled with high success rates. [= participation has]

Subject-verb disagreement

*The professor’s concerns about prescription mirrors earlier criticisms by schools. (The Times Educational Supplement)

Subject-verb agreement

The professor’s concerns about prescription mirror earlier criticisms by schools. [= concerns mirror]

Subject-verb disagreement

*The impact of these prices imply that inflation would still be 1% in 2013. (The Economist)

Subject-verb agreement

The impact of these prices implies that inflation would still be 1% in 2013. [= impact implies]

Subject-verb disagreement

*The academic qualifications of those entering training has remained the same. (The Times Educational Supplement)

Subject-verb agreement

The academic qualifications of those entering training have remained the same. [= qualifications have]

So mind how you go – and spread the word about my revised textbook. Millions of thanks!

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4 thoughts on “90 – Grammar shot: The proximity trap

  1. Congratulations!!!!

    Your blog entry was, as usual, very interesting, and a real issue Over Here, including the so-called “educated.” How’s that for a convoluted sentence? 🙂

    On Sat, May 21, 2016 at 10:34 AM, Flaming English by Anna Nolan wrote:

    > annanolan2014 posted: “Yippee, my revised textbook, Grammar and > Punctuation for Key Stages 3 and 4, has now been published by First and > Best in Education! The book is enlivened (I hope) by examples of > grammatical and punctuation booby traps, one of which is illustrated in > this” >

    Liked by 1 person

    • Very many thanks, David. I have also fallen into this trap (easily done), but I do try to edit everything I write so usually manage to catch similar blunders. Then again, maybe I’m just kidding myself … See you soon! :)

      Like

  2. Thank you Anna, lovely to hear from you again and to see pomposity pricked occasionally,
    albeit we all make the same mistakes, but after reading all your blogs, I try to be a bit more careful.
    Your grammar hints are also very useful for improving my French.
    best wishes
    Dave

    Liked by 1 person

    • And thank YOU for your kind words, Dave. I was a bit worried that this post might be boring, but I will never forget my initial amazement at discovering that the educators of Britain’s young would fall into this trap so easily. Enjoy France!

      Like

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