96: President Trump’s contribution to the Grammar Day: to tapp or not to tapp?

Just in time for today’s Grammar Day, Donald Trump fired off the following tweet:

How low has President Obama gone to tapp [sic] my phone during the very sacred election process.

In order to help President Trump out a wee bit, I’ve decided to post the relevant extract from my recently published Grammar and Punctuation for Key Stages 3 & 4 with Handy Usage Notes. The extract deals with the doubling of consonants at the end of verbs (such as ‘tap’). But the President also used the wrong tense and, if his pronouncement was meant to be a question, failed to deploy the question mark, of which more further on.

6.10                  Spelling verb inflections

6.10.1 The doubling of consonants

Before endings -ing and -ed are added to base forms ending with a single consonant letter (except x), those bases double the consonant letter if the preceding vowel is stressed and spelt with a single letter. This is exemplified below.

  • Bar ends with a single r preceded by a stressed a spelt with a single letter. Thus, bar – barring – barred. Similarly, permit ends with a single t preceded by a stressed iI spelt with a single letter. Thus, permit – permitting – permitted.

By contrast, when the vowel is either unstressed or written with two letters, there is no doubling of the final consonant.

  • Enter also ends with a single r preceded by e spelt with a single letter, but this vowel e is unstressed. This is why the doubling of the final r does not occur: enter – entering – entered. Similarly, although moan ends with a single n preceded by a stressed sound oa, this sound is represented not by one but by two letters: oa (sequences of two vowel letters representing a single sound, such as oa, ai or ea, are called diphthongs). Again then, the doubling of the final n does not occur: moan – moaning – moaned.

Exceptions to the consonant-doubling rule

The rule is broken with bases ending in g and c: those consonants are doubled despite being preceded by single unstressed vowels: zigzag – zigzagging – zigzagged; traffic – trafficking – trafficked.

Unlike American English, British English also breaks the rule in bases ending in l, m and, in a few verbs, p coming after single unstressed vowels: signal – signalling – signalled;  trial – trialling – trialled;  travel – travelling – travelled;  telegram – telegramming – telegrammed; worship – worshipping – worshipped. However, most verbs ending in p have regular spellings: develop – developing – developed; gossip – gossiping – gossiped.


As for the wrong tense, the Present Perfect (here, has gone) may not be used to refer to events which took place at a defined time in the past (such as last year’s American presidential election), this being the job of the past tense – the Simple Past, in this case. And while the structure of this part of the presidential tweet is typical of a question, no question mark is used. It is possible, however, that this pronouncement was meant to be exclamatory, but the writer’s command of English tripped him up. If a question was indeed intended, what President Trump should have written is this (stylistic and content-related considerations aside):

How low did President Obama go to tap my phone during the very sacred election process?


95: Venimently perplexed

Some of you might have heard about a recent by-election in my parliamentary constituency, Copeland. Propelled by the sense of civic responsibility, I duly attended a local hustings, at which our independent candidate revealed his impeccable Europhobic credentials with the rhetorical question “A million Poles enough for you?” No sooner had I regained composure than I was assaulted with his campaign leaflet, in which the wannabe MP regaled us with the following pronouncement:

The Green Party are being venimently [sic] against nuclear energy.

Are they really? In an obvious attempt to be even-handed, the leaflet proceeded to castigate other political parties:

The farming community has been hit by this present governments [sic] stopping of subsidies.

Predictably, the Labour Party, currently presided over by Jeremy Corbyn, did not escape unscathed either.

The same can be said of Labour supporters who vote for Jeremy Corbyns [sic] Labour Party.

In an attempt to hit us hard with his anti-global-warming message, the campaigner chided us thus:

How many times does Keswick have to flood before the resident’s [sic] get the message. [sic]

The environmental theme needed to be reinforced, so the leaflet contained the following imploration:

We all need to change our behaviour now to slow down global warming to ensure our ancestors [sic] have a planet to inhabit.

But of course! It also appeared as if our independent candidate felt that a wee threat could go a long way.

To the people who disagree with me, I have bad news for you, but you will dislike global warming and increased sea levels even less [sic]!

Will we really? And the campaigner had other gripes:

Recent cost cutting decisions such as the demolition of the public toilets in Whitehaven is [sic] disgraceful.

But, hearteningly, the leaflet wasn’t all negative:

Land based wind turbines can produce energy much cheaper and more accessible [sic] than their off-shore counterparts.

The publication finished on an uncharacteristically literate, if a tad contradictory, note:

We have the 27th best education system in the world and every year it seems to get worse. The state education system has failed to produce results, so a drastic rethink is required to improve results.

It was rather hard to resist the conclusion that the leaflet had been produced by the very embodiment of this failure.


92 – Frolic: The Trump revelation

“Holy moly!”

“Hmmm?” “How on earth did he manage to keep that quiet?”




“The very same.”

“Keep what quiet?”

“That he had transitioned.”

“No, he hasn’t – not yet.”

“But he must have.”

“And how exactly do you work this one out?”

“Well, that’s what it says here – in this week’s Sunday Times.”

“Don’t go believing everything you read in the press. Even if it’s The Sunday Times: the stuff they ha …”

“But he is a man!”

“Of course he is a man.”

“So he must have transitioned!”

“Look, he is only a Republican nominee for now: the presidential election isn’t until November, so …”

“No, no, no!”

“Yes, yes, yes: Americans will be electing their president on November 8th; it’s a Tuesday, I believe.”

“No, no, not that!”

“So what?”

“I had no idea he was born a girl, no idea at all – fancy that!”

“A girl? Of course he wasn’t born a girl; don’t be silly!”

“But that’s what Ivanka Trump said – his daughter.”


As a young girl growing up, my father told me I could do anything that I set my mind to.

“Oh this! It’s just her grammar.”

“What do you mean?”

“Look, it’s a very common error.”

“It is?”

“Yep; I call this ‘marketing as’.”

Marketing as?”

“Yep, they are always coming up with stuff like: ‘As one of our best customers, we are pleased to offer you this exclusive deal’; I keep getting marketing literature strewn with such nonsense – so does everybody else.”

“O-o-o, so it was her.”

“Of course it was her; look; what she should have said is this.”


As a young girl growing up, I was told by my father I could do anything that I set my mind to.


“M-m-m, she would … I mean he would have been too young to father a child anyway.”

“Look, it’s just a misrelated phrase – just like a dangling participle.”

“A dangling participle – what’s that?”

“Another time.”



88 – Some little light relief with spelling (From my satirical book: Who’s Put Rat into Bureaucrat?)

This is also from my political – and linguistic – satire, Who’s Put Rat into Bureaucrat?


Chapter 14


It had been a hectic time since our ill-fated team-building event, with all the SPs busily working on their priority deliverables. Having got over my concussion, I immersed myself in FART’s policies, procedures, standards, visions, priorities, tenets, agendas, regulations, principles, doctrines, prescriptions, proscriptions, instructions, rules, precepts, commands, conventions, codes, protocols, directives, decrees, orders, schedules, exclusions, guidelines, recommendations, suggestions and advice. Oh, and process maps and process flow charts, of course. Among all this spiritual nourishment were also the writings of my more established colleagues.

Imagine the extent of my discombobulation when I discovered that I couldn’t rely on my powers of comprehension as reliably as I had – undoubtedly naively – assumed I would. My perplexity desperately needed an outlet, but there was only Crystal around, for our Cluster was having another action-packed day: Greg was attending a meeting of the Current Government Thinking Committee, Morag was attending a meeting of the Shared Vision Committee, Duncan was attending a meeting of the Common Purpose Committee, Ant was attending a meeting of the Information Technology Advisory Forum, Violet was attending a meeting of the Inter-Divisional Liaison Group and Trace was attending a meeting of the House, Lift and Stairwell Committee.

By now, I had been through my own baptism of committee fire, having attended my very first meeting of the Big CORPSE. Before the meeting, Morag had e-mailed us the agenda accompanied by the following message: “Blackberries will be needed”.

“Won’t the hotel supply them? That’s what usually happens.”

“Too expensive, Ali.”

“You mean because they are out of season?”

“Uh? Rewind.”

“Well, blackberries usually ripen in September.”

By now, Crystal, who had been giggling fairly quietly, was laughing so hard she could barely draw breath for all the gasps. “She … ha, ha, ha … she means … our … ha, ha, ha … smartphones … ha, ha, ha.”


“‘Course I’m meaning our smartphones – what else did you think I was meaning?”

“But that’s not how you spell BlackBerrys.”

“‘Course it is, Ali.”

“No, no: you use ‘y’ – not ‘i’. Cross my heart and hope to die.”

“Look, Ali, I know for a fact – for a fact – that you write ‘two ladies, three baddies, four ditties’, eksetera, eksetera, eksetera – with an ‘i’. The ET have told us that you have to change ‘y’ to ‘i’.”

“Absolutely, Morag, but proper nouns are an exception.”

“No offence, Ali, but all our words are proper, aren’t they, Greg?”

“Indeed they are, indeed they are. You might have some improper ones in Polish, Ali, but, in English, everything is proper.”

“No, no, no, proper nouns are names of people, places, organisations, gadgets, things like that – it’s a grammatical term.”

“Not your grammar again – go and get a life!”

“But Morag’s rule does not apply to names, Greg. For example, if you had more than one person called Kerry or Perry, you’d write Kerrys and Perrys – with a ‘y’ – not Kerries and Perries – with an ‘i’. Where you do have to use ‘i’ is with plural forms of common nouns.”

Greg and Morag exchanged their usual look, to which I have, by now, become quite accustomed, and Greg terminated the exchange with a stern, “Basically, we don’t do common, you know what I’m saying.”

87 – Grammar shot: Faulty Coordination (From my satirical book: Who’s Put Rat into Bureaucrat?)

Here comes another grammatical sketch from my political satire, Who’s Put Rat into Bureaucrat?

Chapter 10           SOD

“Ha, ha, ha, read this.”

“Which one, Crystal?”

“The last one.”

The e-mail, from Greg, went like this, “Trace phoned earlier today. Her granddad died and won’t be in the office today.”

We were both duly seized by an attack of giggles – slightly unseemly, given the circumstances. Seeing as Greg was in another meeting – possibly Information Technology Implementation Committee or the Marketing and Market Penetration Issues Focus Group – I spotted an opportunity for another little grammatical session with Violet.

“Violet, why don’t you sit next to me for a bit?”

The girl nodded, came over and parked herself in Greg’s chair.

“Have you seen Greg’s e-mail about Trace’s granddad? May he rest in peace.”

“I have; poor Trace.”

“Yes, it’s awfully sad. But have you noticed that Greg actually attempted to resurrect him?”

“He did?”

“He did: he should have written that she wouldn’t be in the office, of course. I call this type of error faulty coordination.”

“What’s coordination?”

“When we link words, phrases and clauses with the coordinating conjunctions and, or or but, for example: ‘We must and will persevere’, ‘Sink or swim’, ‘We are bloodied but unbowed’ – constructions like this.”

“So coordination is not hard?”

“Of course it isn’t – we use it all the time. But as soon as you put a label on it, people panic and think, ‘It’s grammar – I don’t do grammar’. But the point is that we ‘do’ grammar every time we say or write something.”

“Do we?”

“Absolutely. Because grammar is simply about how we arrange words in phrases, clauses and sentences.”

“Is that all?”

“That is all. But there are lots and lots of principles organising language, and we all need to be aware of them. Coordination is one example – it sounds innocuous but can be a minefield.”

“It can?”

“Well, take Greg’s e-mail for a start. Coordination does trip people up all over the place. And, when it goes wrong, it can be quite funny.”

“Do you remember any examples?”

“Lots; many are blunders made by educated adults. Take this: ‘She made friends at school, but never a boyfriend’ – what’s gone wrong there?”

“Hmm, she can’t have made a boyfriend – can she?”

“Of course not. So?”

“But never had a boyfriend?”

“Absolutely! Or this: ‘Thirty years ago, students received full grants and no tuition fees.’”

“Why would students receive tuition fees?”

“Spot on – so?”

“And didn’t have to pay tuition fees?”

“Absolutely. Sometimes, faulty coordination can be genuinely misleading. I’ve just found this in my local newspaper: ‘A wheelie bin was found to be on fire in a passageway and was quickly put out.’”

“The bin?”

“No, the fire. So?”

“And the fire was quickly put out?”

“Absolutely. And that funny notice in our kitchenette: ‘After the tea break, staff should empty the teapot and stand upside down on the draining board’ – it’s a classic. There’s lots of mangled coordination in FART’s bumf as well.”


“Absolutely; listen to this: ‘Students should identify, solve and apply solutions to problems’ – what’s wrong here?”

“You don’t solve solutions?”

“Absolutely. So?”

“Students should identify and solve problems?”

“Spot on. And this: ‘Students should gather, evaluate and present information in the form of a plan’ – what’s gone wrong here?”

“The plan is only about presenting information.”

“Exactly. So?”

“Students should gather and evaluate information and present it in the form of a plan?”

“Absolutely! But there is also pseudo-coordination.”


“Yes, when people say ‘Try and do’ when they mean ‘Try to do’.”

“That’s what Morag always says,” whispered Violet.

“How about we try and do some work, girls,” said Morag, who had stopped tapping away and was peering at Violet and me over the top of her computer.


78 – Frolic: When editors fall asleep on the job

Finally, they have cracked it! The venerable Oldie has just provided an answer to the question which has been vexing us for ages.

“The overwhelming majority of climate scientists accept that climate change is occurring thanks to factual evidence gathered over decades and more.”

So that is why climate change is occurring – fancy that! And what length of time is more than decades? Some more decades? Careless word order is at the root of many a misunderstanding, yet a moment of reflection (aka editing, a concept which seems alien to some) is all it is likely to take to prevent similar slip-ups. Usually, moving an unfortunately placed phrase or clause does the trick.

Thanks to factual evidence gathered over decades, the overwhelming majority of climate scientists accept that climate change is occurring.

Meanwhile, the editor of Your Money section of The Daily Telegraph had me utterly baffled with this sentence.

“You battled long and hard to get redress without success.”

I imagine getting redress without success would be nigh on impossible. Yet all it takes to make this oxymoron disappear is one, judiciously positioned, comma.

You battled long and hard to get redress, without success.


You battled long and hard, albeit without success, to get redress.

Not a Guardian devotee, I was nevertheless hooked by an article on multiculturalism. Having been appointed professor of public policy at Stanford University, the author, originally from Canada, was waxing lyrical about becoming an American citizen. And not only did the professor expose the abject failure of multiculturalism in Western Europe – he also made a ground-breaking anthropological discovery. The latter went like this:

“The judge actually told us we now had equal rights to anyone in the country who had lived there for 3,000 years.”

Where the US leads, the rest of the world follows, so I rejoiced at the prospect of such phenomenal longevity. Alas, I quickly realised that what the professor must have been trying to say is this:

The judge told us we now had the same rights as anyone whose ancestry in the country went back 3,000 years.

Even so, one needs to plan for one’s retirement, which is why I devour articles on pensions. Imagine the extent of my discombobulation when I read this in The Daily Telegraph.

“Annuities provide a guaranteed income for the rest of someone’s life in retirement, but when they die the pension dies with them.”

So what is one supposed to do when one’s annuity dies? Having been diligently saving into a private pension, I began to panic – only to remind myself that pronouns are often used in ways which obscure their reference. Phew!

Annuities provide a guaranteed retirement income for the rest of someone’s life, but, when the person dies, the pension dies with them.

Finally, in an interview to The Sunday Telegraph an Italian chef goes a boast too far with a description of his six-acre kitchen.

“My villa has eight bedrooms, a cinema room, outside kitchen and inside kitchen set in six acres with a vineyard and private lake.”

Why such nonsense should ever be allowed to slip the editorial net is hard to fathom.

My villa has eight bedrooms, a cinema room and not only an inside but also an outside kitchen and is set in six acres with a vineyard and private lake.

This is what happens when sub-editors fall asleep on the job.