The Write Stuff
September 2014 Volume 10 Issue 9
Whether or not you’re a fan of mathematics, you can probably appreciate that the things you learned in math class, starting from simple arithmetic all the way up to complex algebra, have remained the same over the years. Yes, 2+2 always equals 4.
Oh if that was true for English — but it’s not. Our language has many gray areas, and some of the things you were taught about it in school don’t ring true today. Consider the following examples:
I before E except after C. Not always. Think about all the words that break that rule: beige, caffeine, Fahrenheit, foreign, leisure, protein, sleigh, their, vein — and the list goes on and on.
Ending sentences with a preposition. A no-no? Not according to the Oxford Dictionary, which notes that doing so is a perfectly natural part of the structure of modern English.
OK: What did you do that for?”
Starting sentences with a coordinating conjunction. Another sin? Not according to today’s writing experts, who say it’s perfectly acceptable to begin a sentence with “and,” “but,” “or,” “nor,” “for,” “so,” or “yet” — as long as you make sure the sentence is a sentence, with a subject and verb.
OK: Many fan bases are getting excited about the upcoming baseball postseason. But, Cubs fans are once again looking to next year.
If you’re a faithful reader, you’re aware of something else that’s changed since many of us were in school: two spaces after a period are passe (and unnecessary).
Data Is or Are?
Many singular/plural words exist, such as media and staff, but one of the trickiest is data. The singular form of data is datum, but you don’t really see that used much, if at all. My preference is to treat data as a singular word — the data is significant or the data proves the theory — but it’s not unheard of, and not really wrong, to treat it as a plural word: the data are significant or the data prove the theory. That sounds odd to me — but to each his own.
Its or Their?
Which of the following sentences do you think is correct?
The company will announce its latest sales figures soon.
The company will announce their latest sales figures soon.
Give yourself a pat on the back if you said the first sentence is right. “Their” typically refers to people, while “its” refers to entities.
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