Putting things in order

Beth Randall leaves this observation:

Recently I’ve been seeing errors like this: “Putting things in order are difficult.” It seems that people are deciding whether to make a verb singular or plural by checking the status of the most recent noun (“things”) instead of the subject of the clause (“putting”). The horsemen of the apocalypse are not far behind …

And here’s Katharine:

Good diagnosis! Linguists sometimes call it “contact agreement” (as in “The horsemen of the apocalypse is not far behind…”).

I’d love to know more about when and where this kind of mistake happens.

5 thoughts on “Putting things in order

  1. Based on my sample, in college student writing, in almost every report. In fact, almost any grammatical mistake you can think of occurs with distressing frequency.

    Sorry about feeling cynical, but I’m about 23 hours into a 53-hour grading bout, and it is getting me very depressed. Maybe by the end of next weekend (when I should be done with this grading), I’ll begin to regain my optimism.

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  2. I see it everywhere: in published textbooks, in college course materials prepared by an associate professor, in articles published online by “real” newspapers such as NYT and WaPo, … Usually it takes the form of “the (singular noun) of the (plural noun) ARE (adjective or verbal phrase).”

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  3. Here’s one I just read, on a forum discussing the Turpin case: “Hearing the statement’s from the children were heartbreaking …” It has a bonus apostrophe error.

    While we’re at it, I’ve been noticing a lot of misuse of “whom” recently. For instance, “he’s the kind of person whom sees everything in black and white.”

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