Disagreeable nouns

  1. The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. (Matthew 1:1, ESV)
  2. Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. (Mark 2:13, NIV)
  3. One day Zechariah’s group of priests were on duty, and he was serving God as a priest. (Luke 1:8, CEV)
  4. 1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2The same was in the beginning with God. 3All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:1-3, KJV)

I read the BBC News online and there’s an element of British grammar that sounds really weird to me. Here’s some examples:

France were stunned,

Somehow Wales were still pressing, (Source: Wales 8-9 France)

It’s not ungrammatical for British English but as an American, I expect to see “France was stunned.”

I’ve listed four Bible passages and each of them has something “wrong” with it. And I’ve also included at least one grammatical error in this post. Can you tell me what each of the errors are?

27 thoughts on “Disagreeable nouns

  1. Peter Kirk says:

    I’m not sure your rugby examples are good grammatical British English. They are quite commonly heard, I agree, but I’m surprised they made it to the BBC. Perhaps they are OK on sports pages. I note on the current BBC News front page:

    Hosts New Zealand take on trans-Tasman rivals Australia as they bid to reach a first World Cup final since 1995.

    So a sports team is plural, but:

    City of London Police is considering …

    A police force, a lot more than 15 people, is singular.

  2. Peter Kirk says:

    Oddly enough when I refreshed the BBC news website the latter story (otherwise unchanged) had been edited to

    City of London Police are considering …

    Could the editor be a reader of BBB? More likely someone else spotted that the regular BBC rules had been broken. But I still don’t think those rules are good English.

  3. Peter Kirk says:

    Thanks, David. I wasn’t aware that this was a British-American distinction. I suppose in America peas is green as well. Linguistics are a strange thing!

  4. Wes says:

    2. Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. (Mark 2:13, NIV)

    “Them” (plural) refers to “crowd” (singular). “he began to teach *it*.”

    3. One day Zechariah’s group of priests were on duty, and he was serving God as a priest. (Luke 1:8, CEV)

    Subject-verb agreement. “Zechariah’s group…*was* on duty.” The subject is “group” (singular) not “priests” (plural).

    This post: “Here’s some examples.” –> “Here *are* some examples.”

    I don’t know about 1 and 4.

  5. Wes says:

    I guess with 1 the appositive could be clearer. As it stands “the son of David” could be referring to “the book”:

    “The book…,the son of David.”

    The only way to clear this up would be something like, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, of the son of Davd, of the son of Abraham.”

    So I guess that leaves number 4.

  6. Mike Sangrey says:

    I have a suggestion…

    After we determine the issue with 1 and 4, we mention how much difficulty we had “seeing” the errors.

    It was difficult for me and took me several times through. The quote of John 1 I still haven’t figured out. I suspect John 1 is just too familiar.

    Also, ‘them‘ in #2 is somewhat problematic since in English, singular ‘them‘ actually exists (at least from a descriptivist perspective). Also, people are not its. I wonder, with the example sentence, if we’re bumping up against the fact that English is not really a gendered language.

  7. Wes says:

    @Mike I agree that “them” is acceptable English for this case. However, although people are not its, a crowd is an it.

    I still can’t figure out what’s wrong with number 4. I am just guessing, but in the original language the word translated “all things” can also be translated as “everything”? So it would line up more with the second half of the verse i fit was translated as such (singular and singular). But that’s not really a grammatical problem with English. It’s more like a translation choice, so I may be way off on this one.

  8. David Ker says:

    At least one more error in my text.

    Regarding #1, my wife doesn’t see a problem here. It’s “disagreeable” to me in the sense that someone can’t be the son of two fathers. So for it to make sense in contemporary English you’d have to say, “Jesus, the descendant of both Abraham and David.” The other option could be that the phrase is referring to three people: Jesus, the son of Abraham and the son of David. But you’d need the “and” in there for it to make sense.

    #4 is staring you in the face.

  9. arthad says:

    I’m assuming the error in the text is “Here’s some examples.” It should be “here are.”

    I’m stumped on #4 unless you’re talking about the inverted word-order.

  10. Hannah C. says:

    Your error – should be “here ARE some examples” instead of “Here’s” (short for “Here is.”) Examples is plural, therefore it needs “are” by it.

    Errors:
    1) Fragment
    3) “Were” should be “Was”, since “group” is singular.

    I can’t catch the error on 2, aside from it being stilted English.

    On 4, I’m having a lot of trouble – but then again, I’m not sure we should judge KJV English by today’s standards, either. 😉 The reason I’m having trouble is *because* it is KJV English, and because it is familiar.

  11. Peter Kirk says:

    The issue I see with #4 is that in verse 3 “him”, twice, would most naturally refer back to the nearest animate male referent, which is God. Well, God is not strictly male, but is usually, and certainly in KJV, referred to with male pronouns. However, the real referent in this verse is generally understood to be the Word. How far is this on the basis of our theology?

    But then isn’t the Greek similarly ambiguous? Or were normal Greek discourse rules sufficiently different from English ones that the correct referent would be clear?

  12. mgvh says:

    #1 is not a complete sentence.
    #2, while not technically correct, certainly seems acceptable to me. (Crowd > them)
    #3, as noted already: group… was
    #4: In verse 3, I suppose you could argue for “anything” instead of “any thing.” I also don’t think the semi-colon is necessary. A comma would do.

  13. Donna says:

    Of your sentences, this one sounds weird to me

    “I read the BBC News online and there’s an element of British grammar that sounds really weird to me.” There’s something wrong with the “there’s”, something missing there.

    Regarding the plural/singular thing, I’m Australian and we speak the same as British people in this regard. You can say either “the team is” or “the team are” but they mean different things. “The team are”, in my opinion, is the unmarked option.

    About number 4, there are so many problems there, but it’s not trying to be 21st Century English, so I’m not sure what the relevant problems might be.

  14. Hilary says:

    I’m a bit late for this discussion, but as a Brit I would understand “France was stunned” to mean everyone in the entire country of France, whereas “France were stunned” as meaning the team. It does sound a bit odd even so, and if it were me I’d probably say “the French team were stunned” (but interesting that I’d keep it plural … or is it subjunctive?!).

  15. Wayne Leman says:

    Hilary asked:

    It does sound a bit odd even so, and if it were me I’d probably say “the French team were stunned” (but interesting that I’d keep it plural … or is it subjunctive?!).

    It’s plural there, Hilary. “Were” is one of many words which can serve double duty grammatically. Here it indicates plural. In the following sentence (uttered by Tevya) “were” does not; rather it indicates the subjunctive:

    “If I were a rich man.”

  16. Daniel Buck says:

    It doesn’t look as if anyone caught “each . . . are” as being discordant. “Each” is singular, thus takes “is.”

    #1 is not so much a sentence fragment per se, but a title, and thus capable of abbreviated grammatical structure.

    #2 has singular/plural disagreement in number in Greek/English, as stated.

    #3 is ungrammatical only in the CEV, not its Greek base.

    For #4, the only problem I can see in John 1:3 is that ‘and’ should not introduce the last clause, since it is a restatement of the previous clause; I would expect just the semicolon.

    “Originally the Logos was, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was divine. This (divine Logos) was in the beginning with God” (okay, that’s redundant too, but I can’t see of any way to fix it, given the Greek text).

  17. David Frank says:

    Wayne, when Hilary pauses to ask herself if the “were” in “The French team were stunned” were subjunctive, I have to think she was intentionally doing a little creative word play, as I’ve known you to do on occasion.

  18. Wayne Leman says:

    Wayne, when Hilary pauses to ask herself if the “were” in “The French team were stunned” were subjunctive, I have to think she was intentionally doing a little creative word play, as I’ve known you to do on occasion.

    Frank(ly), if I were as alert as you on that one, I would have picked up on it. But it was too subtle for me. My word plays are frequent but not very subtle. Well done, Hilary.

    And I hope your presentation at BT2011 went well,David.

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