Sunday, November 11, 2018

None of them was, or none of them were?

Which is the correct grammar: none of them was, or none of them were? Should the agreement be with the singular “none” or the plural noun?

Yes, it is a tricky one. I believe it is because the appearance of singular and plural in the sentence causes confusion as to where the agreement should be. I have seen and heard plenty of cases where it has tripped people up. On the Internet I have found grammar articles devoted to it and forum posts where people ask the same question.  

The answer is: Agreement is with the noun in the sentence and not with the “none”. If the noun is plural, the agreement is plural. But if the noun is singular, the agreement is singular.

For example:

None of the pies were eaten because there had been a food contamination warning.
Not: None of the pies was eaten because there had been a food contamination warning.

However, if you are talking about one item, agreement is singular.
For example: none of the pie was eaten.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

When the Red and Green Squiggly Lines Don’t Appear

When you open a document, you expect to see red squiggly lines below words that the spell check does not find in its dictionary, or words that are genuinely misspelled. You also expect to see green squiggly lines below words that don’t agree with the grammar check.

However, now and then, for some reason the lines don’t appear at all in the document. They don’t even appear below words that should have the red or squiggly lines beneath them. And when you run a spell check, it just says “The spelling and grammar check is complete” when it should have started indicating words with the red/green squiggly lines.

I myself have found that sometimes the grammar and spell check acts up in this way. Fortunately there is a very simple way to fix this problem that I have found on the Internet. Select the text and then briefly change the language. My own preference is to change the type of English from, say, UK English to US English. Then I change the language back again. Bingo! The red and green squiggly lines instantly appear.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Data: Singular or Plural Noun?

The data we collected from the survey was scanty.
The data we collected from the survey were scanty.

Which sentence is correct?

I have observed there can be quite a bit of confusion as to whether data should be used as a singular or plural noun. But why is there such confusion? It stems from the origins of “data”, so let us begin there.

Data comes from Latin. In Latin data is a plural noun. It is the plural of “datum”, which means “something given”. Datum exists in English as the singular of data, though it is seldom used in everyday English. You are more likely to see “datum” as the singular of "data" in technical and academic documents. "Datum" also means a starting point for measurement in surveying and engineering. 

So in the strictest grammatical sense, data is a plural noun. For this reason academic faculties are insistent on using data as a plural noun, especially the science fields. After all, they are more likely to use the seldom-used datum. I myself have proofread papers that use it.

However, in non-academic English it is quite widespread and acceptable to use data as a singular collective noun. That is the way I have always used it myself. And let’s admit it: although saying, for example, “the data on my hard drive were corrupted” is the more strict grammar, it would sound very formal to many people, who would be more likely to expect me to say “the data on my hard drive was corrupted”.

So my thoughts on whether to use data as a singular or plural noun are:

When writing an academic paper, use data as a plural noun to be on the safe side of academia. This is how I proofread the word “data” when I proofread an academic document. If you are unsure about which agreement to use, consult your supervisor or style guide.

Mind you, when I proofread data as a plural noun in academic documents, I regard the rule that governs it as more like an academic rule than a grammar one. I don’t proofread data as a plural noun in academic documents for grammatical reasons – I do so because academic style demands it.

Outside academic circles, it is perfectly acceptable and more common to use data as a singular collective noun. It would still not be grammatically wrong to use the plural, but you may have to consider whether it is appropriate to the degree of formality you are using. 

After all, grammar check allows data to be used as both a singular and a plural noun. Have you ever noticed that grammar check never disagrees with the agreement of data, regardless of whether it is singular or plural?

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Writing - Dealing with Procrastination

Here is another piece of writing advice, which arrived in my email. It comes from Creative Writing Now

If you find yourself always putting off writing, it can be helpful to look at why you're doing it.  Here are some of the most common reasons.

REASON # 1 - Waiting for the perfect moment.
Maybe you're having trouble finding the right time to start a writing project.  
There's so much going on in your life.  There might be a holiday coming up, or you might have to travel.  You probably have responsibilities at work and home.
Or maybe you're tired, under the weather, or just not in the mood.
The fact is that the perfect moment will probably never come.  If you keep waiting for the ideal circumstances, you might never get around to writing.

The solution is to write in spite of imperfect conditions.  

Snatch time whenever you can.  You might decide to wake up a little earlier and write first thing in the morning, or write in spurts, on the bus, on your lunch break, etc.  
If you're not in the right mindset for writing, do it anyway.  Sometimes it takes a little time for inspiration to show up.  

And remember you don't have to be inspired to write.  Inspiration is wonderful when it comes, but you can write without it.  Professional writers don't feel inspired every day, and they still get the job done.

REASON # 2 - Waiting for the perfect idea.
Maybe you don't know what to write about.  Or maybe you have an idea, but you're worried it isn't good enough.

The truth is that the idea that you start out with isn't so important.  What makes for a great story or poem is generally not the idea, but what the author does with it.

Think of all of the authors who've written novels based on the following idea: "Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boys gets girl back."  And yet the idea never gets old.
So if you're short on ideas, you can always use a writing prompt.  You'll find lots of them here:

And if you're not sure how to develop an idea into a story, you can find help here:

REASON #3 - Fear of failure.

Many people avoid writing because they're afraid of not being good enough.
But the only way to become a good writer is by writing!  So if you avoid writing, you'll never get there.
Even if you're already a good writer, often the only way to write something good is to start with a bad first draft.

So give yourself permission to write badly, even if that goes against all of your instincts.  Once you stop being afraid of it, writing suddenly becomes a lot more fun.  And it tends to flow better too!

Remember: no matter the result, the important thing is that you're writing.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Dealing with the Blank Page

Here is another pearl of wisdom that arrived in my email. It concerns those moments when you are absolutely stuck on what to write. The blank page on the screen stares at you tantalisingly. You need to fill it up for some reason or other, and you have just no idea how. Or you just have no idea where you’re going with your writing and you feel like you’re writing in the dark or something.

It turns out many successful authors still get this feeling. Their way of dealing with it is to turn it around instead of letting it discourage them. They learn to live with it, and even “enjoy the adventure and surprise that comes with uncertainty”. Here is what some of them advise on the subject. 

“That blank page is there waiting for me to jump in, to sink or swim. I end up flailing about and not knowing what I’m doing. But I trust it’s all part of the process....” 
- Bao Phi

"I have written a great many stories and I still don't know how to go about it except to write it and take my chances."
- John Steinbeck

"Be willing and unafraid to write badly, because often the bad stuff clears the way for good, or forms a base on which to build something better."
- Jennifer Egan

"Sometimes, when you're writing sentence by sentence, you're not really sure what footprints you're going to fall into, or what ghosts might appear."
- Karen Russell

"You've got to jump off the cliff all the time and build your wings on the way down.”
- Ray Bradbury

"The greatest thing about writing a book is that at first it's all inchoate, but the more you work on it, the more the book teaches you its internal rules."
- George Saunders

“Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” 
- E.L. Doctorow

And what would I say on the subject?

“Use it to practise the art of automatic writing. Just write whatever comes into your head, wherever your subconscious and imagination take you. Never mind what your conscious mind tries to say.”

- Briony Coote

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Quotes on How to Unblock Writer's Block

I am sharing some quotes on how to unblock writer's block that came to me in the email.

"...when you have to write every day, there's no such thing as writer's block."
- Michael Connelly

"I learned to produce whether I wanted to or not. It would be easy to say oh, I have writer's block, oh, I have to wait for my muse. I don't. Chain that muse to your desk and get the job done."
- Barbara Kingsolver
"If you do enough planning before you start to write, there's no way you can have writer's block. I do a complete chapter by chapter outline."
- R. L. Stine

"The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day ... you will never be stuck. Always stop while you are going good and don't think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day. That way your subconscious will work on it all the time."
- Ernest Hemingway
"If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don't just stick there scowling at the problem. But don't make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people's words will pour in where your lost words should be."
- Hilary Mantel
"Writer’s block is my unconscious mind telling me that something I’ve just written is either unbelievable or unimportant to me, and I solve it by going back and reinventing some part of what I’ve already written so that when I write it again, it is believable and interesting to me.  Then I can go on.  Writer’s block is never solved by forcing oneself to “write through it,” because you haven’t solved the problem that caused your unconscious mind to rebel against the story, so it still won’t work – for you or for the reader."
- Orson Scott Card
"I don't believe in 'writer's block'. I try and deal with getting stuck by having more than one thing to work on at a time. And by knowing that even a hundred bad words that didn't exist before is forward progress."
- Neil Gaiman

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Quotes from Some Famous Authors on How They Write

There is no right or wrong on how a writer wants to write. It all comes down to what suits. Some people do it in the cafe, library, or wherever they can find a place to sit. Others do it at home on their computers, just as they used to do with typewriters, or in some solitary place. Some people spend time plotting out what they are going to write before they start writing while others just grab pen and paper and start writing whatever comes to mind (automatic writing). And there are some writers, such as myself, who don't have one way of writing; they have several.

Here are some quotes on how some famous authors write, which came in my email this morning:

"I write almost entirely in bed or on a couch with my feet up on the coffee table. I feel most creative when I'm looking out the window, and my bed and couch have nice views of the New York skyline."
- Gary Shteyngart

"I have a very beautiful room in my house... It's glass on three sides, and you'd think that's the perfect place to write. Somehow in that nice room I feel too exposed, and... I'm too distracted by things going on, so I end up writing in a not-very-nice office bedroom."
- Jeffrey Eugenides

"Usually I try to be there by six. Everything has been taken off the walls so that there's nothing to arrest my sight. On the bed I have Roget's Thesaurus, a dictionary, a Bible, and a deck of playing cards."
- Toni Morrison

"I wake early, often at 5 o'clock, and start writing at once."
- James Joyce

"I generally concentrate on work for three or four hours every morning. I sit at my desk and focus totally on what I’m writing. I don’t see anything else, I don’t think about anything else."
- Haruki Murakami

"I write my first draft by hand, at least for fiction. For non-fiction, I write happily on a computer, but for fiction I write by hand, because I'm trying to achieve a kind of thoughtless state, or an unconscious instinctive state. I'm not reading what I write when I wrote. It's an unconscious outpouring that's a mess, and it's many, many steps away from anything anyone would want to read. Creating that way seems to generate the most interesting material for me to work with, though."
- Jennifer Egan

"I don't start a novel until I have lived with the story for a while to the point of actually writing an outline, and after a number of books I've learned that the more time I spend on the outline the easier the book is to write.  And if I cheat on the outline I get in trouble with the book."
- John Grisham

"When I start to write, I don't have any plan at all. I just wait for the story to come."
- Haruki Murakami
"I might spend 100 pages trying to get to know the world I'm writing about: its contours, who are my main characters, what are their relationships to each other, and just trying to get a sense of what and who this book is about. Usually around that point of 100 pages, I start to feel like I'm lost, I have too much material, it's time to start making some choices. It's typically at that point that I sit down and try to make a formal outline and winnow out what's not working and what I'm most interested in, where the story seems to be going."
- Michael Chabon

"What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat,’.... And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.'"
- Maya Angelou

"I type in one place, but I write all over the house."
- Toni Morrison

"When I'm really involved or getting towards the end of a novel, I can write for up to ten hours a day. At those times, it's as though I'm writing a letter to someone I'm desperately in love with."
- Joyce Carol Oates