Mistakes Often Made

Mistakes often made in writing and speaking.

By Charles D. Litt

A mistake I hear frequently is illustrated by this sentence: "There was, three mistakes in his report." This is an. inverted type of sentence, in which the verb precedes the sub­ject. The mistake of using "was," the singular form of the verb, is caused by the failure of the speaker, less often the writer, to think ahead to the plural subject.

"There," as an expletive or anticipa­tive subject, may introduce either a singular or a plural subject and verb. To avoid this disagreement of subject and verb, the speaker or writer should look ahead to the subject, and if plural, have the plural form of the verb pre­cede the subject. "There were three mistakes in his report."

Phrases and clauses giving a reason often lead to awkward sentence con­struction. "The reason for his failure is because he—" The correct Eng­lish idiom requires "that" instead of "because." "The reason for his fail­ure is that he put in too little time." The subject of the sentence, "reason," is a noun, and it should be followed by a noun construction in the predi­cate. The conjunction "that" properly introduces a noun clause; "because" may introduce only an adverbial clause. Other examples: "The reason I consider this a reliable report is that he gave much time to its prepara­tion." "The reason he was promoted was that he gave attention to impor­tant details."

The reason may be given in a simple statement of fact, using the "because" clause. "He failed because he put in too little time." "I consider this a reliable report because he gave much time to its preparation." "He was promoted because he gave attention to important details." In these last ex­amples the "because" clause modifies the main verb in the sentence, "failed," "consider," "was promoted," respec­tively.

"Due to" and "on account of" some­times result in wordiness. Do not say, "The reason for his failure is on account of (or due to) his careless­ness." The reason is his carelessness, not on account of it, or due to it. "The reason for his failure is his care­lessness." "Due to its strong construc­tion, the box did not break when it fell." Better: "Because it was strongly made, the box did not break when it fell."

South Lancaster, Mass.


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By Charles D. Litt

May 1932

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