Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Our First Ever Poll-- Please Weigh In

Well, my inner Grammar Cop is alive and well, and is here to conduct a little poll.

Last week (just before we went to the lake) our newspaper ran a review of a new book of poetry. Yes, I read that section of the paper, and I read the poetry reviews. Sue me—I’m a throwback.

Anyhoo, our illustrious Book Editor wrote this piece, and I’m a fan of her work, so it hit me like a ton of bricks when her opening sentence read as follows:

Even though his new anthology of St. Louis poetry has 55 contributors, Matthew Freeman is sorry there isn't more.

Excuse me, but isn’t that ‘isn’t’ supposed to be ‘aren’t’? I mean, he’s “sorry there isn’t more contributors?”

I’m thinking that the antecedent (the party of the first part) is contributors, and that the verb should agree with the plural subject. Agree? --or disagree?

I saved the section, even took it to the lake with me, in one of my many parcels of reading material. You saw the luggage—deal with it. I kept thinking that if I let a few days go by and looked at it with a fresh outlook, I might realize that I was wrong, she was right, and I could go back to sleeping at nights, instead of debating this weighty matter in my head. (Yes. There is indeed a giant L tattooed on my forehead. Loooooooooserrrrrrrrrrrr.)

Instead, I revisited the column often. I’d be sitting on the screened-in porch, overlooking the scenic Lake of the Ozarks, sipping something icy and reading something from my accumulated stash of goodies. I’d be deep into a column by Maureen Dowd or David Brooks, and pretending that I did not notice the A&E section lurking alongside.

I’d purposely turn it over and re-read something I had little interest in, and play like I had completely forgotten the offending passage.

Then, like a stealth bomber out of nowhere, I’d snatch it up, reread the opening, and cringe all over again. It still rankled. No, it still rankles.

So at last, unable to justify this life-altering conflict of subject-verb disagreement, I decided to share this problem with my life’s mate, my legal and marital partner, my love, my sweetheart, and the one person in the world upon whom I can always rely to say ‘black’ whenever I say ‘white’: my husband.

You may remember him as the Center of the Universe (CoTU). There’s a reason for this, but why digress now? I handed him the newspaper, and asked him to read the first sentence. He didn’t flinch. I said, “Nothing? You don’t see a problem with that?”

“Nope,” he replied. He’s only terse when he’s holding out on me.

“Read it aloud,” I commanded. (I rarely command—in this relationship, he’s more the commander, and I the commandee. Of course, he will disagree with this, in which case, see the paragraph above.)

“No, what’s the question?” he asked, a bit casuistically, I thought.

Thus began a lengthy, spirited and protracted discussion about subjects and verbs and bears, oh my. We could not come to a consensual decision, and thus I decided to conduct a poll. This will be the first ever conducted on Funny Is the New Young, and I hope you will weigh in.  (And unlike your doctor's office, I will let you take your shoes off first.)

Please leave a comment telling me whether you think the sentence should be

“Even though his new anthology of St. Louis poetry has 55 contributors, Matthew Freeman is sorry there isn't more.”


“Even though his new anthology of St. Louis poetry has 55 contributors, Matthew Freeman is sorry there aren’t more.”

In fact, to make it simple, if you like, you can just vote “isn’t” or “aren’t”, although longer comments are indeed welcome, and I would love to see us explore this in depth. Yep, that’s just how empty my life is. But seriously folks, if the preponderance of votes agrees with me, I will joyously do a little “I told you so” combined with my famous “in your face” dance. And, to be fair, if most votes agree with CoTU, I will just keep it tactfully to myself. I have enough trouble.


  1. aren't. But what do I know? It just sounds correct that way.

  2. You are totally right Leah, it should be "aren't". I too have the affliction of not being able to read something without checking the spelling and grammar constantly. That is why I can't read Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings! Go ahead and start that Happy Dance!

  3. Initially 'aren't' appeared correct to me, but after I read it a few times, 'isn't' appeared OK. I think you should comment or write a letter to the editor about this one. It would be interesting to see if they respond.

  4. I think it should be "aren't". The sentence is referring to a plural of something, therefore it should be "aren't".

  5. Definitely "aren't" - just a boo-boo on his part.

  6. I wouldn’t use either, really. If you were going to use one it would be “isn’t”, but I would rephrase the ending completely.

    This would sound much different in verbal communication, but with written communication there are rules and structures to follow.

    The expression aren't I is often used in place of am I not, particularly in conversational speech.

    Example 1 (incorrect usage): I'm going with you on vacation, aren't I?

    Although the use of this phrase is widespread, it is atrocious English that could be considered equivalent to you is, a phrase which most educated people abhor (although for some reason, these same people have no qualms about saying aren't I). The correct form of the sentence in Example 1 is as follows:

    Example 2 (correct usage): I'm going with you on vacation, am I not?

    If you read this sentence aloud, it probably sounds awkward and formal, perhaps even a bit hoity-toity. However, it is correct English. If the phrase aren't I is converted from a question to a statement, I aren't, it becomes obvious that it is indeed grammatically incorrect.

    And there you have it!
    Now put that paper away and get onto some other reading....

  7. I'm going to say aren't...because other people said it was right.

    I'm always so afraid that my grammar is not correct.

  8. No doubt - aren't.

    But now I wonder how often you cringe when you read my posts:)

  9. Absolutely, the correct word is "aren't". And this problem is rampant, even on NPR, furgodsake! What has happened to all those grammar exercises we were forced to endure in high school?

  10. Honestly, they both read okay to me. I can see that he's upset that there isn't more to the book (or more to read), or that there aren't more contributors. However, you scare me a little with your grammar stick, so I'm picking whatever you say is right.
    Also... "and the one person in the world upon whom I can always rely to say ‘black’ whenever I say ‘white’: my husband."

    So it's not just me. That's good to know.