My next favorite chapter in “Championship Writing’ by Paula LaRocque is “Grammatically Speaking: Writers should avoid polluting the language environment.”
To avoid trouble with pronouns, LaRocque recommends what she calls “the substitution game.” If you need to be sure which pronoun is correct, try another pronoun. For example, she suggests:
“Remove you and I and use other pronouns: This is between we; this is between us. … We see immediately that between we is wrong and between us is right.”
Collective nouns (for groups) “are usually singular in American English,” writing coach LaRocque says. (If you read a great deal of British, Canadian or other Commonwealth writers, as I do, collective noun usage can be a minefield.) Her example of a company moving “their warehouse to their new location” is fixed to read “its warehouse to its new location.”
LaRocque mentions “the subjunctive were,” but she doesn’t use my favorite example. She points out, correctly, that subjunctive sentences are “contrary to fact.”
For me, the easiest way to check on the proper use of the subjunctive were is to remember the musical “Fiddler on the Roof.” Its song “If I Were a Rich Man” is sung by a desperately poor one.
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Filed under: Writing