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Grammar Tip – Most Is or Most Are

Deane’s question: “Is it okay to write ‘Most of the population speaks English.’ Or should it be ‘Most of the population speak English.’

BizWritingTip response: This question deals with subject and verb agreement and collective nouns.

Words such as all, none, any, some, more and most are considered pronouns. The verb following may be singular or plural depending on the noun these pronouns represent. (The noun usually shows in the of phrase that follows.)

Examples

None of us are going to the conference. (The “of us” phrase makes the pronoun and verb plural.)

Some of the report was inaccurate. (The “of the report” makes the pronoun and verb singular.)

Most of the people are available. (The word “people” is always treated as plural.)

However, the word “population” may be treated as a single or as a plural noun. If the writer is using it in the sense of a whole unit (a collective noun), the word and the following verb are singular.

Example

The population speaks English. (Everyone does.)

But when you place most of in front of “population,” you are no longer referring to a whole unit. Therefore, the word and the following verb are plural.

Example

Most of the population speak English.

Grammar Tip – Commas — are they important?

Some people don’t see the necessity of commas. However, a telecommunications company has recently had a $2 million lesson on why they are so important.

It seems that, in 2002, a telecommunications company contracted an infrastructure company to string cable lines across the Maritimes for a fee of $9.60 a pole. The telecommunications company believed the deal was for five years, and that it could be potentially renewed for another five years. However, the infrastructure company backed out halfway through the first period, and it was supported by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).

The sentence that allowed for the cancellation read as follows:

“This agreement shall be effective from the date it is made and shall continue in force for a period of five (5) years from the date it is made, and thereafter for successive five (5) year terms, unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party.”

Grammarians agree that when you enclose words between two commas, the words are not essential and can be omitted without changing the meaning of the sentence.

Therefore, the infrastructure company is correct in interpreting the sentence as “This agreement shall be effective from the date it is made and shall continue in force for a period of five (5) years from the date it is made, unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party.”

If the comma had been deleted after the word “terms,” the contract could not have been broken.

The telecommunications company is now no longer protected from the rising costs for stringing the cable, and it is estimated the comma problem may cost them over $2 million.

This story, sent to me by a BizWritingTip reader, is a wonderful example of why punctuation is so important. How much care do you take with your commas?

Incidentally, in this example the numbers for the years are written two ways: five (5) years. This is because it is a sentence in a legal contract. In standard business writing, you would never write numbers both ways.

Grammar Tip – Explaining Colons

The colon (:) is an important punctuation mark in that it signals to your readers that an explanation follows. Unfortunately, many readers tend to overuse it.

If you are staying on the same line, you must have a complete sentence before you use a colon.

Correct

Our client list includes many companies from the automotive sector: GM, Chrysler, Ford and Nissan. (The words before the colon form a complete sentence.)

Incorrect

Our client list includes: GM, Chrysler, Ford and Nissan.?(The words before the colon do not form a complete sentence.)

Correct

Our client list includes GM, Chrysler, Ford and Nissan.??The colon is also used when introducing a list.

Correct

The following information is enclosed:

  • A handbook including an overview of the association
  • A calendar of the year’s events
  • A members’ directory
  • Your membership number

Sign Errors – Goodlife Fitness Club Sign

Location: GoodLife Fitness Club in Mississauga

GoodLife

Error: Pluralization of an upper case abbreviation

Tip: There is no apostrophe after an upper case abbreviated word.

Corrected Version: Plasma TVs just installed for your enjoyment.