Slide category: enews

The Grammar Factor: florid language of political reporting, notes and note



Politics attracts florid language

Australian federal politics have been volatile this year and the reporting has been too. A reader commented that in just one day in The Sydney Morning Herald, journalists referred tooverheated language

  • ‘A brace of broken election promises…’ (Reader’s comment: a brace is only two.)
  • ‘Abbott is safe as long as the forces arraigned against him…’ (Reader’s comment: ‘arraign’ means to accuse and bring to court. Perhaps the journalist meant ‘arrayed’?)

One article included clichés such as:

  • ‘There’s an oil and water quality to the competing narratives in Canberra at present.’
  • ‘The heartland is bleeding.’
  • ‘On the heels of the Australia Day shock, the Queensland election was cataclysmic.’

Readers’ questions

Note and notes

Question: Can you explain why recommendations in board papers use ‘note’ (that the Board note…), but the minutes use ‘notes’ (The Board notes…)?

Answer: The use of the plural verb ‘note’ in the phrase ‘that the Board note’ is known as the mandative subjunctive.

I have written about this topic before in a blog.

In brief, the mandative subjunctive is used with clauses that often, but not always, begin with ‘that’ and express a demand, requirement, request, recommendation or suggestion.

In the minutes, we say ‘The Board notes’ because this is a simple statement of fact – there is no need for the subjunctive. The ‘Board’ is being treated as a singular entity, i.e. a collective noun.

Third to first person

Question: Can you switch from third person to first person plural in an annual report, i.e. use the company name in the first instance and then switch to ‘we’ or ‘our’?

Answer: I think that is acceptable.

On’ or ‘at’ for emails

Question: Do you email someone ‘on’ or ‘at’?

For example, email Mary at or email Mary on

Answer: I would say ‘at’ on the grounds that we use ‘on’ for a surface (on the table) and ‘at’ for a specific point or location (at the bus stop).

I think an email address goes to a specific location, i.e. someone’s Inbox.

Articles of interest

Apostrophes: feeling possessive?
Read an entertaining and convincing article in defence of the apostrophe.

Ban after-hours emails?
Germany’s employment ministry established guidelines in 2013 banning managers from calling or emailing staff after work and is now thinking about introducing ‘anti-stress’ legislation. Sometimes when I write emails after-hours, I put them in my draft folder until the following morning. Do you send emails after-hours? Read more.

Does grammar matter on online dating websites or resumés?
Apparently, women have worse grammar on online dating sites  and Google trashes resumés with typos. Google must trash a lot of resumés!

Grammar Geekery with Bill Wash
The Washington Post editor Bill Walsh discusses grammar and answers readers’ questions once a month. His responses are worth reading.

Words of the month

Mansplain (man + explain = man explaining something to a woman in a patronising way)

The Macquarie Dictionary chose this word as its word of 2014. I’ve never seen this word before and don’t intend using it. What do you think?

The People’s Choice was ‘share plate’. I understand that choice, but was surprised it is a new phrase.

Quote of the month

‘The first draft of anything is shit.’
Ernest Hemingway


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