The Grammar Factor – September 2011

Collective noun agreement

Reader’s question: How do you avoid using ‘its’ after a collective noun such as ‘team’? For example:

The team has started on its next big project.
It’s often the team that has a deep knowledge of its company’s business. 

Answer: These sentences are correct, but switching to the plural is becoming quite common, particularly in following sentences. For example:

The team has started on their next big project. They plan to finish this project by May 2012.

The reason we switch is that we are talking about individuals rather than the team as an entity, so ‘it’ sounds wrong.

My preference is to change words to avoid inconsistencies. For example:

The team has started on the next big project.
It’s often the team that has a deep knowledge of the company’s business.


Reader’s question: preservice or pre-service teachers? 

Answer: I think you can use either – just be consistent. Hyphens often drop out of oft-used words and preservice seems to be an example of that.

When in doubt, I look in dictionaries and google. Preservice does not exist in the Macquarie Dictionary, but a google search showed that the University of Canberra treats preservice as a single word.

Full stops and URLs

Reader’s questions: I never know whether to put a full stop after a URL at the end of a sentence. My grammatical sense indicates I should; however, I wonder if some readers may copy and paste the URL along with the full stop and wonder why it doesn’t work.

Answer: I agree that a sentence without a full stop looks odd, but it has become acceptable to finish sentences with URLs without a full stop. It prevents any confusion. 

Initial capitals 

Reader’s question: What is the protocol for using capital letters in headings? I sometimes find it confusing picking out which words should not be capitalised, e.g. words like and, an, a, for

Heading example: Uploading an Inspection for Health and Safety Reasons

Answer: There is no need to use initial capital letters in headings – sentence case looks better and you don’t have to worry about which words need initial capitals. In sentence case, only the first word and proper nouns take initial capitals.

So your heading could read: Uploading an inspection for health and safety reasons.

We still need initial capitals for titles, for example, the names of books and Acts.

Reader’s question: ‘Not-for-Profit’ sector or ‘not-for-profit’ sector?

Answer: The modern way is to use fewer capitals, so I would say ‘not-for-profit’.

Readers’ pet peeves

The way people misuse ‘leeway’. Leeway is the sideways deviation from the course due to the crosswind. You don’t give someone leeway, you make allowances.

Journalists using the expression ‘shot dead’. A past tense of the verb plus a state doesn’t seem right – it’s like saying ‘punched bruised’. It sounds like a little kid playing cops and robbers.

Word of the month


Growlery has dropped out of the Oxford English Dictionary.

A pity, because it is such a wonderful word! To quote the OED, it means a ‘place to growl in; applied joc. to a person’s private sitting-room. 

“This, you must know, is the G. When I am out of humour I come and growl here” DICKENS.’


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