"There's 2,500 people down there," candidate Donald Trump told his advisers upon returning to his Fifth Avenue home in New York after campaigning in the Midwest.
"Those are the people who are going to elect you president," replied Mr. Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
Disregarding the content, who made the grammatically correct statement?
It was Kushner.
We have only two verbs in the English language for the state-of-being present tense. "Is" means one, and "are" means more than one.
Nevertheless, every single day, and especially on National Public Radio, the so-called station for intellectuals, I hear: There is many things we do. Here is several ideas. There is five more programs. There is 30 people coming to dinner. There is a variety of laws. (Both variety and laws are plural.)
Do these examples sound redundant? They are, and I hear them constantly. And the media are — not is — often to blame. Clarence Page, columnist for the Chicago Tribune, who never makes a mistake in grammar (to my knowledge), says "please remember that 'media' is the plural of 'medium,' which denotes a form of mass communication, be it newspapers, magazines, books, TV, radio, the Internet." Thus, he urges people when criticizing the media to say "the media are corrupt."
Singular or plural, is and are. Why is it that difficult for so many people to know the difference?
Similarly, many confuse has (singular) and have (plural). "There has to be some controls for health care," said Asa Hutchinson, governor of Arkansas, speaking on NPR. Clearly, the word he should have used was have, plural, to modify controls, plural.
Recently, a minister wrote "all of us knows and experiences a measure of joy in our lives," when he really meant know and experience, the plural, since he is referring to many lives. Or flip the construction to we instead of us. We know. We experience.
Even famous literary people confuse is and are. For example, Billy Collins, former poet laureate of the U.S. and of New York State, wrote in his poem "Goats," "There's five of them up on a grassy slope." No, Mr. Collins, there are five.
Why can't Americans speak/write English correctly?
My friends Annette and Max recently moved back to Europe after living in Baltimore County for 20 years. They are living in Southern France while looking to buy a condo in Zurich or Germany. Not only are Annette and Max fluent in English, French and German, but Sammy, their yellow Labrador, understands commands in all three languages.
And, speaking of dogs, I must again write about Riptide, my favorite Newfoundland. Riptide is a good dog, and he looks well, he eats well, and he sleeps well. It drives me crazy when you ask someone how he is and he answers, "I'm good." If it's someone I know, I may smile and say, "were you bad?"
Confusing the adjective "good" with the adverb "well" is a common, albeit foolish, mistake. In case you missed your elementary school grammar lessons — or cannot put your hands on a Warriner's Grammar book (an outstanding reference), an adjective only modifies a noun: good dog, good food, good time. An adverb, however, can do three things. It can modify a verb; for example: drive slowly. Or it can modify an adjective; for example: very good time, very good food. Or it can modify another adverb, for example: drive extremely slowly.
Not too long ago, I was listening to a re-run of Diane Rehm interviewing socialite Gloria Vanderbilt and her son, news anchor Anderson Cooper, on their recently published book "The Rainbow Comes and Goes." "This book is a conversation between my mom and I," said Mr. Cooper, several times in fact, when he should have said "between my mom and me." Then he said, "it's also a document about my brother and I."
"I" is the subject of a sentence; "me" is the object. One can say "between you and me," "about you and me," "for you and me" and "with you and me." In each case, me is the object of the prepositions between, about, for and with.
Another common mistake, this one made by a BBC commentator, is confusing between (two people) and among (three or more). The commentator said, "we need 100,000 votes between three states," when he should have said "among."
I know. There are hundreds of grammar mistakes people make daily, and I cringe every time I hear just one. I am certain my readers have their own lists of pet peeves. But let me close with a zinger.
My friends Ann and Semmes were having dinner at a well-known Baltimore country club recently when they discovered their waiter was a high school English teacher. Ann asked him what was the past tense of "sneak," expecting to hear "sneaked." Without missing a beat, the moonlighting waiter said "snuck."
Lynne Agress, who teaches in the Odyssey Program of Johns Hopkins, is president of BWB-Business Writing At Its Best Inc. and author of "The Feminine Irony" and "Working With Words in Business and Legal Writing." Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.