or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Spiral Bound

English doesn't have a genitive case, with its endings, although it used to. We still, however, need to indicate such useful concepts as possession and composition, so we use either the preposition "of" ("a ball of wool") or apostrophe-ess ("the bee's knees"), plus a batch of possessive pronouns ("my name").

A problem arises for less-than-careful writers, though: if the would-be genitive doesn't agree in number with the subject of the sentence, it's apparently easy to use the wrong verb number. I say "apparently" because I've never done it, but it crops up all the time.

Here's a recipe--just in time for your New Year's Eve party!--which starts with the following description:

The eye appeal of these delicious spirals are sure to make a statement on your buffet table.

See? "Eye appeal" is singular, while "spirals" is plural, and since the verb immediately follows "spirals", it's apparently (there's that word again) natural to use a plural verb. Unfortunately, "eye appeal" is in fact the subject, and since it's singular, a singular verb is called for--demanded, in fact.

How to fix this problem? Use the right verb, of course: "The eye appeal of these delicious spirals is...." If you can't bear to do that (because you think your readers will think it's wrong), then recast the sentence: "These delicious spirals have an eye appeal that is sure to...."

I don't know about you, but I would hesitate to make a recipe that hasn't seen the eye of a copy editor.


Blogger Frank said...

Would you hyphenate "eye appeal"? It "looks better" to me hyphenated, but then that's always a dangerous basis to ground linguistic choices.

Thursday, December 28, 2006 11:00:00 PM  
Blogger pyramus said...

You wouldn't hyphenate "eye appeal" into a single word because that's what we do when we want to turn a phrase into an adjective, and "eye appeal" is clearly a compound noun. (""Eye" is acting as an adjective, sort of, but the whole thing is a noun.)

Take "seafood chowder" as another example: by itself, unhyphenated, it's a noun, but hyphenated, it becomes an adjective--"the seafood-chowder smell that hung in the air...". You'd only hyphenate "eye appeal" if you followed it with a noun--"the eye-appeal quality of..."-- and I don't think too much of that formulation, either, so I can't think of any way you could hyphenate that particular phrase and make it work.

Friday, December 29, 2006 8:26:00 AM  

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