Subject-verb agreement is the single most common grammatical mistake in English, even among native English speakers. It means that a plural subject requires a plural verb, and a singular subject requires a singular verb. During my 2015 summer vacation I was annoyed by an outstanding example of this error when my doctor gave me an official Ontario Ministry of Health document explaining how my digitized personal information is protected. I was not reassured. So I went on the internet, found what I thought was an appropriate contact Email address and wrote the following note to the Ministry. I wrote it out of a brotherly loving sentiment to educate people about an error, not from a malicious intent to be deliberately unpleasant.
The second most common grammatical mistake in English, especially among native English speakers, is the dangling preposition - usually the preposition “to” in the wrong position. I see it every time I read letters-to-the-editor of the newspaper written by wooly-headed mcduffins.
My physician recently submitted me to a colon cancer check. With the specimen collection kit he provided the flier “How Your Information and Privacy is Protected,” an official Ministry of Health statement. I have seen similar reassuring explanations posted at my local medical lab. It is nice to know that my privacy is protected. For me, in the digital age, privacy is almost a fetish bordering on stubborn secrecy.
However, I am thoroughly disgusted with the illiteracy of the information flier. Clearly the conjunction “and” means that the subject “Information and Privacy” is a plural subject requiring a plural verb. Hence, “How Your Information and Privacy are Protected” is the correct rendition. I understand that the writer(s) was/were imagining “Information and Privacy” as a single thing, and there is a grammatical rule allowing a singular verb if the components of the compound subject are of a similar nature. However, that is not the case here because Information and Privacy are clearly two very different things. I want to hear about how my information and privacy are protected. Telling me that they “is” protected makes little sense, and the enduring rule is that if you cannot say what you mean then you certainly cannot mean what you say.
Perhaps the flier ought to explain how my “private information” is protected. But of course, all personal information is private, so that would be unnecessarily repetitive.
Subject-verb agreement is the most common grammatical mistake in English even among native English speakers, but still ... please try to do better.
Published in the Guelph Mercury newspaper on Tuesday, August 11, 2015 as “Information flyer crashes and burns grammatically.”