8-14 Macdonell Street,
Guelph, Ontario N1H 6P7
During my recent vacation in Guelph I had a number of medical appointments and tests. My physician provided me with an informative flier entitled “How Your Information and Privacy is Protected,” an official Ministry of Health statement. I saw similar reassuring explanations posted at the Surrey Street medical lab I visited. 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 compound subject is 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 I wish the Ministry of Health could do better than this. I have lived outside Guelph and Canada for a long time, but seriously is this how English speakers in Ontario speak now?
Published in the Guelph Mercury newspaper on Tuesday, August 11, 2015 as “Information flyer crashes and burns grammatically.”
The second most common grammatical mistake in English, especially among native English speakers, is the split infinitive - using the preposition "to" in the wrong position in an infinitive verb. The third most common mistake would be the dangling preposition, I think.