Author Topic: Did that newspaper columnist commit an egregious grammar error?  (Read 8985 times)

Joe Carillo

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Did that newspaper columnist commit an egregious grammar error?
« on: November 21, 2017, 10:04:23 PM »
As a matter of professional courtesy, I don’t do self-initiated critiques of the grammar and usage of fellow newspaper columnists. But when a reader asks me a very telling question about a columnist’s possible serious misuse of English, I am obliged to make an exception and make an effort to correct or clarify the usage.

I did so some time ago in the case of this question raised by a Forum member who goes by the username Sphinx:

“In her column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer last December 24, 2011 (“Soft underbelly of the Supreme Court”), Solita Monsod wrote: ‘Five opinions were uploaded on the website, all regarding the Arroyo-De Lima brouhaha. Justice Antonio Carpio and Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno each have a dissenting opinion, Justice Arturo Brion and Justice Presbitero Velasco each have a separate opinion....’ (italicization mine).

“The italicized words are egregiously in disagreement, right?”



Here’s my reply to Sphinx:

Like you, my feeling at first blush was that the sentence above from Ms. Monsod’s column has two subject-verb disagreement errors in quick succession. I thought that since the pronoun “each” in both instances is singular, the operative verb should be the singular “has” rather than the plural “have,” so that sentence need to be corrected as follows: “Justice Antonio Carpio and Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno each has a dissenting opinion, Justice Arturo Brion and Justice Presbitero Velasco each has a separate opinion....”

However, it turns out that the usage of “each” in such constructions is more contentious and controversial than I thought, and that “each” in such constructions can also be viewed as an “adjective following a plural noun subject.” In any case, way back in 1969, the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (AHD) rejected the usage of the plural “each” in “they each have large followings” by a whopping 95 percent—meaning that only 5 percent thought that “each have” in that construction is correct. But the AHD had since upheld the correctness of “each have” in such constructions, as indicated in this usage note for its 4th edition:

“The traditional rule holds that the subject of a sentence beginning with each is grammatically singular, and the verb and following pronouns must be singular accordingly: Each of the apartments has (not have) its (not their) own private entrance (not entrances). When each follows a plural subject, however, the verb and subsequent pronouns remain in the plural: The apartments each have their own private entrances (not has its own private entrance).”

On the other hand, the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage (MWD) has been firmly in favor of the plural “each have” all along, even commenting that the members of the AHD Usage Panel “were marching alone, apparently,” in their 95:5 rejection of the plural “each have.” The MWD cites several English-language authorities and the 1982 edition of the AHD itself as approving the plural pronoun in such instances, then offers this example of that construction, among others: “If we and our Atlantic community partners each take our respective share…”

So where do these differing opinions on the plural “each have” lead us?

I think that as in the case of the Philippine Supreme Court, we should decide this collegially and follow the rule of the majority of the English-language authorities. This means, of course, that Ms. Monsod’s use of “each have” in her column—and the Inquirer’s acceptance of it—is grammatically correct and beyond contestation.

For those still uncomfortable with the plural “each have,” however, I suggest this alternative: knock off “each” in both instances from that sentence so it can unquestionably use the plural “have”: “Justice Antonio Carpio and Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno have separate dissenting opinions, Justice Arturo Brion and Justice Presbitero Velasco have separate opinions....”*

That should settle the matter for good. (2012)

This essay, 773rd of the series, first appeared in the column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the January 27, 2012  issue of The Manila Times, © 2011 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.

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*AFTERTHOUGHT: Another construction that renders that statement absolutely beyond cavil is this one that uses the adjective “both” before the subject nouns: “Both Justice Antonio Carpio and Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno have separate dissenting opinions, and both Justice Arturo Brion and Justice Presbitero Velasco have separate opinions....” (November 21, 2017)
« Last Edit: November 21, 2017, 10:45:29 PM by Joe Carillo »