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Grammar test results

James Mallet | 11:00 UK time, Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Well done to those of you who attempted our Newswatch grammar test. Between you, you managed to spot all the deliberate mistakes we put in - though no doubt there will continue to be disputes over some of the grammatical rules involved. If you got all of them, you did better than Breakfast presenters Bill Turnbull and Sian Williams, who scored 19 between them; Defence correspondent Caroline Wyatt (18); Newsnight's political editor Michael Crick (14); and the former Education correspondent Sue Littlemore (12). Here are the errors:

"said she is leaving" should be "said she was leaving"
"her family are growing up" should be "her family is growing up"
"momentarily" - "in a moment"
"there's no surprises" - "there are no surprises"
"between you and I" - "between you and me"
"Number Ten were trying" - "Number Ten was trying"
"mitigate against" - "militate against"
"in affect" - "in effect"
"partner with" - "partner"
"inferred" - "implied"
"effectively" - "in effect"
"none of his other ministers are" - "none of his other ministers is"
"try and move" - "try to move"
"one less opponent" - "one fewer opponent"
"fulsome" - "enthusiastic"
"ministers sung" - "ministers sang"
"Number Ten refutes" - "Number Ten denies"
"bored of" - "bored with"
"enormity of the subject" - "significance of the subject"
"disinterested" - "uninterested"


  • Comment number 1.

    I trust you will be putting all the contributors to the BBC website through this 'driving test' and not letting them loose on the streets until they have passed with flying colours !!

  • Comment number 2.

    I did not see this test but I was always under the impression that the BBC was the bastion of correct English speaking. However of late this has no longer been the case. Only this morning, two BBC presenters referred to 'HaitchBOS'. When I went to school there was only ever one 'H' in Aitch and that was not at the beginning of the word. Also recently heard on the BBC is frequent reference to 'restauranteurs' instead of restaurateurs amongst many others and If BBC presenters cannot get it right what chance have the lesser educated amongst us got to uphold our beautiful language.

  • Comment number 3.

    "When I went to school there was only ever one 'H' in Aitch and that was not at the beginning of the word. "

    Are you sure that isn't just "BBC English". I remember finding a dictionary at school that had it listed in the phonetics explanation as being a seperate, colloquial form of pronunciation.

    I think it was explained as a result of the first broadcasters having to make sure their words came through clearly so they exagerated the pronunciation of some sounds.

  • Comment number 4.

    Most "authorities" agree that grammar is a group of descriptive rules that show how language is used. If a word or phrase is part of common usage, it can be considered to be correct. The arguments mainly concern what is "common usage" and usage by whom, and in what context.

    The main point is that grammar is fluid and descriptive, not static and regimented. Therefore the majority of "errors" in your text can be considered correct from a grammatical point of view. Whether they are acceptable in the context of a BBC report is a very different matter

  • Comment number 5.

    "said she is leaving" should be "said she was leaving"

    NO: Reported speech requires a 'that', so
    "... said that she was leaving".

    "one less opponent" - "one fewer opponent"

    Whilst "fewer opponents ..." would be correct, in this clause it should be
    "... one opponent fewer".

    I am saddened by the loss of 'that', which these days seems to be replaced, incorrectly in restrictive clauses, by 'which'.

    The problem from which we are suffering is that there are less well educated people in the BBC. Or do I mean 'fewer'?

  • Comment number 6.

    Incidentally I think your answer was incorrect regarding 'mitigate/militate'. Indeed 'mitigate against' is often incorrectly used for 'militate against'. From the context here, howeve, it is clear that the speaker does mean 'mitigate' and it is the 'against' that is wrong and should be omitted - a variation on the usual mistake.

  • Comment number 7.

    BBC News 24 reports that retail sales have fallen 1.9% compared to last year - which means that this year's fall is the same as last year. If the retail sales are 1.9% lower than this time last year they are 1.9% lower compared WITH last year. It is not just usage, as one BBC chap tried to argue - it is positively misleading.

  • Comment number 8.

    Thanks for updating us on the results of the grammar results......

  • Comment number 9.

    And just thinking about this whole issue leads me to another question ... are we overusing the term "grammar". As far as the less/fewer thing is concerned, as well as a couple of the others in this test, we are not talking about incorrect grammar, but the use of the wrong word altogether.

    "Less" means a smaller quantity of a whole something, whereas "fewer" means a smaller number of individual somethings ... actually quite a different concept when you get down to it. That, for me goes way beyond a grammatical error and into the realms of inadequate understanding of the language and vocabulary.

    I am overthinking this, of course ... and yes, I know that I overuse the ellipsis all the time and that "somethings" is also not a real word.


  • Comment number 10.

    Funny that all the people who are so critical of the grammar didn't actually post when asked for their answers...

  • Comment number 11.

    How ironic, that on a blog post that talks about poor grammar, the top news story listed opposite states that "The BBC Trust HAVE rejected plans to launch a network of local news sites..."

    The inability of many journalists and newsreaders these days to correctly use a collective noun makes me want to scream.

  • Comment number 12.

    I would like to argue that "her family are growing up" is correct. Whilst the word 'family' is a singular entity (being a collective noun), it can reasonably be assumed to mean, "[the members of] her family are growing up."

    On the other hand, I commend and support your assertion that 'momentarily' was used inappropriately. The true meaning of 'momentarily' is somewhat similar to 'transiently', or 'lasting for only a moment'.

    On a related note, another word which is often misused is 'ambivalent'. Many people use this word when they should use 'indifferent'. Ambivalence is feeling two opposite, powerful emotions about the same thing, for example a difficult decision that you are compelled to make. Indifference is feeling little either way.

  • Comment number 13.

    "Bored of" is being used more and more and it really grates, especially when I hear it from BBC reporters or presenters. The other really annoying thing is the persistent and now, stereotypical use of "went" and "goes" for "said" and "says". This seems to be a defining verbal tic characteristic of broadcast stand-up comedians who want to appear to have street cred.

  • Comment number 14.

    "militant" - "terrorist"

  • Comment number 15.

    Re family is/are
    I was embarisingy caught with no answer to a similar question from a student last year. The profictiance exam for English as a second languge requires far more understanding of grammar than the majority of UK citizens.
    After the lesson, I met with other teachers. The Greek and American ones were sure. Terms such as team, familly and police should be seen as a whole unit and refered to in the singular. Myself and the other British teachers (all university educated) timidly disagreed. I think context is important. For example - The team IS late for the match [the team as a single unit] The team ARE dressed in blue [each member]. However in the US the - team IS happy with the result - I prefere the team ARE.
    'The police is at the door' just sounded wrong to me, although I was shown several grammar books which implyed this was the rule.
    Perhaps I should end by saying I now teach five year olds and live grammar to forigners who seem to have a better understanding of rules

  • Comment number 16.

    I applaud anything designed to buttress the crumbling edifice of the English language.

    Could Auntie kindly do more to get her own house in order on these pages? I have just been studying an evocative picture of a lady bringing fodder to her "cattles." Methinks cattle is a plural noun! Whilst I'm at it, may I make a plea for less usage of cryptic article titles such as "Former asylum fire investigated." Brevity is fine, but it cannot be at the expense of clarity.

    If the BBC can't find competent proof readers, there is no shortage in the wider world!

  • Comment number 17.

    "Obama 'to unveil Treasury chief'"

    That's what the headline says on the main page of your web site. I didn't know the guy had even died let alone that there would be an unveiling. But wouldn't that be the kind of job a mortician would perfrom and not a presiedent elect? BBC, you get an "F" because your grammar ain't so hot. I've seen your grandpa and he ain't so hot neither.

  • Comment number 18.

    I also have some questions with the result of your grammer test. Most concerning are your choices of simplicity rather than grammer.

  • Comment number 19.

    Oh dear, this blog has descended into anarchy; surely the posts by Aliland and JayGermaine are just taking the p***?
    (I hope).

  • Comment number 20.

    #15 Aliland wrote:

    Myself and the other British teachers (all university educated) timidly disagreed.

    Shouldn't that be: I and the other British teachers......?

  • Comment number 21.

    Re Aliland ...


    It worries me more that an alleged teacher of English is using these monstrosities than that grammar errors (many of them trivial) are apparent in BBC reports, many of which - like that used in the test - are examples of spoken rather than written English.

  • Comment number 22.

    lochraven wrote:

    #15 Aliland wrote:

    Myself and the other British teachers (all university educated) timidly disagreed.

    Shouldn't that be: I and the other British teachers......?

    I think it should be "The other British teachers and I"??

  • Comment number 23.

    So, gurus of grammar, what about "billion", "trillion", "quadrillion", and the like? Isn't a billion equal to a million million, a trillion equal to a billion billion, and a quadrillion equal to a trillion trillion, any more? Or do you really want, and want each of the rest of us, to be a devalued American?

    The "old" (British) numbering system made more sense than the American numbering system. But I suppose that the bilabial plosive of "billion" is more attention-grabbing than the European "milliard".

    American English in Britain is, after all, just another fad. And most people over here really don't want t' be thought of as American. So, please let's get back to British English. Let's stop "listening up" for "listening", "checking out" for "checking"...

  • Comment number 24.

    Sad really- the Beeb believe all that is wrong is a bit of bad grammar. To be fair that's where many of their traditional, middle-class audience are too. The installation of a groups of newscasters who cannot differentiate between retailing the news and editorialising, and interviewers who, instead of eliciting the facts, simply try to make politicians trip up and then spin their mistakes into a 'news' headline- that is the real problem. Its not whether they confuse 'refute' with 'rebut' its whether or not they can tell the difference between what the interviewee said and what they report him/her as having said. Some of them, Emma Maitless, David Dimbleby etc even have the impertenence to reverse the subject's meaning while he/she is still there! Time for the Beeb to find some principles!

  • Comment number 25.

    Slight change of subject - but on the same lines.

    Why oh why do the printed banners across the bottom of the BBC news screens contain so many spelling mistakes?

    Midecins sans frontihers today.

    The web site can get it right.

  • Comment number 26.

    "Ministers sung from the same hymn sheet in public but behind the scenes at conference, it was a different story."

    I'm a journalist, considered by my colleagues to be a grammar snob. Yet I got only 12/20 on this test.

    Does anyone else think the above might be a mixed metaphor?


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