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Grammar test - your turn

James Mallet | 12:42 UK time, Monday, 17 November 2008

Those of you who saw five BBC presenters and correspondents bravely attempting the grammar test we set them on last weekend's Newswatch might like to see how you fare yourselves. Remember, the journalists scored between 12 and 19 out of a possible 20.

The test is in the form of a fictitious 'two-way' or conversation between a presenter and a correspondent, so it's designed to be heard, not read. It contains what we think are 20 deliberate mistakes, though there are, of course, disputes over the rules involved in some of the words or phrases. Here it is - good luck!

Presenter:The Transport Secretary, Ruth Kelly, said she is leaving her job - the second ministerial resignation in just over a week. Ms Kelly says it's a hard decision but her family are growing up and she wants to spend more time with her children. We'll be joined by her momentarily but first, our political correspondent, Nick Robinson, is here. Nick, is there more to this than meets the eye?

Correspondent: Ruth Kelly asked to leave the cabinet several months ago - so in a way, there's no surprises here. But what is odd is the way the news has been broken: in the early morning, before her conference speech. Between you and I, it looks like No 10 were trying to mitigate against a dramatic departure - in affect, putting out a spoiler.

Presenter: It had been rumoured that Ruth Kelly might be the leader of a mass resignation or at least, partner with one other minister - is that no longer a possibility?

Correspondent: You're right - one minister in particular, inferred to me that he would be off but has since changed his mind. While he'd be loath to admit it, the current financial crisis has effectively done the PM a favour. None of his other ministers are planning to try and move against his or her leader at such a crucial time and so no, I don't think he'll have to face up to a revolt. Meanwhile, he has one less opponent in the cabinet, so Mr Brown's position may even be stronger as a result of this, particularly if his speech receives fulsome praise.

Presenter: Is the subject of the leadership likely to receive less attention, then?

Correspondent: Well, I wouldn't go that far. Ministers sung from the same hymn sheet in public but behind the scenes at conference, it was a different story. There certainly are people who say Mr Brown's not the right man to lead Labour into the next general election - an assertion that No 10 refutes, of course. The public might be bored of speculation but the question of Gordon Brown's leadership is not likely to go away, given the enormity of the subject, no matter how many people are disinterested in it.


  • Comment number 1.

    #1 Ms Kelly says it's a hard decision - wrong tense, it WAS a hard decision, it has been taken

    #2 "spend more time with her children" is a cliche

    #3 "more to this than meets the eye" cliche

    #4 "there's no surprises here" - there is no surprise here or there are not surprises here.

    #5 "Between you and I" - either cliche or "between you and me"

    #6 "mitigate against" - overstatement "mitigate" is against already

    #7 "had been rumoured" - passive voice

    #8 "be loath to admit" - be loathed to admit - verb needed

    #9 "his or her leader" - "him" would have done as GB is subject of sentence

    #10 "receives fulsome praise" passive voice used for a future conditional.

    #11 "sung from the same hymn sheet" - cliche

    #12 "enormity" - is wickedness not size

    #13 "disinterested" - disinterested means you are interested but have no stake in the outcome, the word should be "uninterested".

    Seven more to go...

  • Comment number 2.

    "family are" - singular noun with plural verb

    "momentarily" - "in a moment", not for only a moment

    "in effect", not "in affect"

    "inferred to", should be "suggested to". One infers something from something else.

    "None... are", should be "None... is"

    "one less opponent" should be "one fewer opponent"

    "bored of" should be "bored with"

  • Comment number 3.

    'Momentarily' generally means from moment to moment - although in N. America it means very soon.

    'None of his ministers are...' should read, 'None of his ministers is...'

    'bored of...'. Even if it's OK, I don't like it.

    'in affect' - is this just a typo? If not, it should read, 'in effect'.

  • Comment number 4.

    "Ministers sung from the same hymn sheet" should be "Ministers *sang*..." (imperfect, not perfect past participle).

    "behind the scenes at conference" should be "behind the scenes at *the* Conference" (?)

    @Cassius_voodoo - Not sure about "family are" - generally speaking it's a plural noun in British English and a singular noun in American English.

  • Comment number 5.

    Here are 20 suggestions:
    #1 - Ruth Kelly said she "IS" leaving should be "WAS" leaving
    #2 - "Momentarily" sb "in a moment"
    #3 - "there's no surprises sb "there are"
    #4 - sb "between you and ME"
    #5 - sb "No 10 WAS"
    #6 - "Mitigate against" is incorrect
    #7 - "in affect" sb "in EFFECT"
    #8 - "partner with" is incorrect usage
    #9 - "inferred to me" incorrect
    #10 - "effectively" I believe is incorrect
    #11 - sb "none of his other ministers "is"
    or else "ARE .. THEIR"
    #12 - "try and" sb "try to" (possibly)
    #13 - "face up to" is incorrect usage
    #14 - "one less" sb "one fewer"
    #15 - I think "particularly" sb "especially"
    #16 - "likely to" is incorrect - I think
    #17 - "sung" sb "were singing"
    #18 - "bored of" sb "bored by/with"
    #19 - "enormity" incorrect usage
    #20 - "disinterested sb "uninterested"

  • Comment number 6.

    Can you provide us with what you believe are the correct answers please?

  • Comment number 7.

    Respondent #1 ... the fact that something may be considered a cliche does not automatically render it grammatically incorrect.

    This is the usual crop of errors that everyone seems to make these days, I was just surprised no one uttered the the phase "should of" ... along with the whole less/fewer thing, that one is my pet hate.

  • Comment number 8.

    -- Ruth Kelly, said she is leaving --

    mismatched tenses, should be "said she was" or "says she is"

    -- her family are growing up --

    debatable one, but "family is" would be more traditionally correct

    -- joined by her momentarily --

    should be "shortly", "momentarily" means "for a brief moment"

    -- there's no surprises here --

    Mismatch on numbers - should be "there are" or "no surprise".

    -- the news has been broken --

    should be "the news broke"; it hasn't been broken.

    -- Between you and I ---

    should be "you and me"

    -- dramatic departure - in affect --

    should be "effect"

    -- the leader of a mass resignation --

    not sure " a mass resignation" is a valid group of people

    -- one minister in particular, inferred to me --

    should be "implied" or "indicated"

    -- None of his other ministers are --

    "None ... is" or "No ... are"

    -- move against his or her leader --

    would much prefer "their" here, even if you went singular with minister ...

    -- have to face up to a revolt. --

    just "face" a revolt, I think.

    -- he has one less opponent --

    "fewer"!, of course

    -- fulsome praise. --

    ambiguous at best, "fulsome" often means offensively over-the-top, so another word choice would be preferred

    -- Ministers sung from the same hymn sheet --


    -- There certainly are people --

    technically, "there are certainly", but is this even considered wrong at all these days? It's more emphatic as written anyway ...

    -- an assertion that No 10 refutes, of course --

    they "deny" it. Not sure about "refute"

    -- The public might be bored of speculation --

    technically "with" speculation, unless it's the public who are speculating

    -- given the enormity of the subject --

    "importance" is not "enormity"

    -- no matter how many people are disinterested in it --

    "uninterested by" is not "disinterested in".

    I got over twenty so one or more of those is not, presumably, deemed an error ... I assumed the couple of misplaced commas were deliberate notation for vocal phrasing and pauses, rather than structural errors.

  • Comment number 9.

    Yes, there are grammatical errors throughout the conversation, but it is just that - a conversation, not written English.

    We tend to be less precise in spoken conversation than written discourse, because there is less time to think about what is being said than there would be when writing on the same subject.

    Cliches and ungrammatical constructs are regularly used as a form of 'shorthand' (or should that be 'shorttongue'?) simply because there is insufficient time to consider carefully what one is saying.

    I could pick the conversation apart and manage to find the 20 or so errors that some other respondents see, but it is a fact that spoken English is less grammatical than the written language.

    Perhaps some of the written English on this site could be used as a more representative example?

  • Comment number 10.

    By the way, is the current title for the programme we watch at the weekends NewsWatch or Newswatch, and if the later, when was this changed?

  • Comment number 11.

    One of my biggest complaints is that the BBC regularly chooses to use American English where there is already a perfectly good English English term or spelling. Is this merely ignorance by BBC writers, or is it a delberate contribution to the UK's increasing capitulation to the US empire?

  • Comment number 12.


    Yes indeed !! My current bugbear is the use of the word 'movie' when 'film' is, I think, what they mean...

  • Comment number 13.

    aproposofwhat has rather low standards: ("We tend to be less precise in spoken conversation than written discourse, because there is less time to think about what is being said...").

    It is not for lack of time that someone says 'inferred' instead of 'implied', or 'disinterested' instead of 'uninterested', or 'less' instead of 'fewer', or 'refutes' instead of 'rebuts': it is because he or she has not learned the respective meanings, pure and simple.

    There is no reason whatsoever why "spoken English [should be] less grammatical than the written language" where this sort of error is concerned (of course there are elisions and 'shorthand in speech - e.g. 'there are' becoming 'there're' and even 'there's' - but I suspect that the person who says 'enormity' for 'great size' or 'importance' will also write it, as happens all too frequently.

  • Comment number 14.

    There is a distinction between the spoken English we expect from a professional broadcaster and the rest of us. Producers fail to keep their people up to the mark - though I would would not include the two top Marks as that ideal. The reporters giving the nightly report on Parliament are slipshod in their speech and vocabulary, despite having had the time to script their comments.

    Today in Feedback I heard a senior editor excusing his staff's choice of words by saying it had to be shorthand, because people listen on car radio or in the kitchen.
    Exactly! The widespread practice of muttering, mumbling, dropping the voice in asides, or gabbling, is absurd and an insult, especially to elderly listeners, parents with noisy kids in the kitchen, and car drivers.
    There is a simple answer - abandon the large costly monitoring speakers, or have a switch to simulate what many listeners actually hear.

    What is particularly crass is to have the chunter and chatter brigade interrupted by trails by graduates from the Dalek school who grotesquely lengthen and emphasize their final syllables.

    You are in the information business not an audition for the News Quiz.

  • Comment number 15.

    I spotted most of the 20, but only would really get exercised about seven that are clearly wrong: "there's no surprises", "between you and I", "mitigate against", "in affect", "inferred", "one less" and "disinterested". The rest are widely used in general life and therefore legitimate to be used on a radio programme EVEN IF it could be argued by a university professor such expressions are grammatically (ie technically) incorrect. I'm happy that standards of grammar must be kept as high as possible, but it must be remembered that the BBC is in the business of communication. It must employ the usage of the modern world, not necessarily the diktats of Fowler etc.

    Having said that, I have my own grammatical bugbears. For instance, I personally dislike the standard BBC misuse of "like" over "such as" in, say, "singers like Amy Winehouse can be offensive". There's only one singer like Amy Winehouse, and that's Amy. Such as is much clearer, but clearly the one extra syllable is too much for BBC journos trying to keep down their word count.

  • Comment number 16.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 17.

    I know, i would not do that good on this test...


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