H.W. Fowler (1858–1933). The
King’s English, 2nd ed. 1908.
Chapter II. Syntax
VERY little comment will be needed; we have only
to convince readers that mistakes are common, and caution therefore
- The copula should always agree with the subject, not with the
complement. These are wrong:
The pages which describe how the 34th Osaka Regiment wiped
out the tradition that had survived since the Saigo rebellion is
a typical piece of description.—Times.
A boy dressed up as a girl and a girl dressed up as
a girl is, to the eye at least, the same thing.—Times.
People do not believe now as they did, but the moral inconsistencies
of our contemporaries is no proof thereof.—Daily
It must be remembered that in questions the subject often comes
after the verb and the complement before it; but the same rule must
be kept. E. g., if the last example were put as a question instead
of as a negative statement, 'What proof is the
inconsistencies?' would be wrong, and 'What proof are
Some sentences in which the subject contains only, a
superlative, &c., have the peculiarity that subject and
complement may almost be considered to have changed places; and this
defence would probably be put in for the next three examples; but,
whether actually wrong or not, they are unpleasant. The noun that
stands before the verb should be regarded as the subject, and the
verb be adapted to it.
The only thing Siamese about the Consul, except the
hatchment and the flag, were his servants.—Sladen.
The only difficulty in Finnish are the changes
undergone by the stem.—Sweet.
The most pompous monument of Egyptian greatness, and one
of the most bulky works of manual industry, are the
The next example is a curious problem; the subject to were is
in sense plural, but in grammar singular (finding, verbal
Finding Miss Vernon in a place so solitary, engaged in a
journey so dangerous, and under the protection of one gentleman
only, were circumstances to excite every feeling of
- Mistakes in the number of verbs are extremely common when a
singular noun intervenes between a plural subject (or a plural noun
between a singular subject) and its verb. It is worth while to
illustrate the point abundantly; for it appears that real doubt can
exist on the subject:—'"No one but schoolmasters and
schoolboys knows" is exceedingly poor English, if it is not
absolutely bad grammar' (from a review of this book, 1st ed.).
And do we wonder, when the foundation of politics are
in the letter only, that many evils should arise.—Jowett.
There is much in these ceremonial accretions and
teachings of the Church which tend to confuse and
distract, and which hinder us...—Daily Telegraph.
This sentence, strictly taken as it stands, would mean something
that the writer by no means intends it to, viz., 'Though the
ceremonies are confusing, there is a great deal in them'.
An immense amount of confusion and indifference prevail
in these days.—Daily Telegraph.
They produced various medicaments, the lethal power
of which were extolled at large.—Times.
The partition which the two ministers made of the powers
of government were singularly happy.—Macaulay.
One at least of the qualities which fit it for
training ordinary men unfit it for training an
I failed to pass in the small amount of classics
which are still held to be necessary.—Times.
The Tibetans have engaged to exclude from their country those
dangerous influences whose appearance were the chief cause
of our action. Times.
Sundry other reputable persons, I know not whom, whose
joint virtue still keep the law in good odour.—Emerson.
The practical results of the recognition of this truth
is as follows.—W. H. Mallock.
The Ordination services of the English Church states
this to be a truth.—Daily Telegraph.
All special rights of voting in the election of
members was abolished.—J. R. Green.
The separate powers of this great officer of State,
who had originally acted only as President of the Council when
discharging its judicial functions, seems to have been
thoroughly established under Edward I.—J. R. Green.
- They, them, their, theirs, are often used in referring back
to singular pronominals (as each, one, anybody, everybody),
or to singular nouns or phrases (as a parent, neither Jack nor
Jill), of which the doubtful or double gender causes
awkwardness. It is a real deficiency in English that we have no
pronoun, like the French soi, son, to stand for him-or-her,
his-or-her (for he-or-she French is no better off than
English). Our view, though we admit it to be disputable, is
clear—that they, their, &c., should never be resorted
to, as in the examples presently to be given they are. With a view
to avoiding them, it should be observed that (a) the
possessive of one (indefinite pronoun) is one's, and
that of one (numeral pronoun) is either his, or her,
or its (One does not forget one's own name: I saw one
of them drop his cigar, her muff, or its
leaves); (b) he, his, him, may generally be allowed to
stand for the common gender; the particular aversion shown to them
by Miss Ferrier in the examples may be referred to her sex; and,
ungallant as it may seem, we shall probably persist in refusing
women their due here as stubbornly as Englishmen continue to offend
the Scots by saying England instead of Britain. (c)
Sentences may however easily be constructed (Neither John nor Mary
knew his own mind) in which his is undeniably awkward.
The solution is then what we so often recommend, to do a little
exercise in paraphrase (John and Mary were alike irresolute,
for instance). (d) Where legal precision is really necessary,
he or she may be written in full. Corrections according to
these rules will be appended in brackets to the examples.
Anybody else who have only themselves in
view.—Richardson. (has ... himself)
Ce n'est que le premier pas qui coûte, in novel-writing as
in carrying one's head in their hand.—S. Ferrier.
(one's ... one's)
The feelings of the parent upon committing the cherished
object of their cares and affections to the stormy sea of
life.—S. Ferrier. (his)
But he never allowed one to feel their own
deficiencies, for he never appeared to be aware of them
himself—S. Ferrier. (one's)
A difference of opinion which leaves each free to act
according to their own feelings.—S. Ferrier. (his)
Suppose each of us try our hands at it.—S. Ferrier.
(tries his hand; or, if all of us are women, tries her
Everybody is discontented with their lot in
- Other mistakes involving number made with such pronominals, or
with nouns collective, personified, or abstract.
No man can read Scott without being more of a public man, whereas
the ordinary novel tends to make its readers rather less of
one than before.—Hutton.
And so each of his portraits are not only a 'piece
of history', but...—Stevenson.
Le Roman d'un Spahi, Azidayé and Rarahu each contains the
history of a love affair.—H. James.
He manages to interest us in the men, who each in turn
wishes to engineer Richard Baldock's future.—Westminster
When each is appended in apposition to a plural subject, it
should stand after the verb, or auxiliary, which should be plural;
read here, contain each, wish each in turn (or, each of
whom wishes in turn).
As the leading maritime nation in the world and dependent
wholly on the supremacy of our fleet to maintain this position, everyone
is virtually bound to accord some measure of aid to an association
whose time and talents are devoted to ensuring this important
Every one is indeed a host in himself, if he is the leading maritime
It is not in Japan's interests to allow negotiations to
drag on once their armies are ready to deliver the final
The personification of Japan must be kept up by her.
Many of my notes, I am greatly afraid, will be thought a
superfluity.—E. V. Lucas (quoted in Times review).
My notes may be a superfluity; many of my notes may be superfluous,
or superfluities; or many a note of mine may be a superfluity; but
it will hardly pass as it is.
- Though nouns of multitude may be freely used with either a
singular or a plural verb, or be referred to by pronouns of singular
or plural meaning, they should not have both (except for special
reasons and upon deliberation) in the same sentence; and words that
will rank in one context as nouns of multitude may be very awkward
if so used in another.
The public is naturally much impressed by this evidence,
and in considering it do not make the necessary
The Times Brussels correspondent ... tells us that the committee
adds these words to their report.—Westminster
The Grand Opera Syndicate has also made an important
addition to their German tenors.—Westminster Gazette.
The only political party who could take office was that
which ... had consistently opposed the American war.—Bagehot.
As the race of man, after centuries of civilization, still keeps
some traits of their barbarian fathers.—Stevenson.
The battleship Kniaz Potemkin, of which the crew is said to
have mutinied and murdered their officers.—Times.
- Neither, either, as pronouns, should always take a singular
verb—a much neglected rule. So also every.
The conception is faulty for two reasons, neither of which are
noticed by Plato.—Jowett.
...neither of which are very amiable motives for religious
He asked the gardener whether either of the ladies were at
Were, however, may be meant for the subjunctive, when it
would be a fault of style, not of grammar.
I think almost every one of the Judges of the High Court are
represented here.—Lord Halsbury.
Every Warwick institution, from the corporation to the
schools and the almshouses, have joined hands in patriotic
- For rhetorical reasons, a verb often precedes its subject; but
enthusiasm, even if appropriate, should not be allowed to override
And of this emotion was born all the gods of
But unfortunately there seems to be spread abroad certain misconceptions.—Times.
But with these suggestions are joined some very good exposition
of principles which should underlie education generally.—Spectator.
Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman has received a resolution, to which is
appended the names of eight Liberal members and candidates
for East London...—Times.