Article Use: A/AN versus Theversus No Article • An apple a day keeps the doctor away. • Mountainsare beautiful. • The mountains in the western part of the state are beautiful. What are the semantic differences between the subjects of these sentences?
Article Use The semantics of article use revolves around the basic distinction between the general/abstract and the specific/concrete • An apple= any one apple; can be counted; concrete but not specific • Mountains= all existing mountains in general; cannot be counted; abstract but not specific • The mountains= a group of mountains existing in one location; can be counted; concrete and specific
Article Use Article choice makes a big semantic difference! • “Lymphochip” is the name given to a microarray developed by Lou Staudt and colleagues. • “Lymphochip” is the name given to the microarray developed by Lou Staudt and colleagues. What does a imply in sentence 1? The in sentence 2?
Article Use Article use makes a big semantic difference! • The library has room for readers. room = space • The library has a room for readers. room = a specific, circumscribed location, usually inside a building Like room, many nouns have several distinct meanings. Articles help signal which meaning is appropriate in a given context.
Article Use Some special categories of nouns do not require the indefinite article • Abstractions*: democracy, education, equality • Emotions: anger, love, confidence, respect, hostility • Natural substances/events: air, blood, oxygen, rain • Categorical nouns, which refer to many objects under one designation: clothing, furniture, equipment, garbage • Fields of study: architecture, biology, literature, chemistry *Some abstractions can be used concretely: “Democracy is one political system”; “The U.S. is a democracy”
Subject-Verb Agreement The tight semantic relationship between the grammatical subject and the grammatical verb constitutes the core meaning of the sentence. A singularsubject requires a singular verb. Plural subjects require plural verbs. Lack of agreement between subject and verb results in semantic disjunction—the sentence falls apart on the most fundamental level of meaning.
Subject-Verb Agreement The Key Strategy Identifythe noun or pronoun that acts as the grammatical subject of the sentence Determinewhether that subject is singular or plural
Subject-Verb Agreement Unusual or complex syntactic constructions can make identifying the grammatical subject tricky! Inverted word order: • What is our main priority? • What are our priorities? • Among the investigators presenting papers wasDr. Shosh Segal. The grammatical subject is followed by a subordinate noun or pronoun that differs in number: • A very large number of people passes through the Clinical Center every day, even every hour. • Constantly running in circles keeps me busy.
Subject-Verb Agreement Unusual or Complex Syntactic Constructions Conflicts in number between subject and predicate nouns: • A prime requirement in any experimental scenario is carefully controlled conditions. • Carefully controlled conditionsare a prime requirement in any experimental scenario. Multiple subject nouns linked by and, either/or, neither/nor: • One manand three womenarewalking by. Three womenand one manarewalking by. • Either three womenor one maniswalking by. Either one manor three womenarewalking by. • Neither three womennor one maniswalking by. Neither one mannor three womenarewalking by.
Subject-Verb Agreement Determining the number of indefinite pronouns can be tricky too! Group 1—always singular anybody, somebody, nobody, everybody anyone, someone, everyone anything, something, everything, nothing one, no one each, either, neither much none* * This one is the real killer! • None of these options is bad. [Of these options, noneis bad.] • No oneknows the trouble I’ve seen. • Each of these alternatives is bad. • Muchis expected, but littleis realized.
Subject-Verb Agreement Identifythe sentences in which the subject and verb disagree in number (singular versus plural) • Either the twins or Jimiswaiting near the gate. • Neither Jim nor the twinsiswaiting near the gate. • Thereare no contingencies we have not considered. • The primary support mechanism for most graduate students are fellowships. • Fellowshipsare most graduate students’ primary support mechanism.
Subject-Verb Agreement Indefinite Pronouns Group 2—always plural both few many several • Manyare called, but feware chosen. • Severalare planning to leave their e-mail addresses after the lecture ends. • Bothare agreeable to me. [Contrast to: “Neitheris agreeable to me.]
Subject-Verb Agreement Indefinite Pronouns Group 3—singular or plural depending on context all any more most some • All of the moneyis in the group’s bank account. All of the fundsare in the group’s bank account. • More [of anything] is always better than less. More [postdocs] have been unhappy working with that principal than have been happy.
Subject-Verb Agreement Nouns that are plural in form but singular in meaning are the trickiest of all! This class of nouns requires a singular verb. semantics news economics politics statistics wages genomics proteomics metabolomics • Economicsis known as the dismal science; statisticsis its handmaiden. Special case: Measurements and figures ending in –s take a singular verb when the quantity to which they refer is a unit. • Three yearsis a long time. • Three-fourths of the library consists of journals.
That versusWhich • That introduces a subordinate clause essential • to the meaning of the sentence. • Which, with commas, introduces a subordinate • clause NOT essentialto the meaning of the • sentence. • A Two-Step Test • Identify the element. • Removethe element—does the fundamental • meaning of the sentence change or become • less precise?
That versusWhich THE TEST • Analyze these sentence pairs • Affymetrix, which manufactures gene chips, is • located in California. • Affymetrix is located in California. • A company that manufactures gene chips is • sending representatives to the National Cancer • Institute. • A company is sending representatives to the • National Cancer Institute.
That versus Which Choosing that instead of which radically changes the meaning of the same basic sentence. • The schools that educate our children should be supported. • The schools, which educate our children, should be supported. What is the semantic difference between these two sentences?
That versusWhich Punctuation Point: Comma Use Commas indicate that a subordinate clause is NOT essential to the meaning of the sentence. • Never use a comma with clauses introduced by that. • Always use commas with clauses introduced by which. • Using commas with phrases introduced by who varies, depending on meaning.
Grammar Resources Books Grammar handbooks: The Little, Brown Handbook, 8th ed. New York: Little, Brown, 2001 ESL guides: The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, 6th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. Style guides: W. Follett, Modern American Usage: A Guide. New York: Hill & Wang, 1984. W. Strunk, E.B. White. The Elements of Style, 4th ed. New York: Longman, 2000.