Proper grammar that looks wrong

From Roger Ebert’s (RIP) review of Good Will Hunting:Who claims credit? None of the students does.
Correct grammar (I think). Singular agreement. None is; not none are. None used here is singular. But it still looks wrong (to me anyway).

Other examples?

“The data support the conclusion.” Although I think data as a singular noun is just about over the finish line of acceptability.

They didn’t use to do that. – Since “used” (in that sense) is almost always in the past tense, and never in the present tense, the infinitive form “use” feels very strange, but is correct.

I’m not afraid to say “datum” out loud.

As in, “I’d still respect someone with bad grammar, but I’d never datum”?

(Me, too, and I watch phenomena/phenomenon very carefully as well.)

Incorrect, to my ear. “None of the students does” just doesn’t sound right.

“None of them does.” Sounds wrong. But “Who claims credit? None of them do” sounds right to me.


Emphasis mine. The “none” there is plural, so “none dare.” Not “none dares.”

If I were to throw my computer out the window, it would make a mess.

“Were” is correct (subjunctive mood).

I guess there’s some ambiguity. Is none as Ebert wrote it, not one (singular) or none of them (plural). I’m an engineer, unprepared to handle these finer points of grammar.

There’s always ambiguity in language.

There’s local usage, too. Consider:

British (I think): Microsoft *are *releasing a security update. . .

US: Microsoft is releasing a security update. . .

Both correct, locally speaking. Microsoft is one company (singular). But it is also a whole bunch of people (plural).

Note the prepositional phrase of the students followed by the verb. The subject of the verb is None so technically, perhaps, it should agree with that. But the verb is closest to the noun students so it only sounds right if the verb agrees with that.

Or, wait a minute . . . Exactly who or what is performing the verb in this sentence? (Uh… Who is doing the doing there?) It’s the students who are claiming (or not claiming, in this case) the credit. So maybe the verb should really agree with that?

We went over and over this in my English 1A class. We finally agreed that the verb should agree with the object of the preposition, since it’s the object of the preposition that is actually performing the action. We even found one style manual that agreed with that. The suggested rule was that if the actual subject word is just a quantifier, then that subject isn’t really doing the action. It’s the object of the preposition that’s actually doing the action. It’s an idiomatic quirk of English grammar.

Ebert’s example may be a bit confusing because the quantifier is “None”, meaning the students aren’t doing the mentioned action.

A more typical (but grammatically similar, I think) example would be:
A ton of bricks (is/are?) in the pick-up truck.
Who or what, exactly, is/are in the truck? Is there a ton in the truck? Or are there bricks in the truck?

Another commonly-seen case:
A number of [whatever] (is/are?) [whatever].
As in: A number of consultants (agree/agrees?) with the client.

Sticklers tend to insist that the verb should be singular, to agree with “A ton” or “A number”. But that just sounds wrong, and we found at least one style manual that ageed that the verb should agree with the object of the preposition in constructions like that.

Wrong! “Dare”, along with “need” is an optional modal. “He dare call it treason” is correct, although it certainly sounds odd. But modals govern the infinitive and “call” is correct. “He dares to call it treason” is also correct because the “to” is the sign that you are using “dare” as an ordinary verb, not a modal.

Here is my favorite grammatical sentence that many people find difficult to parse:

The horse raced past the barn fell.

Compare: The horse ridden past the barn fell. It is just that “raced” looks like the preterite, but “ridden” can only be a participle and, interpreted that, the sentence is clear.

Here’s another example of hard-to-parse sentences that I found in a linguistics textbook.

The mouse died.

The mouse the cat ate died.

The mouse the cat the dog chased ate died.

The second sentence comes from the first by simply putting “the mouse the cat ate” in place of simply “the mouse”; and the third sentence comes from the second by putting “the cat the dog chased” in place of simply “the cat”.

So the third sentence is created by the same production rule as the second, and is technically just as grammatical. But most observers seem to agree that the first and second sentences are straightforward, yet the third is incomprehensible.

Which could also be parsed in two other ways:

The barn was fell (in the sense of dire or uncanny) and the horse raced past it - warned, no doubt, by some animal instinct.

The fell had a barn on it (and was called the “barn fell” to distinguish it from other barnless fells) and the horse raced past it.

None could be plural; “All are”, “None are” versus “Everyone is”, “No one is”.

Its only strange to look at, because “use” blends into “to” - “Ustoo”, which sounds identical to “used to”.


I always think of “data” as a collective noun, not as a bunch of individual datums.

There’s a TV show called How It’s Made. If they were to dedicate an episode to the workings of their own production, it would be called How How It’s Made Is Made. If they released that on DVD, with a bonus feature about the production of the DVD, that feature would be called How How How It’s Made Is Made Is Made.

ETA: If I’d written this knowing the above had really taken place, my post could be titled How How How How It’s Made Is Made Is Made Was Made

Dibs on explaining the origin of the last post.

True story: In English 1A, we read an essay titled The Great Dinosaur Ripoff by Steven Jay Gould. Some months later, I came across an op-ed piece by Gould in a newspaper, in which he basically repeated much of that earlier essay, but without mentioning that he was, in essence, plagiarizing his own earlier essay.

I wrote a note to my English teacher about it, which I titled The Great Great Dinosaur Ripoff Ripoff.

Dunno. I first thought of it myself a couple of years ago when I made thisDVD cover mockup, but I don’t expect I was the first - it’s kinda obvious.