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Suppose you were reading and came to the following line:

“She kept her head and kicked her shoes off, as everybody ought to do who falls into deep water in their clothes.”

Would you …
(a) continue reading, because that’s a perfectly acceptable sentence, or
(b) throw a tantrum and insist that the author is an imbecile speeding the wholesale destruction of the English language?

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’re probably answering (a). If you’re answering (b), I regret to inform you that you hate the writing of C. S. Lewis.

And if you’re the sort to answer (b), the sort of person who rages at the alleged grammatical buffoonery of your fellows, I’m sure it’s because you think you’re doing us all a favor, and that your condescending tone is justified because: first, you’re being helpful regardless of the tone you’re using; second, people only learn through negative conditioning, and so it is your duty, however unpleasant, to rub their noses in it to keep them from going on doing it; third, only a truly illiterate mouth-breather would be so moronic as to make such a mistake, and such imbeciles are below contempt and probably don’t even realize that you’re condescending to them anyway; and fourth, given the Heruclean effort you’ve put into learning the English language as impeccably as you did, it’s really only fair that you get to be a little self-satisfied and perhaps even gloat a smidge.

The only problem with this view is that all you’ve managed to learn about English is how to get your brain to release some satisfying endorphins every time you blindly regurgitate some authority figure’s unjustified assertion. You’re not helping; you’re just getting someone to pretend to agree with you long enough to shut you up. Or worse, you’re scaring people into submission to a point where they feel compelled to preface their speech with apologies for any unknown violence their words are committing against the presumed propriety of the language. Never forget, though, that language is the people’s. Your witless superstition will, by-and-large, be ignored by the speakers of the language, and the alleged impropriety will almost certainly win out in the end. Don’t mistake yourself for a brave defender of our language against the barbarians at the gates when, in truth, you’re nothing but a millennialist shouting about the end-times of the English language. Meanwhile, the world spins on, and the language flourishes, hale and hearty.

One great example of this situation is the shouting down of those who use singular they.  I’ve wanted for some time to have one place to send everyone who complains about singular they, a single page that can debunk whatever junk they’re peddling against it. There’s been lots of great stuff written about why singular they is acceptable, but every time I want to smash the arguments against it, I have to waste time jumping through old Language Log posts and books and whatnot, so I figured I’d finally go about summarizing it all. Without further ado, here’s the evidence for singular they, and why you ought to stop “correcting” it.

Historical usage: Geoffrey Chaucer is widely credited as the father of English literature. He was one of the first well-known authors to write in Middle English instead of the prevailing literary tongue, Latin, bringing legitimacy to the language. And, what’s this? Why, it’s a line from The Canterbury Tales, ca. 1400:

And whoso fyndeth hym out of swich blame,
They wol come up […]”

It’s a little hard to tell in the Middle English, but whoso is a quantified expression, like whoever, that is syntactically singular, but then is paired to the syntactically plural they. So, since at least the beginnings of literary Middle English, 600 years ago, it’s been all right to use singular they. It’s been consistently attested since then; Henry Churchyard reports examples from the Oxford English Dictionary in 1434, 1535, 1643, 1749, 1848, and a wide variety of years in between. There has literally been no point since 1400 when singular they went unattested in contemporary English.

Usage by good writers: Lest one counter the historical point by claiming that it was a mistake or an illiterate usage, it should be noted that singular they has been employed by revered writers throughout its history. A list of examples from some such authors (including Chaucer’s and C. S. Lewis’s quotes above) is available on Churchyard’s site. Among the luminaries: Lewis Carroll, Walt Whitman, George Eliot, Shakespeare, William Thackeray, Jane Austen, and Oscar Wilde.   The Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage has still more examples for those who prefer their empirical data to be overwhelming.  And, if you subscribe to Mark Liberman’s one-liner “God said it, I believe it, that settles it,” you’ll be interested to see that the King James Version, along with the Tyndale, Bishop’s, and Geneva Bibles, along a range of other versions of the Christian Bible all employ singular theys.  (I’m not sure of the stance of non-Christian religious texts. I imagine no religion has a commandment disavowing singular they, but I have not studied comparative religion.)

Acceptance by authorities: So it’s historically attested, with usage by great writers. “But great writers are fallible!”, cries the grammaticaster*, ignoring the implication in this that the grammaticaster is substantially more aware of the rules of our language than its best writers. “Grammatical authorities agree that singular they is a barbarism!”

This appeal to imagined authority wouldn’t be convincing regardless, but it rings especially hollow when you realize it’s patently false. Certainly many prescriptivists assert that singular they is an affront to the language. Some even put it in books. Eric Partridge, for instance, says it’s so in Usage and Abusage, supplying exactly no argumentation for his opinion.

But The New Fowler’s, 3rd Edition, which carries on its front cover the subtitle “The acknowledged authority on English usage”, takes a neutral-to-positive stance on singular they, calling the issue “unresolved” but noting that it “is being left unaltered by copy editors” and that aside from pedants, “such constructions are hardly noticed any more or are not widely felt to lie in a prohibited zone.” [p. 776] (This is an especially interesting stance because it goes against Fowler’s own original position from 1926.) Grammar Girl also comes down unambiguously in favor it, if she’s your cup of tea.

Some old style guides even saw the light a century ago. An English Grammar by Baskervill & Sewell, originally published in 1896, states that while he is preferred to singular they in general, they is “frequently found when the antecedent includes or implies both genders. The masculine does not really represent a feminine antecedent […]” (Italics in original.) Further, as an exercise, they give examples of singular they, and tell the reader, “In the above sentences, unless both genders are implied, change the pronoun to agree with its antecedent.” (Again, italics in original.)

There was even an article in Robert Hartwell Fiske’s fervently prescriptivist Vocabula Review arguing for singular they. The money quote: “We have seen that history is not on the side of those who would ban singular they from written texts; neither is logic; nor is majority rule.” If you needed an authority figure to tell you that singular they was all right, well, I hope you might find it harder to find one against singular they.

Singular/plural syntactic disagreement: Then, of course, there’re the self-styled logicians who say that they can’t be used with an indefinite pronoun like everybody because they have different numbers.  After all, you say they are but everybody is, and so that proves it.  A moment’s reflection shows that this argument is fallacious, especially if in that moment’s reflection you think of a sentence like

(1) My family stops by regularly, and they always bring pizzas.

My family is syntactically singular in American English, as seen in the conjugation of stopsThey is syntactically plural, as seen in the conjugation of bring.  And yet, (1) is a well-formed sentence, and the other option (“My family stops by regularly and it always brings pizzas”) sounds absurd.  The key point here is that it’s not the syntactic number, but rather the semantic number that matters.  And everybody is semantically plural, just like they.  Don’t believe me?  Consider this trio from Geoff Pullum:

(2a) Everybody knows each other.
(2b) They know each other.
(2c) *He knows each other.

Each other is a reciprocal pronoun that requires a plural antecedent, or in non-linguistic terms, whoever each other refers to has to be plural.  So it works in (2b), where it can refer to the semantically plural they, and it doesn’t work in (2c) with the semantically singular he.  Since (2a) is a grammatical sentence, we know that everybody can be semantically plural.  Since everybody can be semantically plural, we know that there’s nothing wrong with using they with it.  And, as we’ll see in the next section, this agreement only matters if you insist that everybody and they have a pronoun-antecedent relationship, which probably isn’t the right way of looking at it.

It’s not really a pronoun relationship anyway: The above argument supposes that they is a pronoun referring to a syntactically plural but syntactically singular quantified expression like everybody.  But what if you’ve got a semantically singular one like anybody? Is it essential that they and the quantified expression agree in number at all?  Steven Pinker argues that it isn’t:

The logical point that everyone but the language mavens intuitively grasps is that everyone and they are not an antecedent and a pronoun referring to the same person in the world, which would force them to agree in number. They are a “quantifier” and a “bound variable,” a different logical relationship. Everyone returned to their seats means “For all X, X returned to X’s seat.” The “X” is simply a placeholder that keeps track of the roles that players play across different relationships: the X that comes back to a seat is the same X that owns the seat that X comes back to. The their there does not, in fact, have plural number, because it refers neither to one thing nor to many things; it does not refer at all.”

And that’s the weird thing.  Here’re these pedants crying about how English has to adhere rigidly to logic, and they don’t notice the one time the language actually behaves like a system of formal logic.  The point is that singular they can behave non-referentially; it’s an entirely different word from the standard referential pronouns he or plural they in these cases.  In fact, Pinker notes that some other languages have different words for the two meanings.  Since this they doesn’t pick out any specific entity or entities, it functions like the variable x in the mathematical expression 2(x + 7).  Can he be used in the same way as they, as a bound variable?  Sure, but that leads to the next point.

he isn’t gender-neutral: Some claim that singular they is unnecessary because he is gender-neutral, and that this whole kerfuffle about singular they being in any way good or useful only came about when “arrogant ideologues began recasting English into heavy artillery to defend the borders of the New Feminist state.” That’s from an article in The Weekly Standard by David Gelernter, a computer science professor at Yale. See,

“Ideologues can lie themselves blue in the face without changing the fact that, to those who know modern English as it existed until the cultural revolution and still does exist in many quarters, the neutral he ‘has lost all suggestion of maleness.'”

Yep, back before the evil, scary cultural revolution of the 1970s, no one ever saw anything odd about gender-neutral he.  And we see this by the fact that back in 1896, when women couldn’t vote in the U.S., Baskervill and Sewell thought that he sounded weird with mixed company. And we see evidence in the fact that singular they has been used since Chaucer’s time.  No, wait, that’s the opposite of his claim!  Nuts!

If you really think that he is gender-neutral, you ought to find nothing wrong with the following sentences:

(3a) At the funeral, everyone was dressed to the nines, each wearing his swankest tie or nicest dress.
(3b) Is it your brother or your sister who can hold his breath for four minutes?

Geoff Pullum came up with (3b), and I think it’s the clincher. I just can’t picture any competent speaker of English saying it and thinking it correct.  Sometimes it might be the case that he is approximately gender-neutral, but it’s not so in the general case.  There are many such examples where he sounds bad compared to a truly gender-neutral pronoun.

Equal ambiguity: Some others, often members of the “Don’t start a sentence with since!” set, complain that another problem with using they with a quantified or generic expression is that it introduces ambiguity. For instance, who does they refer to in

(4) Everyone meeting the royal family said that they were gracious?

Yes, that’s ambiguous as to whether the visitors or the royal family were gracious. Yes, replacing they with he removes the ambiguity. But what about

(5) Everyone meeting the new principal said that he was gracious?

What’s this? He has led to an ambiguity?  Inconceivable!  Note that (5) wouldn’t be ambiguous with a singular they.  Like the Oxford comma, sometimes singular they introduces an ambiguity, but just as often it avoids an ambiguity. Ambiguity is par for the course with pronouns with multiple referents, anyway:

(6a) Bob asked Jim if he was fat.
(6b) The Romans befriended the Gauls, but they slew them.

These sorts of ambiguities are common, even in edited writing, because the surrounding sentences give context to the ambiguous sentence.  Pilgrim’s Progress, for instance, one of the most prominent books in English literature, has almost 40 examples of “they * them” (e.g., they overtook them, they seek to stifle them).  That’s a lot more examples than one would expect if this sort of ambiguity were so crippling.  So ambiguity in singular they isn’t a deal-breaker either.

Summary: You don’t have to use singular they yourself.  You can go ahead and re-work your sentences to avoid it. You can employ he or she, or s/he, or a made-up gender-neutral pronoun of your own devising like xe.  You can even just stubbornly plow on, using he as a gender-neutral pronoun until you grow tired of people pointing out that it isn’t really.  I don’t care, and you’re not grammatically wrong.  But you’re just making a fool of yourself when you go around telling users of singular they that they’re wrong, because they’re not.

*: Grammaticaster, by the way, is one of my new favorite words, learned from the book Dimboxes, Epopts, and Other Quidams. It refers to a “petty, self-styled export on grammar, usually a niggling, precise type who can stab a bony finger at a dangling participle or split infinitive but lacks a true appreciation of writing in all its riches and varied styles. The rule-conscious pedant who sees writing not as good or bad but as right or wrong.” Or as the OED more briefly puts it, “A petty or inferior grammarian. (Used in contempt.)”

**:The information above was compiled from a number of sources, most of which are mentioned in the post, but here’s a few others that I found useful and may or may not have linked to above:
Grammar Girl: Generic Singular Pronouns
Language Log: Shakespeare used they with singular antecedents so there
Language Log: Singular they with known sex
Language Log: “Singular they”: God said it, I believe it, that settles it.
Language Log: Lying feminist ideologues wreck English, says Yale prof
The Lousy Linguist: Singular ‘they’ is old, logical, and grammatical
Wikipedia: Donkey pronoun

On occasion, I look up at the tagline of this blog (“Prescriptivism Must Die”) and wonder if perhaps I’m being too harsh.  But then I read something like Robert Hartwell Fiske’s Dictionary of Disagreeable English, and realize that the tagline is, if anything, understating the case.

Fiske seems to believe he is in some sort of competition for the title of King Prescriptivist, and his book seems to be his equivalent of the Eveningwear Competition.  His book flaunts everything that is wrong with prescriptivism: ad hominem attacks, unresearched prescriptions, illogic, wild invective against those who disagree with him.  You might remember his quote that the to no end idiom, which many of you well-educated readers use, is a “bastardization born of mishearing”, when — of course — he presented no evidence for this claim.

In his books, Fiske is a bully who asserts that disagreeing with him or making a simple usage error is evidence of poor mental faculties.  As it is with anyone who argues by bluster and bluff, proving Fiske wrong is an exercise in futility.  It’s like nailing jelly to the wall; you can do it, sure, but he’s just going to ignore the nail of evidence and continue his descent to the floor of absurdity.  It is a complete and utter waste of time.  That said, I haven’t much of a stomach for bullies, and have some time to waste.

Let’s start with an example of a bald assertion made without any effort made to back it up.  Check out this weaselly use of the passive: “Though both words are in common use, normality is considered preferable to normalcy.”  Who considers normality preferable, exactly? Certainly not The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage (which, by the way, is being sold through Fiske’s website), in which it is written that “Normalcy and normality stand side by side in AmE [American English] as legitimate alternatives.”  This sort of unsourced claim is exactly why everyone’s always up in arms about the passive voice.  This is “mistakes were made” territory.

Most of the book consists of these unjustified ipse dixit proclamations. I can see why; when Fiske does offer justifications, he often contradicts himself. Here’s a line from page 284: “Preventive is preferable to preventative because it has one fewer syllable.” Hey, look, I’m fine with that. Speaking as a light dyslexic, I am all too willing to accept shorter words; there’s less for me to transpose. But a mere 12 pages earlier in the book, Fiske talks about perquisite, which he sneers is “commonly called a perk by the ever-monosyllabic, ever-hasty everyman”. So is conciseness the sign of an efficient mind or a hasty mind?  We are left to wonder.

And then he does the same thing again when talking about one of the only: “Only does not mean two or more; it means one, sole, alone. One of the only then is altogether nonsensical—and further evidence that people scarcely know what their words mean.” This is quite incorrect, and there are so many ways to show it — in fact, I did so in a previous post. One could cite the 20-odd pre-1800 usages of the phrase “one of the only” in Google Books, or perhaps the 634 pre-1800 usages of the phrase “the only two“, which surely would be ruled out if only could not possibly refer to two or more objects. One could even go back a bit farther and point out the Oxford English Dictionary’s citation of a plural usage of only in Pecock’s Repressor, printed around 1450. Yes, yes, all of these would be well and good, and would serve to illustrate that there is no historical injunction against only modifying a plural noun. But the particular usages I choose to cite in defense of one of the only are a bit more modern:

(1) “We have words aplenty that mean to annoy; the only other words that mean to aggravate are worsen and exacerbate.”
(2) “[…] the only people inclined to use & in place of and […]” [Italics author’s, boldface mine.]

These usages are from pages 30 and 43 of The Dictionary of Disagreeable English, by Robert Hartwell Fiske. Clearly, Fiske himself scarcely knows what only means, since his stated definition doesn’t match his observed usage of plural only.  So if (1) and (2) are fine, why would Fiske object to saying that “worsen is one of the only words that mean to aggravate,” or that “the new copywriter is one of the only people inclined to use &”? It’s beyond me.

All right, enough of that. So Fiske occasionally contradicts himself. Who doesn’t?  So Fiske sometimes doesn’t support his beliefs. Is it fair to excoriate someone for that? In most cases I’d say no. But Fiske is a bully, one who launches vicious ad hominem attacks against the intelligence of other writers. For instance, when Burt Sugar, a boxing writer for the Los Angeles Times decided to get a bit cute, writing of an out-of-shape boxer that he “has gone north–as in north of 250 pounds,” Fiske responded that “Mr. Sugar, like some of the boxers he writes about, has apparently had his ear deformed, his brains addled.” After all, he’s used north of, which Fiske describes as “[i]diotic for more than.” Never mind that I found this usage to actually be rather clever, with its implication that the boxer had metaphorically gone on vacation. Fiske clearly did not, and that makes Sugar an idiot.

Another example: Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review, is apparently a fool. After all, he used the wrong tense in this sentence: “If I would have been a publishing house, I would’ve eagerly taken David’s book.” Yeah, it’s not right, but it doesn’t reveal any glaring intellectual deficit, right? Wrong! Fiske writes “Mr. Lowry’s use of would have exposes an inability to reason well—as does his imagining he might conceivably have been a publishing house.” Yep, I’m sure that Lowry was really imagining that.

So if I may be excused for the well-worn phrase, Fiske is really a pot calling a kettle black.  If these writers have addled brains and an inability to reason, then one can scarcely imagine what Fiske has.

One last point, and perhaps the most frustrating one, is that on rare occasions Fiske shows admirable lucidity. For instance, he admonishes one questioner that “[p]erhaps you have trouble understanding why fixing to is improper because—dislike it though you may—it is not improper; it is, as you say, Southern.” Oh, if only that reasonable Robert Hartwell Fiske could sit down and talk to the Fiske who spazzes over Sugar’s north of, or the one who baldly asserts that normalcy is to be avoided.  Maybe then we would have been spared Fiske’s disagreeable complaints.  But instead, we are treated to the vitriol of a crank who views any error, whether large or small, as incontrovertible evidence of the end of English.

The prescriptivists are on my last nerve.  Some of them really believe that there is something wrong with this sentence:

(1) One of the only things I liked about living in Ottawa was the strong film community.

Reasonable readers, can you find the error in (1)?  The construction that “doesn’t convey any information”, the one that Richard Lederer calls a “strange and illogical expression”, the one Robert Hartwell Fiske cites as “further evidence that people scarcely know what their words mean”? Give up? It’s one of the only!

Oh, you didn’t find that to be illogical?  You thought you got some information out of those words?  Well then, congratulations; you’re a normal speaker of English.  Honestly, I couldn’t see what could the problem with one of the only possibly be.  Well, let’s look at Lederer’s argument against it:

“This strange and illogical expression began showing up a few years ago, and English took a step backward when it did.  The expression has been defended on the basis that it is no worse than only two, because only means ‘one’ and only two is oxymoronic. A specious argument! It’s like saying that robbing a bank is okay because it’s no worse than robbing a jewelry store.  Moreover, only in the sense of ‘only two’ does not mean ‘one’; it means ‘no more than.’  There is no meaning of only that fits with one of the only.

Well, that’s a kick in the gut of the facts — three kicks, in fact.  Kick the first is the claim that one of the only started showing up a few years ago.  Google Books reports it in two books around 1770, in The Dramatic Censor and The Sale of Authors, and reports hundreds of uses throughout the nineteenth century.  It’s more than a few years old, that’s for sure.

Kick the second is the idea that any reasonable person defends one of the only by noting that only two is oxymoronic.  I sure don’t, and I don’t understand who would.  There is nothing oxymoronic, nothing contradictory about the construction.  Only two is completely clear, comprehensible, standard, and logical — hundreds of pre-1800 usages of only two in Google Books attest to this.

Kick the third is Lederer’s definition of onlyOnly two does not mean “no more than two” in standard usage.  If it meant “no more than two”, then (2) would be a totally acceptable sentence.

(2) *The cyclops has only two eyes.

With Lederer’s definition (2) is fine, because a cyclops has only one eye, and one is no more than two.  But a quick poll of the only two people in the apartment at the moment revealed that (2) is utterly unacceptable; clearly Lederer’s definition is insufficient.  The real definition of only in only two is something along the lines of “exactly”, but with the crucial additional implicature that this is a smaller number than expected.  Violating this implicature makes a sentence sound weird, as with (3b):

(3a) I was sad when only two people showed up at my cats’ wedding.
(3b) #I was sad when only one thousand people showed up at my cats’ wedding.

Now, the fact that one gets this implicature, that only two sounds so much better than only one thousand, ought to suggest that there is logic underlying the construction. This, coupled with Lederer’s crummy definition of only, should lead a reader to be skeptical of his claim that no meaning of only can fit in one of the only. I am curious as to what Lederer thinks the definitions of only are.

So what does one of the only mean?  What happens if we follow one critic’s request to “parse it if you will, and see what you get”?  Let’s look at the example in (1).  The only things I liked about living in Ottawa is a noun phrase, identifying the set of things the speaker liked about living in Ottawa, noting that this set is the complete set, and implying that it’s an awfully small set.  That’s what the quantifier only means, that’s what it’s meant for hundreds of years.  One of modifies a noun phrase, selecting one member of that set.  The two combined, as they are in (1), pick out a single member of the set of all things the speaker liked about living in Ottawa. So what exactly were we supposed to see when we parsed this?  That it works?  I’m fine with that.

There’re a lot more arguments that one of the only makes sense, and Jan Freeman has a wonderful column with a few of them.  Notably, Freeman points out that one of the only is attested cross-linguistically, further destroying the notion that one of the only is somehow illogical.  So in the end, I have to ask this of the prescriptivists: Do you really have nothing better to do in your lives than to ignore the well-known meanings of words so that you get to call other people stupid?  Are you really unable to think of a better pastime than claiming that a reasonable, well-worn construction is illogical and incomprehensible?  Are you really so committed to those goals that you’re unwilling to comprehend an easily comprehensible construction?

Or as I screamed into my computer after reading this junk: Why are you spending more effort trying to misunderstand someone than trying to understand them?

Summary: Prescriptivists insistently grouse that people don’t think enough when they write, but prescriptivists seem just as likely not to think when writing.  Case in point: the arguments against one of the only are positively absurd, based off of a wanton misinterpretation of what only means, and completely independent of historical usage in English and other languages.  Of course one of the only is fine, a fact that has been known since 1770.

My roommate, his girlfriend, and I trudged over to the mall food court last night for something resembling a dinner.   Being secret monarchists, they headed to the decadent Burger King, while I, ever-conscious of my health, went over to the Mongolian Grill instead, which might very well be regarded as a healthy alternative if you only disregard the fatty meat I laded my bowl with and the near-gallon of soy sauce and oil it was cooked in.  But this is not a post about the shabby meals we eat; rather it is a post about the shabby English attending our meals.  Had Henry Watson Fowler, author of The King’s English, accompanied us, he would have fallen over when he saw my roommate’s food.  Not merely because Fowler has been dead for the better part of a century (after all, dead people can be made to stand; I’ve watched both Weekends at Bernie’s), but because of the coupon my roommate got with his meal.  I might not have this exactly right, but if memory serves, it read:

(1) “Try one Free New BK Burger Shots, Saturday 3/14 […]”

That’s pretty awkward, what with the disagreement in number between one and Burger Shots.  I think we all get the idea that supposed to be coming across here: Burger Shots are bonsai burgers, small little mini-burgers that are not sold separately.  So one can’t order a Burger Shot, but rather must order two or six Burger Shots.  The problem is that talking about two Burger Shots is ambiguous.  Do you mean one order of a two-pack of Burger Shots or two separate orders of Burger Shots (i.e., four or twelve burgers)?  This is a common problem that I encounter when ordering at fast food restaurants, especially through the voice destroyers known as drive-thru intercoms.  If the coupon were to offer “two free Burger Shots”, customers might argue that they were led to believe they were getting two orders for free.  Standardly, the way of getting around this problem is to use a grouping term, like “order of” or “X-packs“, where X is some number.  And, in fact, we do see this in an online Burger Shots coupon, which reads:

(2) “Click on the coupon below to receive a free 2-pack BK BURGER SHOTS […]”

But even here the Burger King’s English is not quite right; the standard usage would be 2-pack of.  No one goes around talking about the six-pack Heinz ketchup they bought to honor the greatest team in professional football.  (I’m not being hyperbolic here; Google did not return a single hit for the phrase “six-pack heinz ketchup”.)  I’ve got to say, these usages strike me as quite odd.  I think almost everyone will agree that both (1) and (2) are obviously ungrammatical.  (2) might just be a typo, where the copywriter thought they’d put in an of, and the error was too small to be noticed.  This typo explanation is especially likely since it’s a web coupon.  It’s hard to see where the writer was going with (1), though, and given that there are two separate weird usages, I’m beginning to wonder if Burger King is consciously trying to re-write the grammar of Burger Shots.

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A lot of people make claims about what "good English" is. Much of what they say is flim-flam, and this blog aims to set the record straight. Its goal is to explain the motivations behind the real grammar of English and to debunk ill-founded claims about what is grammatical and what isn't. Somehow, this was enough to garner a favorable mention in the Wall Street Journal.

About Me

I'm Gabe Doyle, currently a postdoctoral scholar in the Language and Cognition Lab at Stanford University. Before that, I got a doctorate in linguistics from UC San Diego and a bachelor's in math from Princeton.

In my research, I look at how humans manage one of their greatest learning achievements: the acquisition of language. I build computational models of how people can learn language with cognitively-general processes and as few presuppositions as possible. Currently, I'm working on models for acquiring phonology and other constraint-based aspects of cognition.

I also examine how we can use large electronic resources, such as Twitter, to learn about how we speak to each other. Some of my recent work uses Twitter to map dialect regions in the United States.



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