Monthly Archives: March 2015

Today’s proofreading fails

I despair at the poor standard of English which seems to be acceptable to most daily newspapers these days.

Here are a few from this week –

As the BBC’s head of strategy, we the public pay him the not inconsiderable sum of £295,000 a year, and I’d have thought  …

So ‘we the public’ are the BBC’s head of strategy? No, of course not. This is just poor English, and should be:

As the BBC’s head of strategy, he is paid by us, the public,  the not inconsiderable sum of £295,000 a year, and I’d have thought …

or something along those lines. The key point is that the second clause, following the use of ‘as …’  must continue to give information about the subject, in this case, the BBC’s head of strategy.


Here’s another one.

Home at last! Stray dog Arthur rescued from Ecuador by athletes freed from quarantine to start new life in Sweden.

So was it the athletes who were in quarantine? Are they going to start a new life in Sweden? No, of course not, but the lack of punctuation here makes the sentence more difficult to understand. This sentence contains a relative clause, and as such, should use commas to show this. Below you can see how two simple commas render this much easier to understand at first glance, and thus aid the speed and flow of reading.

Home at last! Stray dog Arthur, rescued from Ecuador by athletes, freed from quarantine to start new life in Sweden.

The relative clause is the middle section, between the brackets, and adds more information about the subject of the sentence, ‘stray dog Arthur’. A sentence having a relative clause is easily recognised – if you can remove that clause, that is, the portion between the commas, the sentence still makes sense. In this case, that would be:

Home at last! Stray dog Arthur freed from quarantine to start new life in Sweden.

Punctuation seems to be considered ‘old fashioned’ now in many newspapers and books, and some authors tell me that publishers actually remove it, saying that it improves ‘readability’. This astonishes me, as I believe quite the opposite, as demonstrated above. The commas do not hinder the reader, but rather help by making the meaning unambiguous.