Usage and Grammar

Q. Is it necessary to continue repeating the auxiliary had after its first instantiation when writing a complex sentence with some of the verbs in the pluperfect: “She had taken many rides in the train and [had] seen many sights, sights that [had] awakened her curiosity, but what [had] most intrigued her . . .”? If not, it seems the reader would have an ambiguous idea about where the event is situated in time.

Q. My proofreader says that the verb needs to be singular in this caption, but that reads as incorrect to me. Can you instruct me or give me bragging rights (not that I would ever brag, of course)? “Ann Smith, one of seven alumni who talks about leadership.”

Q. Regarding the use of and in a short parenthetical list, here is an example: “channels that confer sensitivity to heat (TrpV1, TrpM2, TrpM3).” My project manager thinks there is a need to place and between the last two items in the parens. I know of no such rule and cannot think of a reason why the word would be necessary (other than the customer is always right). Any insights on this minor dilemma?

Q. One of your inquirers included the sentence “Most people only know the one reality they’ve lived.” (This was not the subject of the person’s inquiry, which was well answered.) Should it not be “Most people know only the one reality”? “Most people only know” would imply they know it, but do not appreciate it, do not embrace it, do not examine it, etc. “Most people know only the one reality” would imply that they know the one reality but not others, almost certainly what the writer intended.

Q. When I see the sign OVERSIZE LOAD on the back of trucks, it feels grammatically incorrect. Shouldn’t it be OVERSIZED LOAD or OVER-SIZED LOAD? Please tell me so I can either smirk when I see this sign or apologize to my family.

Q. I am wondering if you can help settle a dispute. A friend of mine recently asked me to copyedit her work and we came to a point of disagreement. She wrote a sentence like the following: “A former public school teacher, I know the importance of providing adequate funding.” I argued that the sentence should start “As a former,” while she was adamant that her original sentence was grammatically correct. Is her construction appropriate, even if it is not ideal? Can you help put this question to rest?

Q. I have an ongoing discussion with an author I edit. She’ll often begin a sentence with being that, and I change it to because, depending, of course, on the context. She feels I’m wrong to substitute because for being that. What do you say?

Q. I am a copyeditor for a tiny scientific journal. I was given the following sentence: It is intriguing to note that BE has 18- to 33-fold the analgesic potency of morphine. I felt that this was incorrect and should have been changed to “18 to 33 times the analgesic potency” or “an 18- to 33-fold greater analgesic potency.” My editor overruled me by telling me that in scientific writing this is acceptable. I believe he is being confused by the fact that dictionaries give times as the definition of -fold (the true meaning of -fold is quite debatable, but that is not my question). I can’t seem to find a good reference for correct usage in this case. 

Q. From your July Q&A: “Comprehensive tip sheets for setting up a paper are available for free at the website.” Really? “For free”? Free here is an adverb modifying the verbal phrase “are available,” not a noun, and cannot be the object of the preposition for.

Q. I work for a company that produces training material for the mining industry. A machine in the mining process uses ceramic beads to grind down rocks. We refer to these ceramic beads as “grinding media.” Is it appropriate to treat “grinding media” as a singular noun? For example: “The grinding media consists of ceramic beads with a size of 3.5 to 5.0 mm.”