Belfast Telegraph

Bad grammar and omission spark some cross words

By Paul Connolly

Something of a hornets nest opened up last week over the issue of grammatically correct headlines. E-mails, letters and verbal opinions flew.

About the only general agreement was that English can be a frustrating and mystifying language.

The original issue, if you missed it, was the grammatical accuracy of the main front page headline, ‘Only one out of three students are Protestant’.

While recognising that this is the way many people would say the sentence, I ruled that, grammatically and in the context of a newspaper front page, this was inappropriate and should have read ‘is Protestant’. Predictably, the debate then turned to one of the sentences in the column ‘ . . . one-third of Northern Ireland’s university students is from a Protestant background’. Some people insist that can correctly be written as ‘are from a Protestant background’.

Personally, although the former was used, I prefer the latter (and that silent arbitrator, MS Word spell checker, agrees with me). But I accept that most people would be on the ‘is’ side in that one.

Anyway, the column provoked not just vigorous comment on the ‘is/are’ issue, but on the standards of grammar in the Belfast Telegraph and other newspapers generally.

Newspapers, however, are almost always written in a hurry, so we should allow at least some room for error. Within reason, of course. And definitely not in front page headlines.

As I wrote last week, in these days of text-speak and concerns about literacy standards in schools, it’s a wonderful thing to see that people are still passionate about the rules of the written word.

Press Complaints Commission

To other matters: I made an error in this column on October 14. Paul Dacre no longer sits on the Press Complaints Commission. He left the commission three years ago in order to become chairman of the Editors’ Code of Practice Committee, which draws up the code that the PCC independently enforces. Mr Dacre also sits on the Press Standards Board of Finance, which is charged with raising a levy on the newspaper and periodical industries to finance the Press Complaints Commission and its work.


Irate readers called the paper on Saturday demanding an explanation after a clue was omitted from the prize crossword.

Our supplier, the Press Association, has admitted responsibility and sends an apology to everyone affected. PA has also promised to introduce some changes in procedures to try to ensure that it won’t happen again.

Nevertheless, our readers were let down, so an apology is in order from us as well. Sorry.

The missing clue was:

Share defender to reduce expenditure (3,4); to which the solution is CUT BACK.

Belfast Telegraph


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