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BrassDragon

Grammatical error?

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The only value men can offer me is the work of their mind.

This is from John Galt's speech. My problem is, grammatically, shouldn't mind be minds?

If so, was this corrected in later editions?

This appears at the top of p. 949 of my copy of the book. As far as the edition - it was published by Signet and simply says "This is an authorized reprint of a hardcover edition from Random House Books," and it seems to be a very early edition, and belonged to my parents.

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My problem is, grammatically, shouldn't mind be minds?
No, that is correct. A more elaborate version that makes the two uses of the plural clear would be the difference "The only value that the totality of men can offer me is the work of their minds", versus "The only value that any man can offer me is the work of his mind". It is common in English to use plurals this way, and sometimes useful since singulars require gender to be marked.

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No, that is correct. A more elaborate version that makes the two uses of the plural clear would be the difference "The only value that the totality of men can offer me is the work of their minds", versus "The only value that any man can offer me is the work of his mind".

Those two examples make grammatical sense to me - but it seems to me that the first is the equivalent of the sentence Rand is using, which would mean she should have used minds.

In both cases (Rand's use and your first example), we're referring to "men," not "man." "Men" would require a plural possessive, "their," and a plural possessed object, "minds," unless they all have the same mind. :D

Perhaps if you give me some more general examples like this I can figure it out.

Thanks - and sorry to ask you to play English teacher. :thumbsup:

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So yeah... I'm still having trouble with this...

I was reminded about this when I wrote something about "In most people's view.... ", which sounded correct. "In most people's views..." didn't sound correct, but according to my understanding of grammar (which apparently is wrong), it should be correct. Furthermore, "The totality of people's views" is clearly correct.

Further examples...

"Most women have spare tires in the backs of their cars" vs. "Most women have a spare tire in the back of their car" vs. "The totality of women have spare tires in the backs of their cars"

"Dogs have tails sticking out of their behinds" vs. "Dogs have a tail (or tails?) sticking out of their behind" vs. "The totality of dogs have tails sticking out of their behinds"

"Teams tend to win in their home stadiums" vs. "Teams tend to win in their home stadium" vs. "THe totality of teams tend to win in their home stadiums"

In the first 2 cases in each of the above examples, which one is correct seems ambiguous to me, but normally I'd go with the former, according to my understanding of things. In each example the 3rd case is intuitively correct to me (and I think is perhaps saying something different than in the first 2 cases, which I will elaborate on below).

I guess the difference is when we say "Men, dogs, women..." we are talking about "All men, all dogs, all women," but we are talking about them individually and not collectively. Kind of like in British English when they say "The team have said..." they are talking about a group of individuals as a group of individuals, not a group (obviously of individuals) as a single unit. (example here for anyone interested, including for my own reference)

Am I thinking along the right track? DavidOdden, does my supposition in the paragraph directly above this one show that I understand your earlier comment, or do I still have something wrong?

Am I having trouble with this (and are other people not having trouble with it?) perhaps because I'm from the South and I'm exposed to a good mix of regional dialects?

Edited by BrassDragon

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I was reminded about this when I wrote something about "In most people's view.... ", which sounded correct. "In most people's views..." didn't sound correct, but according to my understanding of grammar (which apparently is wrong), it should be correct.
What one is trying to say in saying this is that there is a particular view, and most people have that one view. You could say "Most people's opinions about morality are shaped by religion", which asserts that there are different opinions. This is more a philosophical issue, not a grammatical one: are you viewing the opinion from the perspective of the different people and ignoring the content of the opinion, or are you considering the opinion itself, assuming that there is this one opinion that we're talking about, and setting aside as less important the fact that many people have the opinion.

The paraphrases with "totality" almost always sound clumsy, which is why we don't use them (I'd suggest using "all"). In the tire example, the repeated plurals make it sound awkward (belabored but not ungrammatical), and it's easily understood to mean that women have two or more tires in the trunk which is not implausible although false. But with the dog sentence, that can't mean that a dog has multiple tails.

I'd say you're moving in the right direction, thinking about this in terms of seeing things collectively, at the higher conceptual level, versus at the level of the concrete. Lemme see if I can find something that more systematically lays this out. Generally, this is not a matter of grammar: grammar would involve the fact that you simply cannot say *"Dog is mammals" or *"The dog are a mammal". This is the domain of semantics, about what you intend to say and which aspect you're focusing on. I think the troubles you might be having is that this is really a fairly technical topic which requires considerable training to get, and it's almost always taught totally wrong in the schools (if it's taught at all).

In the case of this particular piece of text, I would argue that Rand's meaning is equal to "The only value that any man can offer me is the work of his mind". That's not a grammatically-dictated conclusion, it's based on facts about Rand. If Rand had intended to say "The only value that the totality of men can offer me is the work of their minds", then I would agree that the text should have said "minds".

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In the case of this particular piece of text, I would argue that Rand's meaning is equal to "The only value that any man can offer me is the work of his mind". That's not a grammatically-dictated conclusion, it's based on facts about Rand. If Rand had intended to say "The only value that the totality of men can offer me is the work of their minds", then I would agree that the text should have said "minds".

Are you saying "The only value that men can offer me is the work of their mind" is correct grammatically because Ayn Rand implies that its each individual that needs to develop and then offer their mind, not an offer from a collectived group.

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Are you saying "The only value that men can offer me is the work of their mind" is correct grammatically because Ayn Rand implies that its each individual that needs to develop and then offer their mind, not an offer from a collectived group.
No, I am saying that it is grammatically correct because it follows the rules of English grammar. The rest of the discussion is a non-technical perusal of the relevant semantic facts. Semantics plays a role in the grammar of agreement and plurality. Consider the sentences "Pizza and ice cream taste good" versus "Pizza and ice cream tastes good". Most people probably agree with the former, and not the latter. This is because the latter makes a claim about the two foods considered as a unit.

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Consider the sentences "Pizza and ice cream taste good" versus "Pizza and ice cream tastes good". Most people probably agree with the former, and not the latter. This is because the latter makes a claim about the two foods considered as a unit.

Isnt that what I said here:

Are you saying "The only value that men can offer me is the work of their mind" is correct grammatically because Ayn Rand implies that its each individual that needs to develop and then offer their mind, not an offer from a collectived group.

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Isnt that what I said here:

Are you saying "The only value that men can offer me is the work of their mind" is correct grammatically because Ayn Rand implies that its each individual that needs to develop and then offer their mind, not an offer from a collectived group.

No, due to the "because". Being grammatical means following the rules of grammar; Rand's communicative intent is outside of the purview of grammatical restrictions. So her intention does not cause the sentence to be grammatical, her correct use of the rules of English grammar cause it to be grammatical. The issue of communicative intent is relevant to the topic because there is a wide-spread confusion about the notions "grammatical" and "makes sense", and most people tend to misunderstand "being grammatical" as meaning "making sense". Since elementary schools started to eliminate teaching grammar even before I went to school and before serious scientific study of grammar qua cognitive fact even got started, I don't know how anyone could be reasonably expected to know this, so there's no expectation on my part that this is self-evident.

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DavidOdden, could you suggest a good grammar text? I'm a bit rusty on some of the fine points and would like to brush up.
"Rex Barks" and "Writing and Thinking" are good. For the finer points, i.e. more details, I suggest Quirk, Randolph, S. Greenbaum, G. Leech, & J. Svartvik. 1985. A comprehensive grammar of the English language. London: Longman", and Huddleston, R. & G. Pullum. 2002. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language.

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"Rex Barks" and "Writing and Thinking" are good. For the finer points, i.e. more details, I suggest Quirk, Randolph, S. Greenbaum, G. Leech, & J. Svartvik. 1985. A comprehensive grammar of the English language. London: Longman", and Huddleston, R. & G. Pullum. 2002. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language.

Excellent. My standard of grammer, whilst not bad, is entirley based on intuition since I was not taught anything along these lines when I was a boy. I generally know when something is grammatically correct but I am, more often than not, buggered if I know why I know it is correct (is is grammatically (or, even, semantically) correct to say "I know why I know").

So, I think I will take myself off to a bookseller and purchase one of the books you have reccomended folks.

Edited by SteveCook

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No, that is correct. A more elaborate version that makes the two uses of the plural clear would be the difference "The only value that the totality of men can offer me is the work of their minds", versus "The only value that any man can offer me is the work of his mind". It is common in English to use plurals this way, and sometimes useful since singulars require gender to be marked.

"The only value that men can offer me is the work of their mind"

Common does not mean correct. It is not grammatically correct to use 'their' when the antecedent is singular, no matter how useful it is. However, subject-pronoun agreement isn't at issue here; if you noticed, you changed your example sentences around to match the plurality of mind to the plurality of man, which is, I think, what the original question was.

In this particular case, there are several ways to fix it (I prefer the first):

"The only value that men can offer me is the work of their minds"

"The only value that man can offer me is the work of his mind"

Although personally, I would have made the whole sentence plural, even though it changes the meaning slightly:

"The only values that men can offer me are the works of their minds"

Unless Rand was implying that men have one collective mind, either the plural form should be used or the whole sentence should have single subjects,. However, if all the men do share a single mind, the sentence is grammatically correct.

Following the same rules, the first and third sentences in the given examples above are correct, and the second is only correct if the women share a single car or the dogs share a single behind (or all the teams share the same home stadium.)

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"The only value that men can offer me is the work of their mind"

Common does not mean correct. It is not grammatically correct to use 'their' when the antecedent is singular, no matter how useful it is.

What's your basis for that conclusion? That is, how do you know that you understand the rule of English grammar correctly? Remember, we're talking about objective fact and not rationalistic deduction.

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What's your basis for that conclusion? That is, how do you know that you understand the rule of English grammar correctly? Remember, we're talking about objective fact and not rationalistic deduction.

Quoting from the Handbook of Current English-Seventh Edition (Corder and Ruszkiewicz):

"Nouns Referring to Individuals in a Group:

When a collective noun refers to the members of the group, especially if it represents them as acting individually, a plural verb and plural reference words are used:

The audience have taken their seats (emphasis mine)."

I'm going with minds as grammatically correct, although I like the "fix" listed above..."The only values that men can offer me are the works of their minds"

Rick

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I'll be interested to see if Misleigh accepts that argument; now, why does that statement from that particular book establish a rule? Where does their authority derive from, and what renders their opinion superior to other experts? We're not French, you know: we don't have an Academy to rule on these issues, and the issue of credentials to make such declarations is important. Their credibility is serious called into question when you notice that their example sentence "The audience have taken their seats" is blatantly ungrammatical in English (cough). I'm trying to understand what this notion of "The rules of English" reduces to, when actual usage and the function of language is discarded.

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Their credibility is serious called into question when you notice that their example sentence "The audience have taken their seats" is blatantly ungrammatical in English (cough).

When a collective noun refers to the members of the group, especially if it represents them as acting individually, a plural verb and plural reference words are used...

Aren't collective nouns treated as singular if the members of the group are acting individually?

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Aren't collective nouns treated as singular if the members of the group are acting individually?
That is the basic hammer meets nail generalization, although by "acting" I presume you mean "considered as acting", since I know of no language where a person's cognition is short-circuited ;). In this case, the normative question on the table was whether the noun itself should have been "minds" rather than "mind" (thus the proffered rule was in sensu stricto irrelevant, as the issue is not at all about the pattern of agreement). In my view, the best way to understand this problem is in terms of the proposition that Rand intended to communicate (which doesn't seem to be at all in doubt), and then secondarily the best means of doing so. I can find no fault on the latter score, given my knowledge of the rules of English which govern how other people should be expected to understand her meaning. But naturally, even though I am a native speaker of English and Rand was, in fact, not, I am open to argumentation that we both misunderstand the nature of English grammar. That's why I'm waiting for a superior and more authoritative opinion on this matter of fact.

Or, to be less oblique about the matter, the rule states how the number properties of the agreement controller govern the realization of agreement features on dependents such as verbs. The matter is not strictly syntactic in English. Number is projected by the DP and is semantically determined, and DP features govern verbal agreement. Thus you must decide whether you're speaking of singulars of plurals, and the agreement follows from that -- agreement does not cause DP plurality. However, I generally find that making technical arguments are not useful in a general forum, which is why I don't tend to make such arguments often.

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However, I generally find that making technical arguments are not useful in a general forum

(emphasis added) Was that intended? ;)

(Of course, it's grammatically correct: since "making" can very well serve as an adjective, your sentence refers to things known as "making technical arguments," and states that they are not useful. :P :P)

Here in England, it is quite common to use singular collective nouns to refer to many individuals and therefore to follow them with verbs in plural form. The most striking example I've come across is this radio advertisement: "Tired of searching for car insurance online? confused.com make it simple." Meaning: the people who run confused.com make it simple.

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Was that intended? ;)
Just totally shoot me. I wish it are / was / were / do be intentional. That was, at least for me and my American ilk, just the idiotic "last word governs agreement" it's late got work to do mistake. Anyhow, the grammar of agreement is notoriously different on the two sides of the pond, and my ploy about "proper English" vs. "popular use" has been outed. [bTW the aforementioned professor Pullum, co-author of the best contemporary grammar of English, is a transplanted Brit, who as far as I can tell, is entirely conversant with the details of the syntax of both sides, though still can't say "Dewd" despite decades in Lala land].

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Well, when I have questions about grammar or other writing questions, I go to some books I have by Lynn Truss, William Strunk & E.B. White, Susan Anker, and Claire Kehrwald Cook. As for why they have authority on the subject - well, their books tend to agree with each other, they've been highly recommended by several of my English professors, and they seem to be well-respected in their field. However, I haven't made an extensive background check on any of them for authority, so that is all I can give you.

On the subject-pronoun agreement issue, Anker and Cook agree, while Truss makes no mention of it in the one book of hers I own; I haven't checked Strunk & White's book for that one yet. I will when I get home, though.

As for "The audience have taken their seats," I will have to double-check, but I think Anker at least agrees with this one too.

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Sparknotes' Ultimate Style by Emma Chastain, page 56, under the heading "Gendered Language" and sub-heading "Their": "What you cannot do is match a singular noun with the plural possessive their in an attempt to be [gender] neutral." The "Plurals" entry has nothing applicable to the statement in question. There is a list of words that "look plural but are actually singular" and should be treated as such; audience is one.

Cook's more thorough Line by Line lists audience as a word that can be either plural or singular. "If the collective noun denotes a unit, make it singular; if it refers to the individuals the group comprises, make it plural" (p 84). An example she gives is "The department comes from a variety of backgrounds" where 'comes' ought to be 'come', since a singular department comes from one place whereas the department members can come from several places. Cook also says that using 'they' as a singular third-person pronoun is not grammatically correct, but since there is historical precedent for it and some contemporary writes advocate its use, that rule may change.

Cook does actually discuss the plurality issue we're talking about in Rand's sentence. "Guard against making two or more share something concrete that they don't have in common. Statements like We all got our driver's license at the age of seventeen and All in favor raise their right hand are careless and illogical" (p 96).

Strunk and White agree with using singular pronouns even if the sentence becomes awkward; however, the original edition of The Elements of Style was copyrighted in 1935, and I daresay Strunk hadn't dealt with the gender issues we have now - the book recommends using 'he' as a generic third-person pronoun rather than 'he or she.' Strunk and White also say that "the number of the subject determines the number of the verb" (p 9). I can't find anything about mind vs. minds, though. I also didn't find anything about collective nouns.

Now from Susan Anker's Real Essays with Readings, which has a few chapters on grammar: "A pronoun must agree with (match) the noun or pronoun it refers to in number: It must be singular (one) or plural (more than one). If it is singular, it must also match its noun or pronoun in gender." (The parentheticals are there because this text focuses on being comprehensive for ESL students as well as native speakers.) Audience is listed as a common collective noun with some plural cases, and one example is "The audience took their seats," which would indeed be 'have taken' for the present perfect tense. Unfortunately, I can't find anything about the pronoun-object agreement in this text either. (Technically I don't think 'mind' is an object, since there's no verb acting on it, but I'm not sure what else to call it.)

So my Cook book is the only reference I have for the original question, but all 4 books agree when it comes to pronoun-antecedent agreement, and they agree when it comes to collective nouns versus individuals of a group. (Except the Sparknotes book, which probably would have agreed if it was just a little more thorough. That entry was very short.)

Let me know if you still want credibility info for my sources; I can try to find something if necessary. At the very least, I can tell you that Cook has the Modern Language Association backing her up - the association holds the copyright, and she was a copy editor for them.

Whew. Long post. And all just for a slight grammatical error that may have been a typo...

Edit: all italics are original, btw.

Edited by miseleigh

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Megan, you've done an admirable job on some basic research, so I want to come back to the substance of that post later. What I'd like to know in the meantime (short time, one hopes), is why you think these statements are credible. Here's an analogous situation. There are art experts of various sorts in the world; they do not agree. You can easily find an art expert who will say "A and B are fine art, C and D are trash", and yet another expert who will say "C and D are fine are, A and B are trash". Can both be right? No, that is embracing a contradiction. So how do you resolve the issue when experts do not reach the same conclusion.

Argumentam ad vericundiam is a long-standing tradition in English composition circles, because they do not have a theory of language, rather they encourage the "language arts" view where experts have cultivated opinions, over the "language science" view which emphasizes correspondence to objective fact. The problem that this leaves us with is that there is no objective means of testing the validity of the expert's claims. You can sometimes determine that an expert has made a particular declaration, but not that there is a reason -- apart from feeling -- for that declaration.

If you're interested, the roots of the "intuitionist" view of grammar is Cartesian rationalism. This is reflected in Cook's statement that certain patterns of agreement are "illogical", which presupposes certain a priori principles about English. An analogous example, one very widely applied in English, is the castigation of double negation in sentences like "He won't give me no money". You hear reasonably intelligent people actually applying some rule of deductive "logic" to this and concluding that the person is saying that he will give me some money, and that's wrong. Fortunately, the Cartesian rationalists, whose language requires double negation, would understand that this is a misapplication of logic.

Now, leaving aside the question of whether the proferred rules are factually correct or whether you've actually applied the rules right in this case, do you also have evidence that this was a rule when AS was written? As I presume you know, the opinions expressed by the composition teachers are subject to change, depending on shifting socio-political views (to give you one example, the word "othering" is now quite standard and used by these people, and 50 years ago you would have been greeted by polite "oh, how cute" laughter). The issue is not whether Rand would write the sentence the same way today, but rather whether the sentence was a grammatical mistake at the time. If you intend to derive the answer from appear to published rules laid down by composition teachers, and not base the answer on the English language itself, you have to get the right texts. Probably all you need to do is go get a 50's version of one of these rule books.

But in the meantime, I'll address the proffered rules a bit later today.

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