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Sentence Agreement: Avoiding Faulty Collective Ownership

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  • 0:07 Avoiding Faulty…
  • 0:49 Identifying Faulty…
  • 1:35 Correcting Faulty…
  • 2:44 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Bonn

Amy has taught college and law school writing courses and has a master's degree in English and a law degree.

A common error occurs whenever a writer uses wording that suggests that a lot of people own or use just one thing, when really they all own or use their own separate things. This video will explain how to identify and fix this type of error.

Avoiding Faulty Collective Ownership

Do you remember the pop song from the 80s where the guy has a Chrysler that 'seats about twenty?' The idea of twenty people packed into a car makes for a funny image, but it's also an idea that can help you catch a really common grammatical error and avoid losing points on standardized composition tests.

In fact, 'All students should think about this as they take their test.'

Did you catch the error? It's tough to spot if you haven't really thought about it before, but once you look for this type of error, it's pretty easy to catch.

Identifying Faulty Collective Ownership Words

Here's the problem with that sentence. It's an error to use wording that suggests that a lot of people own or use just one thing, when really they all own or use their own separate things.

Common sense tells us that it will never be the case that a whole roomful of students will be crowded around one sheet of paper on one desk, taking one test. But our sentence from earlier said that all students will be taking their test.

Note that the word 'test' in the sentence is singular - meaning that there is just one test - even though we have a lot of test takers. Even when we don't mean to, we might create sentences that convey images as silly as twenty people packed into a car flying down the road.

These errors are common only because so many of us can't spot them, and we can't spot them only because we may never really have known to look for them.

Correcting Faulty Collective Ownership Words

Correcting these errors couldn't be simpler, and you've likely already figured out how. Are you ready for the fool-proof solution to shooing all of those people away from that one desk in the testing room?

We simply give them all their own tests by making the word 'test' plural.

'All students should think about this as they take their tests.'

Here's another example. We all know that it's a good idea for people to designate what will happen to their belongings after they die. But it's not a good idea to express it in this way:

'All people with homes and children should have a will.'

Sure, it's a great idea to write a will, but we probably shouldn't make all those homeowners and parents try to squeeze everything into just one shared will.

Instead, 'All people with homes and children should have wills.'

And while we're on the subject of home ownership, it might make sense to reflect on the idea that:

'Many Americans want to buy their own home.'

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