James A. Landau JJJRLandau at AOL.COM
Tue Jul 16 13:26:51 UTC 2002

In a message dated 7/15/02 10:44:35 PM Eastern Daylight Time,
maberry at U.WASHINGTON.EDU writes:

> > Is there anyone out there who would find it natural to "ask the judge
>  > disallow" something?
>  >
>  Highly unnatural for me-- "to disallow" or "that the judge disallow" are
>  fine. I would tend use the second alternative in speaking or writing.
>  Can some of this be traced to copy writers slavishly following the
>  Microsoft Word grammar checker and to copy readers simply reading
>  whatever is in the copy?

I trust that "I would tend use..." above is a typing mistake and not your
normal usage of English?

Microsoft Word grammar checker might be useful for illiterates, but it
generates so many false negatives that I turn it off or ignore it.  E.g.
every time I use passive voice the grammar checker complains.

I just tried a few sentences.  The checker passes
     1. Ask the judge to disallow something.
     2. Ask the judge disallow something.
     3. Ask that the judge disallow something.

and correctly objects to
     4. Ask that the judge disallows something.

That is, the checker finds nothing wrong with 2. above, although I do.

One reason for the NPR announcer to have used "ask the judge disallow" is
that the phrase is in the subjunctive, which is why we have "[singular] judge
disallow" rather than '"judge disallows" of the indicative.  Despite purists
like me, a lot of educated people ignore the subjunctive except for certain
stereotyped expressions that are used without thinking, such as "move that
the meeting be adjourned."   (Back in the 8th grade, I stumped the entire
class by posing that expression.  Not even the teacher realized it was in the

So, the announcer, who probably would not recognize a subjunctive
construction if one such "was" to slap him in the face, is suddenly
confronted with a piece of phrasing in which part of his speech-constructing
apparatus is saying "no 's' on the verb" and another part is saying "but
third person singular needs an 's'".  He was doing pretty good to have
finished the sentence meaningfully, albeit ungrammatically.

As somebody long ago commented on this list, NPR still hasn't adjusted to
having G. W. Bush in the White House, so it's too much to expect to have them
make peace with the subjunctive, which is somewhat more elusive than bin

      - Jim Landau

My grammar's fine, but my grandpa's not feeling so good.

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