Verb Mistakes #12: Heard on Television

By Maeve Maddox

Quite apart from stylistic errors involving redundancy and inapt word choice, television can be a rich source of grammatical errors. Here are four examples.

INCORRECT: Gin was drunken out of necessity, not choice.—Documentary narrator
CORRECT: Gin was drunk out of necessity, not choice.

The forms of the verb drink are:
Present: drink/drinks
Simple past: drank
Past participle: (has/have) drunk

Drunken is an adjective: “He has a reputation as a drunken, lazy lay-about.”

Drunk is also used an adjective: “He was drunk as a lord.”

INCORRECT: [She] has announced she was running for Senate yesterday. —News reporter
CORRECT: [She] announced yesterday she is running for Senate.
CORRECT: [She] has announced she is running for Senate.

“Has announced” is a verb in the present perfect tense. Adverbs of time like yesterday are not used with this tense. Even if the announcement was made in the past, the fact of the candidate’s campaign for the Senate exists in the present.

INCORRECT: [Context: Three meat inspectors were murdered at a sausage factory.] Each of them were shot several times.”—Radio announcer
CORRECT: Each of them was shot several times.”

Each is singular and requires a singular verb.

INCORRECT: What kind of things would they be in the market of buying?
CORRECT: What kind of things would they be in the market to buy?

There is no hard and fast rule that would guide an ESL speaker to choose an infinitive over a participle in this construction. There are, however, certain abstract nouns that are always followed by an infinitive. For example: ability, desire, need, wish, attempt, failure, opportunity, chance, and intention. In the expression “to be in the market,” market is abstract.

Possible responses to the question “What are you in the market to buy?” might be “I’m in the market to buy a house” OR “I’m in the market for a house.

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6 Responses to “Verb Mistakes #12: Heard on Television”

  • tim slager

    I learned that, while “has announced that she is” is correct, it should be “announced that she was.” The rule was referred to as proper sequence of tenses.
    I’m guessing that “announced that she is” was a typo, but if not I’d like to hear your take on this.

  • Jim Porter

    One of our local news anchors, with a degree in meterology, said two things: 1.) He has went to the authorities. And, 2.) We seen in the last two weeks [whatever his point]. Regarding the first, I have noticed that people whose first language was German, often say the went no-no. I can understand that. But the second, the inability to use the simple past, certainly makes a television guy sound less than professional. That lack of professionalism makes me wonder if I can trust other things he says if he’s that sloppy with his use of basic English.

  • venqax

    Is the meteorology-guy an ESL German speaker? If he’s not ESL something it’s hard to excuse either of those fox pauses. I wouldn’t be surprised, though, if English is not required for a meteorology degree anymore. Or, if it is, they no longer teach anything as judgmental as basic grammar. Grammar, after all, is the second most oppressive part of language, (vocabulary is the first) and English is Western imperialism. Then again, so is science like meteorology…

  • Farhad

    Great as usual. Dr Maddox’s articles are always great and helpful.
    Best wishes from Iran

  • thebluebird11

    @venqax: fox pauses!! hmmm…fox paws? Fawkes Pass…? too funny.

  • Tom

    I hear the phrase “I feel badly” almost every day on television, and the irony of this incorrect usage is that it is invariably employed by someone who should know better, someone who has (or should have) professional writing and/or editing skills. It’s not a natural construction, and the user has to be consciously overriding the instinct to say, “I feel bad.” More than likely, they do so to sound “smart.” Too bad.

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