Welcome back, friends and neighbors, to another installment of Buckley Clarifies Minor, Obscure Issues™! Last time, we cleared up three prickly English problems – mistakes so subtle that even astute readers like yourselves might have stumbled over them. Today, we’ll tackle another three, rendering each and every one of you that much smarter. You’re welcome!
1. Comprised Of
“The Jedi Council is comprised of twelve members.” Does that sound right to you? If you answer “yes,” it’s because just about everybody writes this way. But, as with so many other questions, just about everybody is wrong.
Here’s the real deal:
RIGHT: “The United Federation of Planets is composed of over 150 member worlds.”
RIGHT: “The United Federation of Planets comprises over 150 member worlds.”
WRONG: “The United Federation of Planets is comprised of over 150 member worlds.”
See what happens? People confuse the first two (correct) constructions, making the freakish hybrid in the third example.
Yes, English is stupid for making “compose” and “comprise” sound almost the same and mean almost opposite things. Feel free to sue William the Conqueror for the Norman Invasion. In the meantime, if you want to be a master writer, you must be smarter than the language.
2. With Regards To
Here, the rule is a bit simpler:
WRONG: “I have some concern with regards to your pet velociraptor.”
RIGHT: “I have some concern with regard to your pet velociraptor.”
Of course, just to make it confusing, there are phrases where “regards” with an S is correct. For instance, you could say, “Send her my regards.” But unless you want to send your regards to a razor-toothed killing machine, leave the S off “with regard to.”
(Grammar Girl also points out, correctly, that the whole “with regard to” phrase is a bit awkward anyway. You’re usually better off avoiding it altogether.)
3. Possessives With S
Quick, which is right?
“Thomas’s hovercraft is in the shop for repairs.”
“Thomas’ hovercraft is in the shop for repairs.”
Definitely the second one, right? HA! Okay, the first one then? No? What’s going on here?
The answer is, they’re both right. One of the
confusing fun things about English is that there’s no single, universally accepted authority for what’s proper and what isn’t. Our friends at CMOS, AP, and elsewhere may agree on 99% of the language, but that last 1% is a bitch for the rest of us. Long story short, nobody quite agrees on the best way to handle this, so either one is correct. Just make sure you’re consistent; don’t go switching back and forth within a single document.
(Note: plurals are a different story. If you want to say, “My kids’ nanny flew away with her umbrella,” the way I wrote it is the only correct way. You’d better not be throwing a “kids’s” in there.)
I suppose that’s enough linguistic legerdemain for one day. Got any other sticky grammar questions? Leave ’em in the comments, and we’ll get you sorted out!