If you're been scratching your head since reading my Oct. 3 column, please let me put your mind (as well as your scalp) at ease.
In that column, I quizzed you on five rules of subject-verb agreement. My answer key should have read, "In the odd-numbered sentences, the second choice is correct. In the even-numbered sentences, the first choice is correct," not the other way around. (You'll find a corrected version if you google "Wilbers rules for subject verb agreement.")
I apologize for my error. It isn't nice to confuse and frustrate your readers. Furthermore, test-makers, as well as columnists who have written more than 20 columns on proofreading, should be held to high standards.
Perhaps the only good thing about having made such a confounding error is that so many readers wrote to me asking for clarification. (I must admit, I can think of more pleasant ways to see if anyone is reading your column.) Furthermore, nearly every message was polite and affirming.
After thanking me for my response to his query, Bill wrote: "I was questioning whether I knew the difference between singular and plural verbs. … At least your readers do read your articles, and we read every word and punctuation mark. You are making us better writers and readers, so thank you."
Another reader told me he was looking forward to sharing my flawed column with a visiting mathematics professor so that they could have a good laugh at people who don't know the difference between odd and even numbers.
My favorite response came from Jennifer Piehl, a reading teacher at Rockford Middle School's Center for Environmental Studies, who wrote: "Thanks for the quiz! It was helpful for my seventh grade classes to see real world application of the rules we have been studying." Quoting a student who said my column had made grammar rules "seem not so lame," she wrote: "That's what I was going for."
To be certain she hadn't taught the wrong answers, I sent her a message explaining my error. Her response: "Yes, we checked your work. We thought you actually did it on purpose."
Not only nice, but charitable. There's a special place in heaven for teachers.
The other thing I found interesting is that so many readers responding both to that column and to two earlier columns on lie and lay asked me to write about using pronouns correctly.
They weren't thinking so much about obvious and grating errors such as "Me and my colleagues are pleased to welcome you to our company" or "Her and my boss went out to lunch together." They knew that pronouns acting as subjects take the subjective case, and pronouns acting as objects take the objective case.
Rather, they were thinking about errors made by their educated colleagues, errors such as "between you and I" or "Please include Bashiir and myself on your advisory committee," when it should be "between you and me" and "Please include Bashiir and me."
I'll now have to write that column.
Stephen Wilbers offers training seminars in effective business writing. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www.wilbers.com.