Tim from Brighton, commenting on my ‘Britain v Wales’ blog in the ‘Britain’ category, takes me to task for writing “the coalition have” rather than “the coalition has” and advises me to alter the piece. I’m reluctant to do so for a number of reasons.
First, this is an enduring bone of contention (among grammarians who don’t get out much), contingent on whether the collective noun ‘coalition’ is singular or plural. All the English collective nouns, like family, club, team, government, orchestra, band, jury, etc, pose the same problem. Do you, for instance, say “the band are playing” or “the band is playing”? Most will say the former, even though a team is (are?) a single unit and thus strictly speaking should take the singular verb. As I am a slangy, colloquial writer with disdain for the ever-shifting ‘rules’ of English grammar, an unapologetic modernist who considers experimentation and creativity to be duties, and a melancholic Welsh bard with poetic pretensions who writes with a view to being read aloud, the word that sounds best is usually my choice. In the case of the coalition, clearly a collection of parts rather than a monolithic entity, I don’t think the plural verb is inappropriate in any case.
Second, one of the main attributes of a blog is its immediacy. It is, so to speak, ‘live’. And, as with live music, that means you get duff notes, inadvisable indulgences, stumbling passages and heat-of-the-moment howlers. There’s got to be some spheres of contemporary life where spontaneity and improvisation hold sway, rather than editing suites, air-brushing and spellcheck. It’s the mistakes that make things interesting.
Third, readers should be aware that I am by no means a natural writer. Nothing flows smoothly for me when I sit down at the keyboard. Each line, word, indeed comma, has to be wrestled into submission. That’s one of the reasons why it took me as long to write The Naked Guide to Cardiff as Tolstoy took to complete War and Peace – and Leo hand-wrote 560,000 words compared to my puny, one-finger typed 350,000. Baffling and migraine-inducing, I have particular trouble with dangling participles, while hyphens get me hyper-ventilating, prepositions put me off, dashes (and brackets) cause uncertainty, I chronically overuse adverbs and, what’s more, have an annoying tendency to turn every sentence into a list.
Fourth, there is no fourth.