Last Wednesday, I was riding home from the grocery store, listening to The World on NPR. Since that show is associated with the BBC, the news breaks are reported by that service, and I listened as an anchor told me about the release of Alan Johnston, the BBC journalist held in Gaza; about how a mosque leader in Islamabad escaped a Pakistani seige by disguising himself in a burqa; and about how Rwandan major was found guilty of murdering ten Belgian peacekeepers in the early days of the Rwandan genocide.
I’m SO sorry that I can’t find a link to the audio of that newscast, because the issue that I’m bringing up here has to do with something that I heard the anchor say. To the best of my ability to recall it, she said something to the effect of:
The murders was a key development in the genocide, as it caused the withdrawal of UN troops and opened the way for factions to continue their aggresions toward each other.
This was a pretty jarring subject/verb agreement error, and I actually looked at my radio in a bit of disbelief. My only explanation is that it’s an example of the British English/American English disconnect; I can’t imagine that a mistake like that would get by the copy writer, the editor, AND the anchor.
It seems to me that this would be a tricky sentence, and that it’s possible to confuse the subject and, therefore, confuse the verb tense. “A key development” is certainly singular, but the “key development” is not the subject of the sentence; “the murders” is. “Murders” is plural, so the verb (and the article after the comma) should be were (and they).
I suppose it is possible to argue that “the murders” functions as a collective noun – much like “the orchestra” or “the family” – still, I’m not sure that the case for that stance can be made convincingly, even if all ten unfortunate Belgians were lined up and killed simultaneously (which, if I’m understanding the story correctly, they essentially were). I suppose, though, that, lacking a collective noun adequate to describe this incident (the mass execution, perhaps?), “the murders” could function as a collective noun, but it still doesn’t quite sit with me.
What do YOU think?
(CaliforniaTeacherGuy sent in a request for Grammar Wednesday, about the placement of adverbs. I’ll tackle that one next week, CTG, so keep tuning in!)