The use of …

I do a fair amount of flying*, and one of the phrases I hear fairly often at around 10,000 ft is “the use of approved electronic devices are now permitted”. Now, this is totally ungrammatical to me, even after more than 100 hearings in the last 18 months. I speak a dialect of English that has ‘non-standard’ agreement (that is, semantic number agreement for individuation) so I have no problem in principle with agreement-with-nearest phenomena.

The other day when I heard this I started wondering whether this phrase is found elsewhere, and whether, in that case, it’d be possible to analyse ‘use’ as an unmarked plural noun. In that case, plural agreement would be expected.

Here are some further examples:

  • The use of computers are now a staple in the emergency room at Montefiore hospital, far left and left. “These systems have really allowed us to improve the speed and quality of care here,” said Dr. Hong Choi, above. NYTimes 2004/10/21
  • The use of chlorofluorocarbons are now prohibited. (WA Science project)
  • The use of FPSFs are now approved by the International Code Council for residential and commercial buildings, but local code approval may still be an issue (Frost-Protected Shallow Foundations)
  • The use of statins are now being actively investigated in. prospective studies. (Lecture Notes)
  • If the use of firearms are otherwise au-. thorized by this regulation (some gov’t doc)
  • The use of firearms are applicable in three situations: (a site on extra-judicial killings that I’m not going to link to, but you find find it by googling the phrase)
  • In my team the use of funds are agreed within the workplan which we update frequently (in terms of the use of funds) and furthermore to ATLAS we have the

Furthermore, there’s an intriguing counter-correlation: if you search for “the uses of * are”, you get a lot of mass nouns like ‘parsley’, ‘vinegar’, etc (although not exclusively). Unfortunately it’s just about impossible to search for what I really want to search for: “The use of * are” where * is a singular noun. I only found one example:

  • Also, the use of coherent gating are used to improve the overall measurement accuracy since the measurement of interest is performed during a period of  … [patent application, could be cut and paste error]

Do any of my readers have this as a grammatical construction?
*on planes…


7 responses to “The use of …

  1. All of the examples you give set off my grammaticality judgement alarm. The last one (“coherent gating”) does so especially. To me “use” has to be a singular count noun, not a mass noun. I’ve never noticed this construction before, though, so I guess that in context it just slips by me.

    As an aside, I was terribly confused by the multiple uses of asterisks in your post. I parsed the footnote as being a grammar statement “on planes is not grammatical”. I think I was confused because your use of * as a regular expression symbol primed me to see it as a direct statement, not as an indirect reference back to the footnoted spot.

  2. This isn’t due to MS Word’s sometimes less-than-handy grammatical suggestions is it?

  3. Wäwa, yeah, I wondered about the grammar suggestions problem, but there are enough of them that I’d be surprised if they are all because of that.

  4. Do you remember the LSA talk on this very topic, this very year?

  5. nope. I remember Jerry Sadock used an example of a.w.n. in his question to Sandy Chung, but I didn’t go to any talks about it.

  6. David Marjanović

    Every time I look the other way, English drifts farther from Standard Average European… <slowly shakes head>

  7. I got the singular (‘The use of … devices is permitted …’) from a clearly new flight attendant clearly reading from the script, which suggests that the flight attendant announcement, at least on Continental, is not caused by Word’s grammar check applied to the original document, rather by the speaker’s brain grammar check.

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