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All the Perl that's Practical to Extract and Report

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  • It's a common fallacy that "singular" and "plural" are absolute concepts. Grammarians always assert that they are, and there's no harm in insisting on on "is" in "The first of five prototypes {is|are} scheduled to fly next year." But frankly, I find that there's usually vastly more important things to worry about, in any piece of writing, than the case where a heavy NP subject ending with a plural NP throws the verb into plural (or fails to force singularness on the verb, depending on your model of things).

    Consider, for example, this sentence I just ran into:

    "By returning the file name at the end of the method, conversion of this file to other formats would be facilitated as well as testing that the postscript operation was actually performed."
    That's a syntactically valid sentence. But God help us, it's also gibberish -- and it's gibberish in a way that a mere proofreader could never untangle. If I were designing word processors that delivered electric shocks to the user, I would rather crank up the voltage for sentences like the above, rather than for people who use "are" with a verbose (but notionally singular) subject.
    • The problem you illustrated is purely one of semantics. That's a whole nother (:-) level, which I am going to avoid. Clearly, for the purposes of communication, one should tolerate some degree of bad syntax if that's the price for semantic clarity.