Scientific grammer [sic]

By Anna Sandiford 30/09/2011 1


I loathe mispellings and bad grammar.  Many scientific papers have excellent scientific results and interpretations to report but if someone puts a preposition at the end of a sentence, my estimation of them lowers just a tiny fraction.  I know I am also guilty of it but I try to minimise the problem.

People have their own foibles about grammar, sentence structure and spelling.  Many people can’t distinguish between they’re, their and thereYour and you’re is another pair destined for sufferance…and right there is another problem – the plural.  Is it correct to say “Your and you’re is another pair” or should it be “Your and you’re are another pair”?  I was taught that it would be the former; it would be a singular because there is only one pair, even if the pair refers, by definition, to two things.

The ones that trip me are ‘data’ and ‘number’ and they crop up a lot in science.  Data is a plural so it would be, “there are more data available” rather than “there is more data available”.

‘Number’ is a tricky one because of the flow of the sentence.  Is it correct to say, “there are a number of pairs of alleles” or “there is a number of pairs of alleles”?  There’s more than one allele, which is therefore a plural, but number is a singular.

How about, “there are a number of variations” or “there is a number of variations”?

Usually, I re-word the sentence.  What do you think?  Is grammar taught routinely as part of scientific training?  If not, should it be?


One Response to “Scientific grammer [sic]”

  • Agreed!

    Although, and given that word usage _does_ change over time, I find that referring to ‘data’ rather than ‘datum’, if using the singular, doesn’t bug me any more 🙂

    Particularly given that ‘data’ is often, it seems, now used as a shorthand for ‘dataset’, meaning that referring to it in the singular is fine…

    And I reckon it’s always ‘there _are_ a number of’ 😛