People may be aware of a 'bad grammar award' which mostly involves a small group of people hee-hawing and sneering at others who make what they consider to be 'classic howlers' and the like. These involve all the usual bothers about 'dangling participles' or lack of a 'subject-object agreement' demanded of formal prose writing. Most of these errors (if that's what they are) are usually caused by people writing or talking at speed and where the context makes everything clear. Some are caused by people speaking or writing from within a common local usage e.g. with the use of 'were' or 'was' as in phrases like 'I were' or 'we was'.
Ironically, as I've observed before, the chap who came on to the 'Today' programme to justify the bad grammar award in its first year, was someone who could hardly string a few words together without saying 'kind of' and 'sort of' - precisely the sort of thing that pedants hate.
This morning there is a good deal of talk about free schools and those who love them are using a report which claims to have evidence as to why and how free schools help nearby local authority schools become better. It just so happens that one or two of those appearing in the media to say how wonderful free schools are, are also people behind the 'bad grammar award'. No surprise there. However, in the report there is this:
"…sample sizes in some of these categories is quite small'.
According to the criterion of 'bad grammar' this is 'bad grammar'! It should be 'sample sizes….are quite small'.
We will wait to see if the free schooling bad grammar camp shoot their own messengers.
Meanwhile, a much more interesting issue is why would such academics make such an 'error'? Because it's an example of linguistic change. Listen carefully to radio and TV news and you'll hear that more and more often, commentators use a plural phrase - like 'sample sizes' but treat it as if it were a headline or topic and this 'permits' them to follow it with the singular form of the verb as in 'is'. That's much more interesting than labelling it 'bad grammar' but we'll have to wait to see if the bad grammar bully boys clobber it, or whether their own ideological predilections hold back their condemnation...