Infamous Bremner Test Explained


1. Volkswagon is only having trouble with one of there new models.
Should be "Volkswagen." Put "only" as close as possible to the word it modifies, which is "one." The "but test" can help here. Simply change "only" mentally to "but" and most of the time the proper location of "only" becomes obvious. Most want to change "there" to "their" and this gives you the chance to insert "its" and to talk about the collective noun-agreement problem that pervades society.

2. The grand marshall gave his councel to whomever sought it.
Many apparently think marshall always has two "l's," but two "l1s" are used only in the name. The word is "counsel" (to give advice.) "Whoever" is correct because it is a subject pronoun, being the subject of the subject-verb combo of "whoever sought." Attack procedure: Whenever you see "whomever," or "whoever," first determine what case it is--nominative or objective. Look immediately to see if a verb is close by and one is in this case. Don't think it's a direct object in this sentence because there is a "to" in front of it. The "whoever sought" subject-verb combo falls within a prepositional phrase.

Bremner would declare in stentorian tones, "A pronoun agrees with its antecedent in person, number and gender and it takes its case from the clause in which it stands."

3. Only one of the people who works in the lab is a vetinarian.
The practical way to attack the sentence is to start reading with the word "of" and it all falls neatly into place. Mentally transpose "only one." Therefore: Of the people who work in the lab, (only one) is a veterinarian. Another way to tackle it is to look at the subject "who," which refers to "people." Because "people is plural, then "who" is plural and therefore the verb has to be "work." Veterinarian, of course, is misspelled. For a newpaper feature on the confusion this kind of sentence causes, click here.

4. He claimed he knows a star athalete who will sign with the school.
This is a sequence of tenses problem. Click here for sequence of tenses explanation. He claimed he knew a star athlete (spelled correctly) who would sign with the school. Remember also, that "claimed" is a dangerous word. It connotes doubt, "so he or she says." More context might indicate that "said" would be a better word here.

5. He felt bad due to the unhygenic accomodations.
Whenever "bad" or "badly" come up, ask yourself whether you are dealing with a sentence containing a linking verb (which suggests a state of being and requires the adjective "bad") or whether you are dealing with an action verb (which requires that adverb "badly"). I feel badly. It means that your senses are impaired in some way. You are feeling around with your hands, but there is little sensation of feel. Perhaps you cannot feel the coldness of ice in your hands or of the heat of something fresh out of an oven. "Due to" is almost always misused. Here's Bremner's explanation: Verbs, other than copulatives, take adverbs. Nouns and pronouns take adjectives. "Due to" is an adjectival prepositional phrase, as in "His defeat was due to carelessness." Here the adjective "due" belongs to the noun "defeat." If you say, "He was defeated due to carelessness," due has nothing to belong to; he wasn't due, nor was carelessness due. Because of is an adverbial prepositional phrase, as in "He was defeated because of carelessness." Here "because of" belongs to the word defeated.

Practical rule: "Due to" literally means "attributable to." So whenever that fits within the contest of the sentence, it is okay. Also, "due to" usually has some form of the "to be" verb directly before it. "Unhygienic" and "accommodation" are misspelled.

6. He looks like he can pitch real good.
Sentence should be: He looks as if he could pitch really well. The "like/as and as if" test is this: Whenever "like" appears as a preposition, it should mean "similar to" or "similarly to." Otherwise, it has to be changed to "as" or "as if," depending on the sense of the sentence. If you want to split hairs, you can declare that "as if" is better than "as though." Here's why, according to Bremner: Originally the phrase in older English was: He looks as (he would look) if he could pitch really well. Obviously, with "though" it wouldn't work. He looks as (he would look) though he could pitch really well? The old version makes it clear also why the verb has to be "could" and not "can."

7. Travelling acrost the U.S., it's vastness effected her.
"Traveling," "across," "its" and "affected" are misspelled. U.S. must be spelled out because it is used as a noun. It should be "affect" (to influence). The sentence dangles. It says literally that "it's" traveled across the United States. Solution: While she traveled across the United States, its vastness affected her. Or, While traveling across the United States, she was affected by its vastness.

8. Like I said, he should be like I and do like I do.
"Like/as " problem again. "Similar to" doesn't substitute for the first word, so it must be changed to "As." Then, "he should be like 'me' (objective case) and do 'as' (again 'similar to' won't sub) I do."

9. He wanted to know if the criteria is valid.
Sequence of tenses problem again. He wanted to know whether the criteria were valid. Note that it should be "whether" instead of "if." Why? Bare with me while I spout a bit of Bremner's esoterica. Strictly, "if" is an adverbial conjunction of condition, e.g., I'll quit smoking if you'll help me. "Whether" is a nounal conjunction meaning "that-or-that-not." Actually common usage makes the two words pretty much interchangeable, but not for purists. But even in common usage, "if" can't be used for "whether" at the beginning of a sentence. Example: Whether the candidate is honest is the problem. "Criteria" is plural, so the following verb must agree in number and follow sequence of tenses: "were" valid.

10. He told his wife Alice he likes his mistress better than she.
Another sequence of tenses problem. He told his wife, Alice, that he liked his mistress more than her. The opposite of "better than" is "worse than." So it must be "more than" or "less than." Place commas around the appositive "Alice" because this is a monogamous society. We can assume that he has only one wife. But in societies where there are multiple wives, then no comma around the wife's name. That's why you don't put commas around siblings' names. Unless the text makes it clear that there is only one sibling, it is assumed that there are more, and, thus, no commas. Example: I met my brother John at TGIF for a quick drink Friday night. "Her" is correct at the end of the sentence because it is an object pronoun.

11. The hero was presented with an historic award by the Congressman.
Passive and awkward structure. Looks as if the hero and the award were presented to someone by the congressman. Simplify the sentence, make it active voice and make "a historic" because the consonant "h" is sounded. It is "an honor," but it is "a historic" occasion. Lower case "congressman" unless it starts a sentence. The congressman gave the hero a historic award.

12. This is different than and hopefully more preferrable over that.
Another awkward sentence and one of the most difficult for students. It should read: This is different from and it is hoped preferable to that. Remember that "different from" is never wrong. Hopefully means "in a hopeful manner. Preferable does not need "more" in front of it. Proper phrasing is "preferable to that." Note: You can use "different than" to avoid awkward construction. Ex.: Are your grades this semester different than they were last semester?

13. Its easy to see the difference between she and I.
"Its" should be the contraction "It's." She is a subject pronoun and the sentence clearly calls for object pronouns "her" and "me." (If she and I were correct, they would have to be attached to a verb, right?)

14. We must try and keep up with the Jones'.
Should be "to" and not "and" between "try" and "keep" because it is one action. The plural of Jones is Joneses.

15. What kind of a woman could like those kind of men.
No need for "a" in the sentence. Consider that "a" means the same thing as "one" and the problem becomes clear. Also it should be"kinds" to agree in number with "men." Need a question mark at the end.

16. The principle reason for Lopez' dismissal was that he behaved wierdly.
The difference between "principle" and "principal" must be understood. Also AP style on possessives makes it clear that it should be "Lopez's." "Wierd" is misspelled and misused. It is an adverb here, and, thus, should be written as "weirdly."

17. Neither him nor her know how to play the ukalele.
"Him" and "her" are object pronouns. This sentence calls for subject pronouns "he" and "she" and when used with "either/or" or neither/nor" they take a singular verb. So the verb must be "knows." No one seems to know how to spell "ukulele." Bremner explained it this way: "Uku in Hawaiian mean a little bug or insect. Lele is the Hawaiian word for leap or jump, and when the Hawaiians heard the Portuguese play this instrument, to them the sound was 'ticki, ticki, ticki,' which they thought was the sound of the little bug jumping on the strings."

18. Have you got a receipt for a clam chowder soup which won't make me nauseous.
The awkward first part of the sentence must be re-worded. "Do you have." Next, it should be "recipe" and "a" before "clam chowder" must be dropped. And "soup" here is redundant. "Which" is wrong, because this is an essential clause and "nauseous" (causing sickness) must be changed to "nauseated, " (sick). Put a question mark at the end of the sentence.