17 Finale: Sections 16 and 17–Purgatorio and Epilogue

[Here, finally are the last two sections of the exhaustingly grim long poem I have chosen to entitle 17. This poem was especially hard to write. I am at once proud to have finished it and glad to be rid of it. I derive some cold comfort at least from the fact that it took me only one year to complete, compared to 25 for my last long poem, 64. Both poems ultimately nauseate me; they have a sort of emetic quality: more smelling salts meant to rouse us from our stupor or exorcise demons than perfumes intended to inspire. Although I do not use the word ‘I’ on any occasion in this poem, even in the mouths of the many fictional others who inhabit it, this piece is, nevertheless, the most intensely personal poem I have produced to date.

The poem is also both religious and political. Section 16 begins with two ironic quotations, one from the Catholic Church, one from the Church of Scientology, both of which are basically saying the same thing. The final section begins with an overarching quotation from an article in The Journal of Peasant Studies, which also serves as the epigraph or epitaph to the poem as a whole.]

(16) Purgatorio

(i)

“What years of Purgatory will there be for those… who have no difficulty at all in deferring their prayers to another time on the excuse of having to do some pressing work! If we really desired… happiness.., we should avoid the little faults as well as the big ones…”– (Saint) Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney cited in The Catholic Reader http://thecatholicreader.blogspot.com/2013/06/purgatory-quotes.html

“Thetans are all-knowing beings, and became bored because there were no surprises. …The single most important desire in all beings is to have a… ‘game’ and… ‘not know’ certain things. Since Thetans knew everything, this required them to abandon or suppress perceptions and knowledge. Over time, the loss of perception accumulated and certain Thetans began to cause harm to others…. Thetans came to learn contrition, punishing themselves for their own “harmful” acts.” — Former Scientologist Jon Atack in A Piece of Blue Sky.

(ii)

Redcap wakes up in the forest,

covered in morning dew. She

carefully removes the leaves from sleeping

Hansel and Gretel. Mum has gone to heaven.

Redcap leads the kids out of the woods

into the new planned town.

Workers doff their workers’ caps to the trio

as they work on the new road. Children play

in the school playground free of auto-glass wounds

or gunshot residue, kicking up a healthy helluva noise.

No din of firearms, motor vehicles or dogs

dogs the calm, sweet-smelling air.

She and Hen peek out bickering through net curtains to observe

the new arrivals arriving, as Deb is lost

upstairs in the music of her Walkman,

characters from Aussie soap-operas preparing

scrumptious cuts of meat on barbecues out back

around the greenhouse.

Oedipus and Cassandra sit atop a rose-lined stone wall

and watch the mower do his patient work with scissors

on the grass of verges and front gardens and cuddle up

to one another and purr. The bullies have set up a hair salon

on the corner that especially caters for afros, implants,

and chic hipster coiffure. Guido and Tito

have an early-morning light-hearted radio chat show

that plays all the old songs.

Everyone is always on their best behavior. Especially the police,

who toe their beat chatting with neighbors and cleaning up shit. Steph

is now the Chief Constable and needs no gun. Kids sit and read books

around the useless petrol lake in the park,

as old folk snooze in deckchairs.

The council plans to have it drained once and for all.

The war memorial has long ago

tumbled to the ground and its rubble

has been used for social housing.

Dot and Dorothy exchange old stories in a well-kept old people’s home.

A killing look is enough to put Mike in his place should he ever darken her door.

(iii)

In the Counting House, Princes Cosimo, Lorenzo and Giovanni, Niccoló and Alessandro debate before a host of popes, doges, presidents and CEOs, pushing money around. Those hail Maries that got him out of Hell by a whisker, that stack of outstanding indulgence payments. Deals are struck; inducements offered up. “We did the deal with the Almighty for the right to this spiritual real estate, built this place up on sweat and blood and treasure, treachery and peril to our own souls”, Leo and Leonardo remind them passionately. “We’ve kept a pretty tight shop up to now. We owe it to the guy upstairs and the folk we keep here to keep that record up.”

(iv)

Song # 10 Purgatory Paupers Motet

We languish in this workhouse,

so long as we are poor.

We work hard to atone for sins

and earn our avatars.

*

Our avatars fly up to earth

to plead our noble cause.

Their banknotes guarantee our worth

according to their laws.

*

We feed on profit that

no magnate can assure

and fall on shares

the mowers in the market bear.

 

(17) Epilogue

“Is there a forest in the world that does not have a history of violence in its understory?”

–Nancy Lee Peluso (2017) “Whigs and Hunters: the origins of the Black Act by E.P. Thompson” in The Journal of Peasant Studies. 44:1 309-321. Routledge.

 

Former lovers go about their little purgatorial houses

like ghosts gathering indulgences, trying to put things straight,

crying out for pity in the night. No way of putting them down.

And Dad pops up drunk to berate them now and then. The houses

Jack and Jerry built jostle on shifting sands. And the mafia thugs,

priests, scientologists, party pollsters, Jehovah’s witnesses

and travelling salespeople, beggars, tax-farmers and bailiffs

come round to pick up the protection money, the interest,

and the hush fund from time to time. Everyone complains but nothing is done.

There is no justification by faith, election or confession: just

the end of the line.

17 Section 15 Psychopomp

[Here is the antepenultimate section of Poem 17, entitled Psychopomp. ‘Psychopomp’ is a word of Ancient Greek origin used in mythology to refer to a figure who guides a still-living human being on a tour of the afterlife or ferries the dead to the underworld. In Modern English, the form of the word is obviously replete with other resonances.]

The grim reapers are recruited

from the ranks of the deceased

body-guards of dictators.

Gaddafi’s big-busted security detail rubs

shoulders with Milosevic’s steely jawed thugs,

jogging

alongside the long entourage of hearses,

as Madame Mao’s host of student revolutionaries

throng the streets, waving

little red flags of books

to wish them on their way.

Mike and Caligula take up the rear

and bask in the adoring mob;

relishing their triumph

over life and death alike

with rapid bursts of automatic rifle

fire into air

and proud raised fists,

as black-masked ISIS and IRA martyrs

loose a salvo of gunshots over

their smiling blood-smeared faces

and ducking laurel-garlanded heads.

Luzia in Flame

Her millennia-long skeleton,

curated

in the warm

heart of the earth

and then under

the spotlight

of a museum showcase,

ascends finally in funereal fire.

The girl who dodged buffalo

and mammoth, viper

and giant sloth,

xenophobia and raping gangs

goes up finally

in a puff of smoke,

ignored, neglected and expunged:

a merry circus balloon unwittingly

setting her aflame. Luzia dies

thrice—breadless, uprooted, forlorn—

glad

finally to shuffle off her fossil

limbs; be ash, bone

turned to air,

and flee—

mummy no more—

this dank blood-

sodden bog

men call a world.

 

Moonset in Walt Whitman

These few lines from Section 8 of Walt Whitman’s When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d provide something of a master class on how to write a skyscape within a funerary ode against a dark broiling broader political backdrop. They also epitomize how luscious repetition (anaphora) can be used as a poetic device. All those repetitions of ‘night’ and ‘as’ and ‘walk’ convey a glorious if gloomy experiential impression of walking through lush wet grass in the dead of night. Poetry to weep to and enjoy.

O western orb sailing the heaven,

Now I know what you must have meant as a month since I walk’d,

As I walk’d in silence the transparent shadowy night,

As I saw you had something to tell as you bent to me night after night,

As you droop’d from the sky low down as if to my side (while the other stars all look’d on,)

As we wander’d together the solemn night….

As the night advanced, and I saw on the rim of the west how full you were of woe,

As I stood on the rising ground in the breeze in the cool transparent night,

As I watch’d where you pass’d and was lost in the netherward black of the night,

As my soul in its trouble dissatisfied sank, as where your sad orb,

Concluded, dropt in the night, and was gone.

17 Sections 13-14

(13) Mike

Mike steps up to the mike,

pumped up, excited,

at the meeting of the local chapter of the BNP,

hands trembling, brandishing a high-velocity rifle.

“Your right and mine!” he barks,

waving the weapon like a flag

before their starry eyes

to rapturous applause.

“No banker gonna take this from me,” he pauses.

“No Jew lawyer or judge.

No pink-clad feminists, no poofs, no black

boy just off the boat with a cob on about human rights.

Not even me own mum.

No eggheads or EU bureaucrats. No spineless

spastics, no socialized medicine touting NHS doctors and nurses,

no old folk, no neurotic bleeding heart conscientious-objector types

sporting their shameful white poppies on Remembrance Day.

None of the above!” He slams the rifle down on the podium.

“This,” he lingeringly fingers the trigger,

“is where—finally—the buck comes to a stop.”

 

Several undercover police officers erupt in standing ovation,

as Mike struts back to his seat, proud of the work he has done.

 

The party chairman

shakes Mike’s hand and invites him

to join the rugby club. Welcome

to the scrum. “A bit rough around

the edges, but he has a certain charm.

Good for pulling the young folk in,”

the club chairman remarks casually later

to his posh golfing buddies over a beer.

*

The blunt lead air-gun pellet bounces off of the birch tree,

and rebounds whizzing thrillingly around the boy’s

blond locks, frustrating the irresistible urge to hunt and kill.

Better guns are advertised in magazines, he thinks.

Dirty Harry on TV.

And now he has that job at the meat-packing factory,

the sky’s the limit, despite all that nonsense at school.

He smells bad all the time, but the blood

and his pristine white abattoir uniform

proudly bear the colors of the English national flag.

Buy British Meat is the slogan

that adorns the company’s messages on billboards

and in the intervals in the evening soaps.

The girlfriend-to-be gags on pork pies,

every time she thinks of him, pony-tail

tucked up neatly under her standard-issue

white health&safety-approved company hat.

She works in accounts. Mike

drools over pictures of ninjas and swordsticks

in off-beat fanzines as he warms up

dinner in the microwave

and watches the guts being washed off of the clothes

in the new Electrolux washing-machine. The appliance

of science. Sci-fi explains it all.

*

Mike queues up to sign for the package

and the license at the Post Office

among the decrepit picking up their pensions

and the losers pocketing the giros

they scuttle off to squander in betting shops and pubs.

*

The woods are a welcoming place.

Mike takes a deep breath of cool, wet,

refreshing bark-scented air,

dead leaves crunched underfoot,

folk foraging for firewood,

fungi, ticks, fauna, psychos, family outings—

a sweet bouquet of decay.

 

(14) Michael Angel

The mower shooting

has kicked up a helluva fuss.

The cop copter is back up in the air

overhead. Mike cuts off

through the poplar trees,

darts across the playing field

and scrambles up the well-camouflaged

leafy embankment into the art workshop

of the C of E governed Richard of Gloucester

Middle School closed for recess

that he used to attend.

The walls are adorned with artwork

to celebrate the Harvest Festival

that some kids must have been allowed in

to prepare during the vac. Corn dollies

hang from the ceiling. Some sick fuck

has drawn a wicker man. Fruit is piled

up in imagination for Autumn

and bottled in jars. The fields

blaze with purging flame. Two cop helicopters

now are circling in, a SWAT team moving stealthily

up the embankment. Gruff voices through

trumpets of megaphones,

calling him Michael—no-one ever called him that—

urging him to turn himself in. Mike knows

the game is up, upends the shotgun

and nuzzles it carefully under his chin, says

a little last prayer to Mother Mary,

and paints the stucco of the art workshop ceiling

with a fresco of lead shot, blood, brains

and ears of corn.

“Target down”, a voice crackles over a walkie-

talkie and the cops and the crime-scene clean-up folk move in.

*

Song # 9 The School Bullies’ Barbers Quartet

We drag you to the underground,

as soon as down appears on chin.

We toy a razor round

your throat but never stick it in.

 

We order how you cut your hair

to fit in with the crew.

We mock you when your crotch is bare

and when pubes grow there too.

 

We haunt you in the shower

and on the hockey field.

The teachers give us power

to use the sticks we wield.

 

We are the social barbers,

expunging all dissent,

our emblem blood-smeared razors,

white foam emolument.

 

We pull your baby teeth in ways

no fairy can reward.

We darken sunny summer days

when we are sad or bored.

17 Section 12 Mower

[Section 12 of 17 contains a single ‘song’ that was the original seed-crystal for the whole poem. Back in June of last year, I was interested in writing a Mower Poem in tribute to Andrew Marvell’s extraordinarily evocative and enigmatic work in this post-Renaissance mock pastoral niche genre. The poem I came up with rapidly began to expand into the much longer project I have chosen to entitle 17. This section has already been published on this blog as a free-standing poem, along with some reflections on the rich history of the mower poem sub-genre. https://oudeis2005.wordpress.com/2017/06/29/mowers/ ]

 Song # 8 Mower Song

A man mowing a lawn thinks no ill

will befall his world, as he whistles

and the blades whir into a blur

of shredded grass and the smell

of cut grass mingles with the slight scent

of roses lining the fence, the cool breeze

of the summer air. The buzz

of a small plane passing overhead

leaves a fading signature on the sky;

the clip-clopping clapping sounds

of tennis on TV coming from indoors.

*

The shot rings out with a single

sharp metallic whistle. Birds

scatter out of the pear tree.

Blood decorates the nasturtiums.

The lawnmower whirs on growlingly,

tipped over,

stuck in place, digging into the turf

with hungry angry teeth,

as if the thing had a life of its own.

17 Section 11 Dorothy Agonistes

[The first part of this section is a disturbing lament put in the voice of an elderly female character’s deceased mother and written in an experimental style that muddles pronouns and eschews all punctuation except for irregular rhyming line breaks and repeated use of the word ‘like’ as a mock caesura. For more erudite information on the evolution of the punctuating use ‘like’, see this recent article from The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2016/11/the-evolution-of-like/507614/

(1)

Song #7 The Scullery Maid’s Soprano Aria

On your knees like a scrubber you know

and Master like comes a-slapping and a-squeezing

your still like cute butt as you like slow

down and half like it a-tingling

*

down there and wonder in your mind

like how things could still turn out

till Young Master come remind

you like with a riding-crop thereabout

*

how all folk like know their place

and yours is like on the floor under

his boot and corsets by God’s grace

praying meekly you won’t like flounder.

 

(2)

And that’s how I was born, Dot thinks,

as she sits knitting in the dark of a power cut,

in grandma Dorothy’s agonized tummy and mind.

 

(3)

The marriage ceremony was a sham

and stale as the stagnant waters of the village pond

the church bells ring around.

The groom tossed his signature off as if it were a dog

turd he had just stepped in and stomped off on a binge.

Dorothy done up to the nines in palest green,

grimacing through flapper-girl fashion uniform,

grim-faced in-laws gritting their teeth

in long-posed seaside snaps

coming out of the camera obscura

on a sepia-tinted honeymoon.

 

17 Section 10 Dot

“Such a nice boy,” Dot is saying

to the gaggle of neighbors milling

round the crime-scene. “Wouldn’t

say boo to a goose.” Mike hops back

over the back fence with an AK 45.

Neighbors scatter as he puts one bullet

into mum’s spine and others

into that bloody yapping dog.

Dot writhes on the drive thinking how

she would comb his blond hair every morning

over breakfast, coo him to sleep,

put him down in front of the TV,

calm him down with sugar treats,

money from her pension to top up

his unemployment benefits, so he

can go out boozing with mates

and buy those magazines. A job

maybe at the end of the line

as gamekeeper or at the slaughterhouse,

or fixing cars. Those nice boys

from the Conservative Club coming round

from time to time

with leaflets to be posted through doors.

 

17 Section 9 Siren

[This ninth section of 17 is written entirely in prose and shifts the point of view to that of law-enforcement, principally that of an imaginary female police officer. Although anachronisms and geographical ambiguities tend to abound in my poems, they are usually set in a late 1970s/early 1980s suburban British setting. Apologies, therefore, to any currently more enlightened law enforcement officers who may be offended by the way I portray them in this section of the poem.]

Siren

The police helicopter is grounded today and the mainframe in the precinct is on the blink again; the telephone exchange jammed by incoming calls, operators fending off hysteria with quiet trained patient voices of calm.

Women in green dungarees camp out outside the air-force base, a thick wall of police eyeing their chained bodies with dogs. Fighter-planes boom overhead, spoiling for a dogfight, deafen out the chants and jeers, scatter beads, pamphlets and flowers, almost setting off the hounds in their wake.

*

Steph stomps out of the police canteen and into her car in a blind contained rage. That fucking hand on her knee to start off the day, those looks from the pigs slobbering over their unfinished breakfast of sausages and eggs as their eyes follow her ass marching out to deal with a crank call from an old dear they can’t be bothered to attend, the phone lines jammed, the mainframe on the blink, barely holding themselves back from laughing at her or whipping out their pricks, like they did at last year’s Christmas party. “Go girl!” Boys will be boys. “Don’t you like male strippers, then, love?” the Chief Super smirked in the interview following her formal complaint.

“Cute cop!” a building-site worker leaning over scaffolding whistles down at her through the car window she has wound down on account of the summer heat. She plops the police siren on the top of the car and turns it on so she can let off steam with some urgent police-work justified speeding along the old Roman road.

Steph calms down as the car veers into a lazy suburb surrounded by parks. Net curtains twitch in tidily arranged houses set way off of the road by cherry trees and a grassy verge. Old folk walk their dogs out for a shit. Kids play in the back garden. Telephones ring. Televisions are tuned in to daytime chat, tennis, Australian soaps. Something crackles on her walkie-talkie. Some dick wanting to order her about, she thinks. She takes her eyes off the road for a second to sneer before answering it.

Something hits her in the chest twice like a thump. She looks down at the blood pumping out of her heart. Her cramped foot rams down instinctively on the accelerator. She swoons and swerves at high speed into a telegraph pole. The sudden jolt catapults her through the windscreen in a cascade of auto-glass crystals and the parabolas of applied mathematics she learnt in school. Unusual for a girl to be turned on by that, the teacher noted. Seat-belts are optional for police officers on the job she thinks, eyes twitching on the ground, still— for fuck’s sake, even now—remembering the schoolyard taunts, the hands up her skirt, the patronizing tone of physics teachers, parabolas, ballistics, graphs, the poor grades, the rape, the self-harming, the triumph of graduation day, the shaming first day on the job, the ogling pigs slobbering over their breakfast this morning, this fucked-up cunt who’s just put a bullet through me, the nose-bleed, rose-red blood, the slowing beat of her hurt heart. Turn it off already, will you. Police on walkie-talkies tweet innuendoes into her broken receiver out of reach several feet away. “Show him your tits, love! That’ll put an end to it,” they snigger. She reaches out for nothing and gives in. Worried old dears uselessly mill around.

A Number of Issues regarding Number

First Impressions

Number is, on the face of it, the easiest of grammatical notions to master. Nouns or noun phrases can be singular or plural. Most nouns form the plural by adding –s. Verbs agree with the noun in number but only in the third person singular of the present simple, which ends in –s; the other parts of the verb have no ending.

However, even within this seeming simplicity, lurk seeds of confusion. It is odd (very odd in fact) that the plural of the noun and the singular of the first person present tense of the verb have the same suffix.

[1] Many girls like to play football.

[2] That boy likes to play football.

In fact, it is so odd that no-one knows the exact etymological origin of either of these forms.

Plural noun –s looks like the ending in Western Latin languages (French, Spanish, Portuguese) It would seem therefore that English inherited this suffix from French. However, English inherited no other grammatical feature or non-lexical vocabulary from Norman French. Why just this one? Furthermore, the origin of the final –s in Latin languages is itself somewhat obscure. Eastern Latin languages (Italian, Romanian and Latin itself) don’t have it.

Singular final –s for verbs is entirely obscure and unique to modern forms of English.

Countability and Uncountability

Even odder is the fact that not all English nouns have plural forms and sometimes the same word has different meanings, depending on whether it has a plural form or not.

This issue comes about because sometimes we want to talk about a multitude of things as if they were a lump rather than a group of discrete individuals or objects. We tend to feel the same about abstract terms, so these behave in the same way.

Consider the following phrases:

[3] Vegetarians don’t eat meat.

[4] Beethoven continued to write music when he was deaf.

‘Meat’ and ‘music’ here are uncountable. They will rarely, if ever, appear in the plural.

Sometimes a single word has a countable and an uncountable form with different meanings. For example, ‘time’ and ‘room’.

[4] I have no time to do homework (uncountable)

[5] I have taken the test many times. (countable)

[6] The house has eight rooms (countable)

[7] There is no room for parking (uncountable i.e. space)

In fact there are five categories of countability in present-day English:

I Always uncountable (e.g. music, bread)

II Usually uncountable (e.g. water)

III Countable or uncountable but with different meanings (e.g. time, lamb)

IV Usually countable (e.g. leg)

V Always countable (e.g. words used to transform uncountables into countables, such as ‘piece’, ‘slice’, ‘item’)

Common Mistakes involving number

  1. Adjectives in the plural.

Adjectives almost NEVER occur in the plural in English. Or, to be more precise, adjectives NEVER agree with the noun they qualify in number. This rule also extends to the vast majority of other qualifiers (of which adjectives are a subset). So, there is no plural form of the articles (‘the’, and ‘a’), no plural forms of numbers, no plural ending on nouns used as qualifiers (even when these are logically plural), and no plural endings on words or phrases that express plurality (such as ‘some’, ‘few’, ‘several’, ‘a number of’ etc.). Neither does the word ‘other,’ if used as a qualifier, take a plural ending; although, if used as a noun substitute, it does. The singular form of other (qualifier) or others (noun) is another. The demonstrative pronouns, which have clear plural forms (‘this’,’these’,’that’,’those’), are the only significant exceptions to this rule.

Examples:

[8] Difficult issues. [No-one, native speaker or not, would put an –s on the adjective in speaking. So why do people do it in writing?]

The same applies when the adjective is the coda of the phrase.

[9] Some issues are difficult to resolve.

[10] Animal Farm is the title of a famous book about a farm that has many animals. But here the word animal is functioning as a qualifier (i.e. like an adjective). So there is no plural ending. The same goes for more common phrases such as ‘project management’ = ‘the management of projects’.

  1. Failure to identify the main subject of a sentence or the main noun in a noun phrase.

This error may occur for a number of reasons:

  1. a) simple oversight
  2. b) because the subject of the sentence is a long way away from the verb.
  3. c) failure to identify the main noun of a nominal phrase that is the subject of a sentence.

The following example covers all three of these:

[11] Members of staff responsible for office security are required to wear identity badges at all times.

Here the subject of the verb ‘are’ is the nominal phrase ‘members of staff’ and, within this nominal phrase, the main noun is ‘members’, which is plural. So the verb ‘are’ has a plural form also.

  1. d) failure to notice that the main noun is an irregular plural (e.g. people, children, sheep, fish, bacteria, criteria, analyses)
  2. Issues regarding the distinction between countable and uncountable.
  3. a) In some cases, words that appear plural are in fact singular and vice versa. For example, ‘news’ is singular. ‘Police’, however, is plural (except in this sentence, in which it is singular, because I am referring to the word ‘police’ not the people plural who work as ‘police officers’. Names of cities or countries when they refer to sports teams (in the UK) are also plural.

[12] Liverpool is a beautiful city.

[13] Liverpool have been playing well this season.

  1. b) Single objects made of pairs or parts.

‘Scissors’ and ‘stairs’ are plural and uncountable but we can make them countable by saying ‘a pair of scissors’, ‘a flight of stairs’.

  1. c) The abstract nature of countability

Perhaps the most common source of error in this regard derives from the fact that countability (and hence grammatical number) is abstract in English (like gender in Latin languages) and does not necessarily bear any relation to actual plurality or singularity. In addition to this we may, as human beings, have a tendency to see large groups of objects or generalizations that take a plural form as a singular mass. Grammatically, however, these must be plural.

A common error for example concerns the word ‘people’, meaning ‘people in general’, ‘all the people in the world’. There is a natural tendency to see this as something singular, but ‘people’ is grammatically plural and, therefore, the verb that follows it must be too.

This confusion can also work the other way round. Singular words (such as ‘crowd’ and ‘flock’) refer to a plurality of people or things, but are nevertheless grammatically singular.

  1. Anomalies

There are, of course, numerous anomalies. Here are two of my favorite ones.

  1. a) Everyone and no-one

These two words (weirdly) are both singular and plural. Although, when used as the subject of a verb, the verb must take a singular form, when referred back to later in the sentence (by a possessive or a tag question) they suddenly become plural. So,

[14] Everyone loves their children.

[15] No-one likes a bully, do they?

  1. b) ‘the number of’ and ‘a number of’

These are in fact two very different expressions and refer to two very different concepts.

“The number of” refers to the exact number of something and is thus conceived to be singular.

[16] The number of students consulting online resources has increased dramatically in recent years. [The number is the subject not the students]

“A number of,” by contrast, is a compound qualifier (i.e. a kind of adjective) meaning more or less the same as ‘some’. The subject therefore will be the noun that follows it and will be plural.

[17] A number of students have complained [Here the subject is the students].

Final Remarks

This is just a brief overview of some of the issues regarding grammatical number that I have observed as an English language teacher and editor. As errors of this nature seem to be on the rise recently, I feel that number is an often overlooked or underestimated corner of grammar that may require more attention on the part of learners and teachers.

I hope in the near future to post an article that addresses the question of why this kind of error seems to be on the increase in contemporary global English. I am also interested in the way different languages and cultures deal with the concept of grammatical number and in the manner in which this interacts with acquisition of the concept in a more mathematical and philosophical sense.

For remarks on the concept of number in legal English, see my previous post on Antonin Scalia. https://oudeis2005.wordpress.com/2014/04/30/grammar-lessons-from-antonin-scalia/