Writing • Editing • Solutions

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So You Think You Know Grammar? (Are you smarter than 116 editors and writers?)

English: “Apple Trees”

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just when I was beginning to think that good writing was going to hell in a 140-character Tweet, an argument about apple trees has renewed my faith in the future of the English language.

Here’s what happened: I wrote an article in which I penned this sentence:

“Two hundred varieties of apple trees grow on this fifth-generation family farm.”

My editor changed the sentence thusly:

“Two hundred varieties of apple tree grow on this fifth-generation family farm.”

I demurred. “It’s ‘trees,'” I insisted. She stood firm. We each had our good grammatical reasons. She’s the boss. But I secretly knew I was right. Right?

So I turned to LinkedEds and Writers, a LinkedIn group to which I belong, along with 53,777 other language lovers. I figured that surely these folks would know the answer and could also point to the definitive rule stating why the word should be “trees. Or “tree.” But probably “trees.” Unless it’s “tree.”The apple ddoesn't fall far from the tree.

I expected one or two pedantic professors to come forth, providing the correct answer and thus decisively ending the debate between my editor and me. Within a few days, 116 grammar gurus chimed in, each vigorously arguing the point. People wrote about countable nouns, the genus apple tree, horticultural terms, British vs. American English, and ultimately “whatever sounds best.” Five days later, and the spirited debate shows no hint of cooling off.

So far, opinions are about equally divided between “trees” and “tree” — but no one has been able to name an actual, authoritative grammatical rule. So I’m back to where I started.

But I’m just delighted that so many people care about getting the words right.

But I still say “trees.” And I would like to point to this definition of “variety” from Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

Variety: a particular kind of person or thing

The museum has aircraft of every variety. [=kind, sort]

people of all varieties

different varieties of oranges

exotic varieties of snakes

Seems to me that “different varieties of oranges” and “exotic varieties of snakes aren’t so different, grammatically, from “varieties of apple trees.”  

Write on! But stay away from those apple trees.

And if you need help writing about trees, apple trees, or varieties of just about anything, I can help.

by Maryann Hammers — your solution for all writing and editing needs

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This entry was posted on July 7, 2013 by in copyedit, editing, grammar, language usage, words, writing and tagged , , .
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