NYT makes a grammatical error

February 5, 2023 • 2:00 pm

Here’s a tweet I found from the NYT:

Here is the full headline. What is wrong with the top three lines? This is what I’d call a really stupid mistake!

74 thoughts on “NYT makes a grammatical error

    1. But that’s just being pointlessly pedantic. There is absolutely no ambiguity in the original formulation. Ellipsis is a common and perfectly grammatical device in English.

        1. I found the headline instantly understandable. If it turns out the I got the wrong meaning, then. I will agree it was poorly written. There are certain conventions in headlines

        2. Well, the sentence may not convey what it’s meant to convey, but its grammar is impeccable. The problem, to the extent that there is one, lies in its diction, which is a separate matter.

        3. Yes, but why would you, when it’s clear what it means? But I realise I’m being a kill joy, so I should apologise for that. It just happened that I was writing sn English test on the topic of ellipsis when the notification came through!

      1. Ellipsis is perfectly fine, except in written language when it culminates in ambiguity/unclarity, and especially in a context–a newspaper headline, for example–when clarity is (used to be?) of the utmost importance.

        1. There’s no ambiguity because, in context, only one interpretation is plausible. If you read the headline and think ‘I wonder what it means’, I’d say the problem is more with your reading skills and/or knowledge of the world than with the headline. But I understand that these perceived lapses in grammar do bug people. I’m sure there are some that bug me too.

  1. 80% of divorces are initiated by women. That’s what’s wrong. That’s how they have the houses. How proud.

    Oh. The grammar. Well, there is dark humor in that. The headline implies that women have declined to own men; they own houses instead. Headline is missing “do.”

    “Single women own more homes than do single men.”

    1. I own two homes in Canada, I’ve never been married, neither were inherited, and never had a man contribution towards the payment of one.. So your blanket statement riles me up.

      1. Well, the stat is a stat … 80%. As for my opinions, I could qualify it with various “some” insertions to avoid the “blanket” accusation. Pretend I do that … having yourself as an example of an exception, does the unbalance in the initiation of divorce and unbalance in single-person home ownership rile you up, as it obviously does me? If not, what do you think is the cause of it?

        1. No, I think the fact that someone is tracking stats about which gender initiated divorce, is more upset. Who cares?
          Maybe stats on the reason for divorces, might be useful- to someone.

          1. Half of all divorces are caused by men making misleading statistical claims. 🙂

            But, then, what can you expect from chattel owned more frequently than houses? 🙂

    2. BINGO! You win! The headline implies, despite all the people who say it’s fine, that the comparison is between women’s ownership of men versus their ownership of houses. This isn’t just infelicity of prose, but a downright mistake.

      1. Thanks. Others will see it, I was just quick.

        DIVERSION: worse grammar insult, which NYTimes commits … the use of n-pronouns without accommodating verb tense …

        Claimed usage of ‘singular they.’
        “Dani just called, and they are on the way with the cupcakes. They said they are alone, and trying to not eat them all in the car.”

        Should be:
        “Dani just called, and they is on the way with the cupcakes. They said they is alone, and trying to not eat them all in the car.”

        They came for the pronoun, but twisted the verbs too!

        1. … worse grammar insult … the use of n-pronouns without accommodating verb tense … [c]laimed usage of ‘singular they.’

          The use of the pronoun “they” for antecedents of indeterminate gender, and the pairing of such pronouns with plural verbs, dates back at least to Jane Austen (notwithstanding the carping to the contrary by contemporary prescriptivists).

          To wit:

          “… nobody would remember on which side they were to come in …”

          — Narrator, Mansfield Park (pub. 1814)

          “… everybody being as perfectly complying and without a choice as on such occasions they always are …”

          — Ibid.

          1. Indeed, but in normal usage singular “they” is only used as a placeholder for a theoretical individual when no specific individual is intended. No one imagined it to be the preferred pronoun by which a specific individual would *want* to be referred to. That is what makes it so jarring in its new usage — and in extended pieces of writing in which the individual so designated plus other plural people are both referred to as they/them/their indiscriminately in the same sentence, the meaning can become hopelessly jumbled (as I can attest, having had to copy-edit a book in which this happened). English grammar has not evolved to cope adequately with this development.

            1. Thanks Jonathan, I was about to post the same thing. When you know the specific person, “they” is a disaster as a pronoun-placeholder.

              Perhaps that is Woke’s intent! Confusion on World Peace.

            2. Absolutely, this modern usage can grow awkward fast. My objection is to the claim that using “they” for a singular antecedent and matching it with a plural verb constitutes a per se solecism. That’s prescriptivist poppycock — akin to the supposed “rules” against split infinites and terminal prepositions.

              1. @ Ken Kukec
                Store your insults. Your point has already been rebuffed. Doubling down on your mistake does nothing but make things worse.

      2. Single Women Own More Homes Than *Do* Single Men


        Single Women Own More Homes Than Single Men Do

        OR (though it’s passive construction, anathema in journalism — I wrote for newspapers my entire career)

        More Homes Owned by Single Women Than by Single Men (for brevity, you could eliminate the second “by,” but thereby introduce the possibility of the problem you are pointing out in the original).

      3. This not a grammatical point, but the “despite only earning 83c on the dollar” seems to be hinting that single women are more virtuous or thrifty than single men. The problem is that the excess of women will be the widows left living in a home they now own outright, but which was probably bought either jointly with their late husband or sometimes by him alone. The headline boils down to “Women Live Longer Than Men”!

        1. You assume that it is the ‘widow effect.”

          I chose a different assumption: the bulge in single-female-owned homes is due to divorce, and not necessarily with minor children involved.

    3. Which spouse initiates a divorce is fairly arbitrary in these days of no fault divorce laws. Which spouse ends up owning the house will be based on multiple factors, including the tax code and child custody. I suspect that the statistic is more likely to reflect the fact that women tend to outlive their spouses, as noted in the article. But all in all, this is a pretty meaningless statistic.

      1. True, but the NYT introduced the meaningless 83 cents on the dollar statistic, so tit for tat is fair, I suppose.

    4. Women die later than men, so a widow is more likely to end up with the house than a widower is. Regardless of divorce stats, an inherently contentious topic, there can be no argument that all widowhoods are instigated by men.

      And P.S., even if a man instigates a divorce, the woman usually gets the house so the children can live in it.

      1. So… any proposed wealth tax might disproportionately affect women? There’s the basis for a court case right there.

      1. Ignoring the grammatical faux pas, one explanation of the fact that the misguided headline was trying to convey is that “Women also have a longer life expectancy than men, so some portion of single women who own and occupy their homes are widows who previously lived with a spouse. This could help explain why retirement-friendly Florida had the largest gap in homeownership rates among single women and single men — about 4.5 percent in favor of the women, according to LendingTree.”

        So not necessarily about unfairness in the divorce system as suggested above.

  2. i’ve read this five times and i don’t see an error. i always hated grammar anyway, & i’ve never had much patience for people who nitpick over such things. do you understand what i’m saying? then get off my case and stop humiliating me cuz i used me instead of i.

    it’s hardly shocking that single women would own more homes than single men. single men are often at the bottom of the economic ladder. if you compare incomes of single m & f earners, it’s usually at parity, with no wage gap, and among younger people women out earn men, in some regions by quite significant margins. so obviously they’re going to have more things like cars and houses.. they’re doing better.

    the headline is stupid, because it compares single people, but uses a gap that includes all earners.

    1. Ah, ladies and gentlemen, and those of other genders, take a look at the splenetic lucubrations of Mr. Propp, who has violated so many Roolz in one comment that it’s unbelievable. Yes, and now say your farewells to Mr. Propp, as he’ll never again post on this site.

      Why do people insist on being so rude? I have many theories (which are mine), but since this is a family oriented site, I’ll just tell Mr. Propp not to let the door hit his rump as he makes an ignominious egress.

      1. i don’t think i said anything really rude. certainly wasn’t meant to be. i just said what i meant: that i hate people who nitpick my grammar. i didn’t attack you or anyone.

        the rest of my post was just facts.

        if this is what it takes to get banished, then why even bother having a comments section for heaven’s sake?

  3. Prof. Coyne, I think you’re being a bit pedantic here. I hope you’re not one of those types who lectures people about not ending sentences with a preposition.

    1. I think you’re one of the people who hasn’t read the Roolz. This was just a fun post and the error jumped out at me. This gets you started on a critique of my personality.

      Once again, I’m baffled at how rude people can be.

  4. It’s ambiguous rather than ungrammatical – although the intended meaning is not difficult to infer. One of the pitfalls of the constraints imposed by newspaper headline style …

  5. Guess I may need to track down this article to answer a question I have, what is the definition of single used here? As an example, my mother became a “single” homeowner after my father’s death. And there are a fair number of women in that category, due to women living longer on average. What about a single woman who owns the house, but has a partner, of either sex? And, as noted above, a woman who gets the house after a marriage ends, which is pretty common, especially if there are children.

    1. It’s sad that MSM like the NYT have become so locked into predictable narratives that the first reaction of so many of us is “What are they leaving out of this headline?”

  6. Ever since I served as managing editor of my college newspaper a millenium ago, I have tried to follow the precept advised in a wall plaque at our print-shop. It read:


  7. I believe they made a logical error, too. I believe the pay gap statistic they cite is for all men vs. all women, when they should be comparing single men vs. single women.

  8. I’m guessing it’s supposed to be :

    Single women own more homes than those owned by single men

    Or some such.

    The funny thing is, I understood it 100%. What is that called? Headline-reading? Like those word tricks where one word is is repeated, or spelling is mxeid up but we konw the menanig awnyay?

    Subscribe not working even after PCC(E) “reset” my account.

  9. This reminds me just a bit of the grammatical strangeness in the otherwise beautiful song, “If I Fell,” in which John appears to be hoping that his new love will love him more than she loves his former girlfriend, an impression conveyed by his use of the objective versus the subjective singular third person female pronoun. I can’t hear the song without thinking about that, even though I KNOW what he means…meant…whatever.

    On the other hand, the Beatles were four young city boys with no university education, writing intensely popular and often stunningly beautiful songs, not headline writers for a newspaper that surely considers itself to be the finest bastion of journalism in the modern world (even if very few other people so consider it).

    1. “… John appears to be hoping that his new love will love him more than she loves his former girlfriend …”

      … intriguing – very 2020s, for a 60s tune… or… is that a typo?

  10. Excluding divorce perhaps this indicates that there is no wage gap for those who work toward getting a house.
    Seeing as choice was a large facture in the so-called wage gap anyway.

  11. I thank Paul Davies for instructing me what ellipsis is, and yes it is correctly used here because it doesn’t degrade the meaning. We all know that women don’t own men. Particularly single women cannot own single men because then neither would be single, would they. So the interpretation that single women own more houses than they own single men is instantly rejected by native speakers and we supply the correct implied verb “do” or “own” after “men.”

    Take the headline, “Cheek Tribe owned more rifles than slaves, say historians.” This is unclear because the Cheeks owned both rifles and slaves, and slaves could (but probably weren’t allowed to) own rifles. So the ellipsis confounds the two meanings . We don’t know who owned what/whom or what is being compared to what. That headline, while also grammatically correct, needs a rewrite.

    1. With you on this… headlines are not ‘normal speech.’
      But to show how polite I am, let me re-state my love & affection for Jerry 🙂 xxx

  12. Sorry, what was the question again? I got distracted by “where the ownership gap is greatest and smallest”. To me, it should be “largest and smallest”, or perhaps “greatest and least”.

    1. To me, believe it or not, your version is not as instantly understandable as the NYT original. The original is punchier—essential for a headline— and unambiguous. Yours is only unambiguous, [edit:] and runs out of gas at the end.. The original is a good specimen of the headline writer’s art, especially since many of us don’t read printed newspapers anymore.

      1. I think you’re quite correct! It does run out of gas and just would not do as a headline. I was thinking also “Mores single women than single me own homes.” Out of curiosity, I asked ChatGPT to parse the original headline. This is what it replied:
        “In the sentence “Single women own more homes than single men,” the verb is “own”, the subject is “Single women,” and the object is “more homes.” “Single men” is also part of the sentence, but it is not the object of the verb “own”; rather, it is the object of the comparative phrase “than single men.”
        How clever that it pointed out the potential error to avoid in that “single men” is the object of the comparative and not the verb!

  13. Yeah. They’ve evolved to own more homes than men. Unless your name is Trump. Even then… How many homes per capita should women own? I think we should be told.

  14. I can think of several meanings.

    1. the one they wished to convey.

    2. That single women do not own as many single men as they own homes.

    3. Each single woman owns N homes. Each single man owns n homes and N > n.

    If I saw the headline out of the context of this post, I would infer meaning 1, the others being somewhat ridiculous.

  15. When it comes to headline ambiguity I have always liked the war time headline “British push bottles up German rear” (no doubt apocryphal but fun for all that).

    1. or the genuine headline(s) a former coworker had on his wall

  16. Place a period at the end and “Single Women Own More Homes Than Single Men[.]” gets a GUNNING FOG INDEX of 3.200

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