Farmville English, and Why Not to Use It

Farmville has become one of the most popular games on Facebook. However, any good book editor or book editing service would tell you that its use of English is problematic for several reasons. Let’s take a recent example:

Gordon has a chance to discover a very rare chicken in FarmVille!

Gordon just harvested their Chicken Coop and found some Treasured Cornish Mystery Eggs! They’re excited at the chance to hatch a rare chicken and wants to share the opportunity with you.

While there’s nothing wrong with the title, there are two serious grammatical errors in the 31-word statement that follows it. First, “Gordon” is singular, and “their” is plural. Second, while “They’re” is plural, and therefore matches “their”, it doesn’t match “wants”, which is singular. For completeness, I should also point out that I was harvesting eggs from the chicken coop, and not harvesting the coop itself, but this last error does not concern me here.

As a copy-editor, I receive documents that mix singular nouns with plural pronouns increasingly frequently. I would suggest that there are two main contributing factors in this situation: the increasing popularity of text messaging, with its necessary use of abbreviations, which can sometimes result in habitual mis-spelling by those who text often; and computer-generated language from inadequately programmed apps.

Nevertheless, laziness is not the only potential problem here: there are also more complicated constructions that can make it difficult to know when to use singular pronouns and when to use plural pronouns. One obvious, frequently used example is “a flock of geese”. Since “flock” is singular, pronouns relating to the flock must also be singular. However, “geese” is plural, and pronouns relating to the geese that make up the flock must be plural. Attention is therefore needed to the subject when selecting pronouns. This is something with which many writers struggle, including some professionals. However, consistency in number does also improve the clarity of your writing. If you write well, which includes structuring your sentences well, you are more likely to be able to sell your work, and you are likely to get a larger readership. So be on the lookout for such issues when you perform your book editing.

–Dr. Gordon,

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