Decades ago, now-defunct McCall’s magazine ran a marketing campaign that featured portraits of sexy dames, including Carly Simon and Tina Turner, along with the tongue-in-cheek caption “One of the boring housewives who reads McCall’s.”

Over a period of months, the trade journal Advertising Age published numerous letters from readers, ferociously debating whether the correct word should have been reads or read.

Here’s the answer, courtesy of The Accidents of Style, Charles Harrington Elster’s useful new guide to grammar and usage:

“When one of is followed by a plural noun and who or that, the verb that follows must agree in number with the plural noun: This is one of those blunders that are [not is] easy to make.”

Thus, the magazine, or its advertising agency, was wrong. The caption in the ubiquitous ads and posters should have been “One of the boring housewives who read McCall’s.”

As a quick way of determining whether the singular or plural is correct, Elster suggests inverting the sentence. Using this test, his example above becomes “Of those blunders that are easy to make, this is one.” No one would ever say “blunders that is,” so the right phrasing is obviously “This is one of those blunders that are easy to make.”

[Ed Note: For more than three decades, Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant. He is author of The Versatile Freelancer, an e-book that shows writers and other creative professionals how to diversify their careers into speaking, consulting, training, and critiquing.]

 

Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant for more than 30 years. He may be best known for his headline “Speak Spanish [French, German, etc.] Like a Diplomat!” This familiar series of ads sold spectacular numbers of recorded foreign language lessons for Audio-Forum, generating revenues that total in the tens of millions of dollars. In the process, the ad achieved the status of an industry classic. Don’s work is mentioned in three major college advertising textbooks, and examples of his promotions are cited in the books Million Dollar Mailings (1992) and World's Greatest Direct Mail Sales Letters (1996). In a column in Advertising Age, his name was included in a short list of direct-marketing “superstars.” He has a parallel career as a writer on language and wordplay. His celebration of spoonerisms, Cruel and Unusual Puns (Dell, 1991), received rave reviews and quickly went into a second printing. His second book was Acronymania (Dell, 1993). Recently, Don retired from full-time copywriting in order to focus on other interests, including his passion for “recreational linguistics.” He is at work on a new book in that genre. He is a regular contributor to the magazine Word Ways and writes “The Language Perfectionist,” a weekly column on grammar and usage, for Early to Rise. Don is author of The Versatile Freelancer,an e-book from American Writers and Artists, Inc. (AWAI) that shows copywriters – and almost anyone – how to diversify their careers into consulting, training, critiquing, and speaking.