Thursday, 10th July 2014

by Joshua Gaskell

I’m troubled by a phrase I keep hearing on the radio: ‘the missing one hundred and fourteen files relating to historical child abuse’.

Which badgering style-guidee would insist on the one in that one hundred? One may be, ‘before collective numerals […] a clearer, more definite, or more formal alternative to the indefinite article a’ (OED), but that should indicate that in a clause already containing a definite article – the missing – it should be left out altogether. Otherwise, in the service of correctness, you end up with files that are, grammatically, at the same time definite and indefinite.

One or the other, not both.


Pincher: always at the cutting edge of pedantry. (Except that Kingsley Amis noted this one in The King’s English (1997), complaining of “nonsenses like ‘a one-hundred-pound bottle of wine’.”)