Is there poor grammar at RMC?

Is there poor grammar at RMC?

Posted By BARBARA WALLRAFF –  Kingston Whig Standard 14 Feb

John McNair, of Kingston writes: “I am on staff at the Royal Military College. “Our course reports contain statements about our students’ ability in different areas, notably leadership, decision-making skills and communication skills.

“There are many opinions about the opening sentences of the three relevant paragraphs of the report. For instance: ‘During the course Capt. X’s leadership [or decision-making skills or communication skills] was assessed as having mastered [or exceeded or met] the standard.’ Can one ‘master a standard’? Some claim the sentence is grammatically incorrect.”

Dear John:Yes, that sentence is a mess. The problem isn’t the grammar, though. What it says doesn’t quite make sense.

A “standard” is a level of achievement or skill, not the skill itself -so, no, one can’t master it. “Exceeded” or “met” would be OK. Better yet, because it’s clearer, would be to make Capt. X the subject of the sentence, like this: “During the course, Capt. X was assessed as having met the standard for leadership.”

Barbara Wallraff is the author of three books about language, including Word Courtand the new Word Fugitives, and is a words columnist at The Atlantic Monthly.Send your language disputes and questions to Word Court, Box 381957, Cambridge, MA 02238, or go visit www.wordcourt.com.