Copyeditor help, please
August 18, 2019 12:25 PM   Subscribe

Hi. The sentence I'm editing reads, "the services that infrastructure deliver haven't changed." Now, "infrastructure" being a mass noun, countable or uncountable, would mean you can say "infrastructures deliver" or "infrastructure delivers," but not "infrastructure deliver," right?
posted by noelpratt2nd to Writing & Language (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm not a copyeditor, but that phrasing rubs me the wrong way. "Infrastructure delivers," seems more appropriate.
posted by Alensin at 12:32 PM on August 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

Me too. But this engineer uses it like it's a thing.
posted by noelpratt2nd at 12:34 PM on August 18, 2019

Just change the sentence: the services delivered by that infrastructure haven't changed. Very slightly more passive voice, but evades the disagreement entirely.
posted by gideonfrog at 12:38 PM on August 18, 2019 [4 favorites]

Ah, sure. Thanks, but this is a quote.
posted by noelpratt2nd at 12:39 PM on August 18, 2019

Does he use it in other contexts? If it's just in this one, it's possible he's mistaken "the services" for the subject of "deliver."

But either way, he's wrong, "infrastructure delivers" is unambiguously correct, and there's no need to change the structure of the sentence to avoid the situation.

(I am a copyeditor, in case it matters.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:39 PM on August 18, 2019 [9 favorites]

There have been no changes in the services delivered via infrastructure.
posted by bwonder2 at 12:40 PM on August 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

It might make sense if "infrastructure" is a reference to a team of people.
posted by quacks like a duck at 12:42 PM on August 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

Sorry i just saw it's a quote. Isn't deliver relative to services not infrastructure?
posted by bwonder2 at 12:42 PM on August 18, 2019

Yeh, not a mistake. He continues like it just became cool (sending editors back to "those damn books, all on a Sunday afternoon otherwise lazy).
posted by noelpratt2nd at 12:44 PM on August 18, 2019

It could make sense if "that infrastructure" refers to some specific and previously mentioned kind of infrastructure.
posted by flabdablet at 12:44 PM on August 18, 2019

You are correct in your analysis and the usage quoted is wrong, and thus demands a (sic).

Infrastructure is commonly both a mass and countable noun depending on indexical context. A city has “infrastructure,” but it also has infrastructures for water and traffic and power etc. that can be separately affected by, say, a hurricane.

/Not a copyeditor, but a professional social scientist who edits academic prose every day.
posted by spitbull at 12:45 PM on August 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

Infrastructure delivers services. Therefore, we refer to the services that infrastructure delivers. The author you quoted is incorrect; depending on the context, you could correct it without comment, add the appropriate [s], or add a [sic].
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 12:49 PM on August 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

“the infrastructure delivers”
posted by Segundus at 12:51 PM on August 18, 2019

I am also a copy editor, in case you're tallying votes, and I say "delivers" is correct.
posted by BlahLaLa at 12:51 PM on August 18, 2019

I knew I was right, I just wasn't sure how. :) Thank you!
posted by noelpratt2nd at 12:53 PM on August 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

Writer and editor here: "delivers" is correct, and the sentence as written needs a (sic). That's because the verb form of delivers vs. deliver depends on the pluralization (or not) of 'infrastructure', not 'services.'

'Infrastructures' can be pluralized just like 'peoples' - and in that case, the correct verb form would be 'deliver.' But as it is now, it should be 'delivers.'
posted by MiraK at 12:58 PM on August 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

If your speaker is not a USian, "deliver" with a mass noun might be their standard usage.
posted by inexorably_forward at 3:09 PM on August 18, 2019

Is the speaker from somewhere other than America? Is "infrastructure" a team or group providing a service? If so, then "the services that Infrastructure deliver" is perfectly grammatical in non-American English.

That collective noun usage certainly threw me the first few times I encountered it. "The team have advanced to the finals" vs "the team has advanced to the finals," or "Sony have announced their new game console" vs "Sony has announced its new game console."

If the person is American and the audience is American, or if the speaker/audience isn't American and "infrastructure" isn't a reference to a team but rather the concept of infrastructure in general, then "the services that infrastructure deliver haven't changed" is grammatically incorrect.
posted by erst at 3:43 PM on August 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

I’m also a copy editor. It absolutely matters whether this is US or UK English. The rules for mass nouns are different. You are correct for US English. For UK English, you need a UK copy editor.
posted by FencingGal at 5:14 PM on August 18, 2019

You are completely correct: “infrastructures deliver,” or “infrastructure delivers,” but never, “infrastructure deliver.”

If the writer requires persuasion, it may be useful to avoid characterizing the correction as a matter of judgement; instead, first, refer to standard references, e.g.,
“Infrastructure” is a singular noun, and it takes a singular verb, and not only for speakers of American English, per the Merriam-Webster Unabridged; but also for speakers of Commonwealth dialects (“non-American English”) per the Oxford English Dictionary. Use of “infrastructure” as a plural, in any theater of English, would be a solecism.
Then, it may be useful to offer an explanation which focuses on the goal of effective communication, e.g.,
Using it as a plural will distract readers, since it appears to be introducing a novel usage, and it may confuse them, since, as a new coinage, it would be unfamiliar, too.
By the way, I do not recommend using “[sic],” except in scholarly publications, since it raises more questions than it answers—and it undermines the confidence of the reader in the author. Not really one of the goals of an editor in most communications.

I am the editor (and quondam copyeditor) for a global media company. I commend your good judgement, and I wish you good luck in your work.
posted by burbridge at 5:42 PM on August 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

Thanks. I too try to edit minimally yet effectively, so that a sentence will stand correct close to its original form, instead of changing wording. Yes to sparing [sic]s. The fellow in question is American but may have spent some time abroad.
posted by noelpratt2nd at 6:02 PM on August 18, 2019

I disagree that "infrastructure deliver" is grammatically unproblematic in UK English, which I also read and edit often enough (and I did my A levels in English, among other subjects, in the UK and have lived there for about 2.5 years of my life). On the analogy to the word "structure," I cannot think of a context where " structure change" (vs. "changes") or "structure carry" (vs. "carries") would be intuitively acceptable to a British editor. The analogy to UK use of mass nouns where Americans would use countable ones -- e.g., "sport is my favorite subject," or "sport delivers great benefit to children" (vs. American "sports are my favorite subject," or "sports deliver great benefits") doesn't seem to hold here. Even in UK English, "infrastructure" is not used as a mass noun substitutionally where "infrastructures" would be used by Americans. No American would normally say "I am interested in infrastructures" where a Brit would say "I am interested in infrastructure." (Both could say either and mean something different.) The mass/countable distinction is grammatically relevant to the meaning of the word in both dialects of English, or at least it is for "structure," a term of art in my academic field of anthropology that I have read thousands if not hundreds of thousands of times in edited academic prose by UK and American scholars. UK English has many examples of mass nouns that take the singular, but can be pluralized into countable nouns. For example, in both countries you can be a big fan of bread, and it is a thing you singularly like in all its forms. But a bakery will sell a variety of different breads that you can plurally distinguish. All of them are "bread." But if you preceded "bread" with specifying adjectives (say, "rye and pumpernickel") you wouldn't say "Rye and Pumpernickel bread is [both] good" in London any more than you would in Chicago, or that "both bread delivers flavor satisfaction" in either place either.

I defer to any native speaker of UK English who can argue otherwise from a more rooted intuition. I'm going by my gut feeling, but I have never seen "[the/a/generalized] structure + pluralized verb" in the writing of any colleague. "Infrastrucutre" is not a word I see all that often as an editor in my field, but why would it be different?
posted by spitbull at 10:23 AM on August 19, 2019

Subeditor in Irish/UK English here. 'Infrastructure', in all practicality, is a singular noun to represent a collective concept. There is no grey area about this; "infrastructure are" is wrong.

The comment above about 'bread' is interesting, but it's not really a countable/uncountable nouns thing - there is 'bread', which is all bread in general, the concept of bread; then there are individual types of bread, where 'types of bread' becomes 'breads' in plural. A decidedly philosophical distinction, so the context determines which one to use.
posted by macdara at 1:55 AM on August 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

Indeed my convoluted point about "bread" was that the usual truism about UK mass nouns and US mass nouns discussed above doesn't apply here. Glad you agree with my intuition macdara!
posted by spitbull at 9:35 AM on August 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

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