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The Word Guy: Singular or plural? Put a cap on indecision

| Friday, Feb. 8, 2013, 8:57 p.m.

Question: In the sentence, “Each of the baseball fans who attend/attends the game will get a free cap,” should the verb be singular (“attends”) or plural (“attend”)? My grammar book says that “each” is always singular. But does “who” refer to “fans” (plural verb) or to “each” (singular verb)?

— Pat O'Brien, via email

Answer: That free cap sounds like a great deal, especially for us middle-aged guys who wear baseball caps to cover up our baldpates. As a kid, I wore my Yankees cap so much that my mom worried it would make me bald. Maybe she was right, although I think the genes of her thin-haired dad had something to do with it, too.

Anyway, the correct choice here is the plural verb (“attend”). It's true that the subject of the sentence — “each” — demands a singular verb. But “who” is the subject of the relative clause, “who attend the game,” and it must agree with the plural noun to which it refers: “fans.”

A handy way to determine the correct choice is to reword the sentence: “Of the baseball fans who attend the game, each is going to get a free cap.”

Q: In the travel section of the Hartford Courant, the writer writes of “gourmands” savoring New England flavor. Should not the word be “gourmet?” I have always thought of a gourmand as being one who eats and drinks excessively, a glutton — not at all like a gourmet who appreciates good food.

— Sundaram V. Ramanan, M.D., via email

A: You've said a mouthful. “Gourmand” (sometimes spelled “gormand”) does, indeed, bear the connotation of gluttony, while “gourmet” means “a connoisseur of fine food and drink.”

The origins of the two words help explain their different meanings. “Gourmand,” which entered English during the 1400s, derives from the French “gourmant” (glutton). “Gourmet,” which didn't show up in English until the 1800s, is an alteration of the French “gromet” (boy servant, vintner's assistant), hence, its reference to someone who knows about wine and food.

Because “gourmand” is similar to the French word “gourmandise,” which means “an appreciation of fine cuisine,” some people use it as a synonym for “gourmet,” and this secondary definition is now included in many dictionaries.

Nevertheless, “gourmand” bears a connotation of excessive culinary or bibulous indulgence, and those who use it to mean “a connoisseur of food and drink” with no connotation of gluttony will give purists indigestion.

Rob Kyff, a teacher and writer in West Hartford, Conn., invites your language sightings. Send email to Wordguy@aol.com or send regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 Third St., Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.

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