Mississippi Dept. of Ed.’s Fictional Grammar

Quite a few years ago, I helped develop the NM Academic Standards in English Language Arts. Since then, I have been involved in various education initiatives related to reading and writing (among other subjects) for K-12 students. From time to time I take a look to see what guidance the state department of educations provide for reading and writing instruction.

This morning I was looking at the Mississippi state standards and came across a document entitled “Clarification on what is considered Fictional material” (their capitalization). Being naturally curious, I took a look. And then I shook my head in dismay.

The Mississippi State Department of Education has problems with grammar.


In this one-page document, published by the Mississippi State Department of Education, I found this sentence: “Biblical stories are considered fictional only when the characters are non human and personifies (portrays) human characteristics (e.g. Veggie Tales).”

You can download the document FROM THIS WEB PAGE (Microsoft Publisher file).

Many people forget the comma after “e.g.,” so that didn’t bother me. The words “personifies” and “portrays” represent, in my mind, a big problem.

The subject for these two words is “characters.” According to this sentence, characters personifies, and characters portrays. This is a subject-verb agreement problem.


“Characters” is a third-person plural subject; it can be replaced by the pronoun “they.” It requires a third-person plural verb, which does not end in “-s.”

Let’s look at the conjugation of “portray,” as an example.

I portray
You portray
He/she/it portrays

We portray
You (all) portray
They portray

As you can see from the conjugation, writing “they portrays” is incorrect. Instead, the correct verb form is “portray.” This is also true for “personifies,” which should be written “personify.” Whoever wrote, reviewed, and published this document didn’t make this mistake once. He or she made it twice in the same sentence.


The Mississippi content standards address subject-verb agreement in second grade! Here’s what their standards say.

Competency 4: “The student will use Standard English to communicate.”
Objective: “The student will use Standard English grammar.”
Skill: “Subject-verb agreement.”

Second grade.

Who is proofreading their documents?


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Filed under Mechanics, OOPS!

2 responses to “Mississippi Dept. of Ed.’s Fictional Grammar

  1. Walter

    I’m sure it’s a typo, but you have a subject-verb agreement problem in your own first paragraph here.

    “From time to time I take a look to see what guidance the state department of educations provide for reading and writing instruction.”

    So, it should be either “department provides” or “departments provide”.
    By the way, does Mississippi have a “department of educations”, where “educations” is plural? Just asking.

  2. I’m pleased that you are reading these blog posts so carefully!

    In this case, the subject “state department of educations” is plural, i.e., there is more than one state department of education. As noted here, I review materials from muliple state department of educations. I review materials from the Mississippi state department of education, and I review materials provided by the state department of educations from other states, as well. I see what THEY provide.

    This sentence is correct, but I appreciate you keeping us on our toes.

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