Mighty Red Pen

December 11, 2007

Who are doing your proofreading?

Filed under: Grammar goddess,Mad marketing,Overseen — mighty red pen @ 8:33 pm

Mrs. A., an English teacher, shared that she was shocked and horrified to find this in her child’s McDonald’s Happy Meal.


As you can see, it says “Who is Shrek and Donkey trying to rescue?” when it should say “Who are Shrek and Donkey trying to rescue?”

Naturally, Mrs. A. took her concern to the source. As she wrote to McDonald’s (TootsNYC and anyone else who was wondering, this is the part of the story that made the words nerds chortle at the holiday party):

One of your Shrek Happy Meal trivia cards reads: Who is Shrek and Donkey trying to rescue from the castle in Shrek? Who are doing your proofreading? 

Mrs. A. reports that she heard back from McDonald’s:

I’m sorry you were disappointed with the Shrek The Third Dvd 2007 toy. The quality and safety of our Happy Meal toys is very important to us. All of our Happy Meal toys are thoroughly tested and meet regulations outlined by the federal government. In many cases, our toys exceed these guidelines. Each toy undergoes extensive review by our safety team and testing by the toy supplier and independent testing labs before, during and after production.

To which Mrs. A. commented, “Here’s the reply I received from  Mickey D’s. They obviously read my message and put a real person right on the case. . . . Well, it should come as no surprise to me that the grammar on their Happy Meals toys meets and even exceeds ‘regulations outlined by the federal government.'”

MRP is just wondering what the extensive review by the grammar safety team must be like.



  1. I chortled when I read it–I guess that makes me a word nerd. Thanks for elaborating on the joke.

    And hey, I wanna be on the grammar safety team!

    Since I have been unsuccessful as yet in my quest to be named the Great Queen Copyeditor, this would be a good interim job until that lifetime appointment comes through.

    Did they really not capitalize DVD?

    (In my household, the 9-y-o would be very proud that he had spotted that error, and this would actually *cement* his knowledge of English grammar basics.)

    Comment by TootsNYC — December 12, 2007 @ 11:17 am | Reply

  2. Comment by Gez — December 12, 2007 @ 12:40 pm | Reply

  3. Ummm, sorry, the question on the Happy Meal was written correctly. Fiona “is” the person that Shrek and Donkey are trying to rescue. Had the answer been Fiona and Fred, “are” would have been correct. I’m shocked and horrified that an English teacher was mistaken (not).

    That said, McYuck’s response is hilariously full of errors.

    Comment by rpmason — December 12, 2007 @ 1:13 pm | Reply

  4. RPMason, yes, the answer would be Fiona is the person they are trying to rescue. But if you invert the sentence, you wouldn’t say “Shrek and Donkey is trying to rescue Fiona” you would say “Shrek and Donkey are trying to rescue Fiona” therefore “Who are Shrek and Donkey trying to rescue?”

    Comment by mightyredpen — December 12, 2007 @ 1:53 pm | Reply

  5. I regret to inform you, Rpmason, that you is (sic) wrong.

    It may be the case that Fiona “is” the person sought. But Donkey and Shrek “are” the ones doing the seeking. Tsk tsk.

    The depths of despair! To have first defended McYuck’s and then to learn you have wrongly defended McYunk’s. There is nothing for it. I offer you the honorable way out: eat a Happy Meal and try again in the next life.

    Would you, Rpmason, happen to work for a PR firm that does business promoting Shrek in Happy Meals?

    Comment by David — December 12, 2007 @ 2:06 pm | Reply

  6. Rpmason, sorry to gang up on you, but I’m joining the “not you” team. Your argument that the rescued Fiona is singular does not hold water.

    Fiona IS whom Shrek and Donkey ARE trying to rescue.

    The would be rescuers ARE Shrek and Donkey.

    Therefore the question is, who ARE Shrek and Donkey trying to rescue?

    Comment by Gez — December 12, 2007 @ 2:37 pm | Reply

  7. Feel free to gang up. 🙂 I believe that ‘Who’ is the subject, not ‘Shrek and Donkey.’
    Yes, Shrek and Donkey did the trying, but that’s not the question.
    Let’s take out the extraneous information: “Who is Shrek and Donkey trying to rescue?” Fiona is who Shrek and Donkey are trying to rescue, not Fiona are who…

    Comment by rpmason — December 12, 2007 @ 4:10 pm | Reply

  8. “To err is human, but to persist in error is diabolical” – Richard Muscat

    Comment by David — December 12, 2007 @ 4:15 pm | Reply

  9. Rpmason, I think the issue is not with the subject, but with the verb. The verb in the sentence is not “is”, it’s “is trying”. Donkey and Whatsit ARE trying. Fiona is not actually doing anything in the sentence but being an object of the rescue attempt.

    Comment by nikita — December 12, 2007 @ 5:32 pm | Reply

  10. Who are [they] trying to rescue?

    Comment by gadfly — December 12, 2007 @ 5:39 pm | Reply

  11. Ditto what Gadfly said.

    RPMason, the syntax of the answer doesn’t have any bearing on the syntax of the question. In the answer “Fiona is the one they are trying to rescue,” Fiona is the subject so should agree with “is.” But in the question “Who are Shrek and Donkey trying to rescue?” “who” is not the subject, it’s the object. “Are” must agree with the subject, which is “Shrek and Donkey.”

    But I think this discussion might get at why McDonald’s made the mistake in the first place!

    Comment by mightyredpen — December 12, 2007 @ 8:06 pm | Reply

  12. Also, Gez: [MRP blushing!]

    Comment by mightyredpen — December 12, 2007 @ 8:07 pm | Reply

  13. I didn’t see it until I changed the words to “Whom are they trying to rescue…?”
    As a tech writer, I write ‘subject verb object’ all day long (I have to go back periodically and mix it up so it’s not so terribly dry). Even when I work on FAQs, the questions are still pretty straightforward; “Who is responsible for…”, “How do I…”, or “Why didn’t…”, and so forth.

    Comment by rpmason — December 13, 2007 @ 10:46 am | Reply

  14. All this would be easier if we still used whom.

    Comment by Gez — December 13, 2007 @ 11:35 am | Reply

  15. Yay, RPM! But to you and Gez — gack! I was afraid someone would raise the question of who/whom . . .

    Comment by mightyredpen — December 13, 2007 @ 11:44 am | Reply

  16. It’s the same issue: are/is and whom/who. I wasn’t being serious. I don’t want to sound like I’m in a Dickens novel.

    Bah humbug!

    Comment by Gez — December 13, 2007 @ 11:50 am | Reply

  17. Tongue firmly in cheek: Let me see here. The sorta partially incorrect ‘who are’ is preferred over the really truly incorrect ‘who is’ and even over the overly hyper-correct ‘whom are’. We need a banner: All Prescriptivists Must Die!

    Comment by rpmason — December 13, 2007 @ 1:51 pm | Reply

  18. “Who” is correct, I believe. “Whom” is for “him/her/them” while “who” is for “he/she/they.” They are trying to rescue her, not them are trying to rescue her.

    Comment by gadfly — December 13, 2007 @ 2:46 pm | Reply

  19. But wait…whom’s on first? Actually, I subbed for the wrong pronoun. “Whom” is correct for “her,” doesn’t apply to “them,” and thereby it is “Whom are blah blah blah…” But “who” wins out anyway. Sheesh.

    Comment by gadfly — December 13, 2007 @ 3:07 pm | Reply

  20. […] found this through Mighty Red Pen, and I had to mention […]

    Pingback by Mrs. Write Right, Word Therapist (aka Writer-Editor) » Archive » Shrek and Donkey is rescuing someone! — December 13, 2007 @ 4:37 pm | Reply

  21. Who and whom aside, are English teachers everywhere vindicated?

    Comment by Mrs. A. — December 13, 2007 @ 4:38 pm | Reply

  22. English teachers require no vindication, Mrs. A.

    They might require a nice vacation somewhere warm with something alcoholic in a coconut shell to drink, but they do not require vindication.

    Comment by David — December 14, 2007 @ 10:46 am | Reply

  23. I still think RPMason’s original response is correct. But what do I know? I only have a worthless Bachelor of English which was a waste of time and money I don’t have.

    Comment by Blue — December 18, 2007 @ 12:15 pm | Reply

  24. I think the fact that there is argument over this says a great deal about the general level of education in society… which is perhaps the reason such a product is tolerated.

    “Who is Shrek and Donkey trying to rescue from the castle in Shrek?”

    That could be rewritten as “Shrek and Donkey are trying to rescue whom from the castle in Shrek?” Shrek and Donkey ARE the subjects. Whom is the object of the infinitive “to rescue.” As mentioned above, “whom” is the objective form just like “her.” It could be (as a statement): “Shrek and Donkey are trying to rescue her from the castle in Shrek.”

    Simple, yes?

    Comment by Ian Clifton — December 20, 2007 @ 5:14 pm | Reply

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