A Reminder About 'And Me'
Posted by June on July 27, 2015
LABELS: ,

 

I have a friend to whom I’ve explained several times (she asked) when to use “and I” and when to use “and me.” She’s a smart friend. Think: high school valedictorian. Yet she still gets it wrong a lot. So for everyone who has trouble remembering the rules, here’s a reminder on “and I.”

If you want to be grammatically correct, “and I” should never be used as the object of a verb or a preposition. (If you want to be less formal, “and I” is defended by some as idiomatic in object uses.)

An easy way to get this right is to try dropping the other person. Consider:

I’m so glad you came to visit Penny and I/me.

Now try dropping Penny.

I'm so glad you came to visit I/me.

A no-brainer, right? It's me.

The grammar shows why: The verb is visit. The people following the verb -- Penny and you -- are the object of that verb. The pronoun "me" is an object. The pronoun "I" is a subject. So as the object of the verb "visit," you want “Penny and me.”

You could also try plugging in the subject pronoun “we” and the object pronoun “us.” Would you say “I’m so glad you came to visit we” or “I’m so glad you came to visit us”?

It’s "us," no question. And because “us” is an object form, that’s your clue that you want an object here: “Penny and me.”

Another one:

We tried ballroom dancing, but we learned really fast that’s not for Stan and I/me.

Here a preposition, “for,” is calling the shots. The noun phrase that follows is the object of the preposition, so it has to be in object form: “It’s not for Stan and me.” The litmus test again proves it: “It’s not for I/m.” It’s clear that “I” just doesn’t work here. “Me,” the object pronoun, does. So you want the object form: Stan and me.

Another:

I know you think that Larry and I/me were lying when we said we couldn’t attend.

Don’t let the verb “think” fool you. What we have here is not an object. It’s a subject. “Larry and I were lying.” Why? Because it’s performing the action in the verb “were lying” and also because the word “that” before it renders the whole noun phrase not an object but a subordinate clause. Clauses need subjects -- subjects like "Larry and I."

So just remember: “Me” and “us” are objects. “I” and “we” are subjects. Whenever “I” sounds wrong on its own, that's your clue that it's wrong with another person, too.

Which Word Governs the Verb?
Posted by June on July 20, 2015
LABELS:

 

Here’s a sentence someone posted on a sports message board a while back. “I’m one of those proper-grammar assholes who uses ‘literally’ correctly.”

In classic Internet style, another poster followed up by saying that that this sentence itself is grammatically incorrect because the verb “uses” should be “use.”

The original poster fired back: “The verb ‘use’ is correct the way I used it, because the noun in that sentence is not ‘asshole,’ it is ‘one.’ The phrase ‘of those proper-grammar assholes’ is a prepositional phrase.”

To prove his point, he posted this from a grammar website: “The noun at the end of a prepositional phrase will never be the subject of a verb. For example: ‘A list of factors are at play.’ Here, the subject is not factors. It is list. Therefore, the verb should be singular in number.”

Sigh.

That’s wrong. But, perhaps more important, it’s moot: The real issue in that message board post has nothing to do with the prepositional phrase. It has to do with the word “who.”

But let’s start with the prepositional phrase business. When you have a singular noun like “flock” followed by the preposition “of,” followed by a plural noun like “birds,” a lot of people believe that the verb that follows should be singular because it’s governed by the first of those two nouns. According to this view, it’s correct to say “a flock of birds is overhead” but wrong to say “a flock of birds are overhead.”

That’s incorrect. Either noun can have a verb. Sometimes it makes more sense for the plural noun to be the subject of the verb -- even if it’s the object of a prepositional phrase -- as in “A flock of birds are fighting amongst themselves.” This plural verb is acceptable.

If that weren’t true -- if the website that the original poster cited had been correct --  you couldn’t say, “A bunch of teenagers are partying in the park.” You’d have to say, “A bunch of teenagers is partying in the park.”

But that has nothing to do with the original poster’s error. In his sentence, “I’m one of those proper-grammar assholes who uses ‘literally’ correctly,” the word governing the verb is neither “one” nor “assholes.” It’s “who.”

“Who” always agrees in number with its antecedent. Think about “the men who are coming tomorrow” with “the man who is coming tomorrow.” The subject of the verb in both cases is “who,” yet it changes depending on whether its antecedent is plural or singular.

If our original poster had written or “one of those assholes uses,” then we could talk about whether the verb must agree with “one” or “assholes.”

But instead he wrote “one of those assholes who uses.” That “who” changes everything because it’s the only possible subject of the verb. Again, “who” can be singular or plural, depending entirely on its antecedent. Our original sentence was about “assholes who use.” “Who” is plural because “assholes” is plural.

So the poster should have written “I’m one of those proper-grammar assholes who use ‘literally’ correctly,” not “uses.”

A Pivotal Moment in the History of Lexicography?
Posted by June on July 13, 2015
LABELS:

 

I stumbled across an interesting old Los Angeles Times article about the state of dictionary publishing. The 1993 piece describes a new direction taken by the dictionary publishers: massive publicity campaigns, some to the tune of $2.5 million. (Who knew any books ever sold enough to recoup that kind of spending blitz?)

The article seems to mark an important moment in the language: a time when lexicographers were forced to think of things other than lexicography: namely, attention-getting. Nothing’s wrong with that, of course, as long as it’s not tainting the lexicography itself. But more recent developments suggest it could be.

Take, for example, the recent addition in Merriam-Webster’s of the word “youthquake.” That’s a great entry for UrbanDictionary or any other source that compiles new coinages and of-the moment slang. But that’s not a real dictionary’s job. Folks who write dictionaries are supposed to follow a procedure built on unbiased scholarship to determine whether a word has gained enough acceptance in the language to warrant entry in the dictionary. I don’t know about you, but I don’t hear people using "youthquake" enough to suggest it’s a legit addition to the language.

What I do see are CNN headlines announcing wacky new words added to dictionaries -- announcements that, no doubt, started with press releases issued by the dictionary publishers.

I’m about as accepting of language change as a person can be. If the dictionary tells me that one of the most vulgar or upsetting words in the English language can now be used to mean “hat,” I’ll accept it, provided it's based on untainted research.  But if it looks like someone fudged the research a bit just so he could put out an attention-grabbing press release, that’s a problem. It means that something we long took for granted -- pure lexicography, an honest, scholarly snapshot of the language and how it changes -- is in danger.

 

Hopefully
Posted by June on July 6, 2015
LABELS: ,

 

There are still a lot of people holding on to an old superstition about “hopefully.” Here’s how it goes: “Hopefully,” they say, means “in a hopeful manner.” So it should only be used to describe actions done in this manner.

Emma hopefully mailed out ten resumes.

Hopefully, John dialed Marcia’s number.

Therefore, the idea goes, it can’t be used as a sentence adverb to mean “I hope” or “It is to be hoped that.”

Hopefully, it will rain tomorrow, in this view, is nonsense because rain can’t fall in a hopeful manner.

If this seems ridiculous, that’s because it is. The so-called correct use -- Emma hopefully mailed out ten resumes -- is almost nonexistent. By far the most common way it’s used is as a sentence adverb to mean “I hope” or the like. And yes, common use counts. Remember: that’s where correctness comes from in the first place.

But even if you don’t like that idea, there’s a better reason you can use hopefully to mean “I hope”: The dictionary. Look up "hopefully" in just about any dictionary, modern or old, and you'll see that one of its definitions is "it is to be hoped that."