Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Is It Time to Wave the White Flag for the Objective Case?

There are, of course, many sayings related to wars, including "waving the white flag" and "picking your battles." I've been writing for some time about the demise of the objective case, especially after prepositions. Now I see even English professors writing sentences that include the phrase "for John and I."

Have I chosen the wrong battle? Is it time for me to wave the white flag and accept that the language has changed to the point that it's a waste of time for me to point out that because you wouldn't say "This happened to I," you shouldn't say "This happened to John and I"? Am I fighting a losing battle here? I'm beginning to think I am.

However, on a personal front, I will never surrender. That is to say (between you and me) that I will continue to use the objective case following prepositions, including the preposition "between." The war may be lost, but I will continue to fight.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Why You Shouldn’t Graduate High School

It’s the middle of June and we’re nearing the end of graduation schedules. That means that quite a few young people will have graduated from high school recently and many other people will have graduated from college or graduate school.

So this is a good time for me to point out that people graduate from institutions. Unfortunately, I frequently hear sentences such as “He graduated high school last week,” and I invariably cringe when I hear that.

The problem with saying “He graduated high school last week” is that you’re changing “graduate” from an intransitive verb to a transitive verb. What does that mean? Basically, you’re saying that the new graduate performed an action on the institution. Remember, institutions graduate students. Students do not graduate institutions.

Does it matter if you say “He graduated high school last week”? Perhaps not, depending on your audience. If your friends always say, “He graduated high school,” you’ll no doubt do the same. However, you should be aware that this usage is considered nonstandard, and in job interviews or other conversations that might have an influence on your future, please say “I graduated from college” rather than “I graduated college” (assuming you actually did, of course).

Monday, February 7, 2011

Apostrophes and What They're Not Supposed to Do

I admit to being puzzled by people's confusion about the role of apostrophes. I'll also admit that the apostrophe is quite capable of carrying a large load. Their primary role, however, is indicating possession, either singular or plural.

What amazes me is the tendency of some people, even those who have ambitions to be professional writers, to use an apostrophe incorrectly to indicate plurals. I've seen sentences such as "The boy's and the girl's were studying together." Is this mistake caused by ignorance or carelessness?

I've seen the error often enough to suspect that some people really do confuse plurals and possessives. When they see phrases such as "the boy's backpack," they see nothing wrong with writing "the boy's are back."

I sincerely hope this error is not one that becomes commonplace.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Ranting about Errors

I often worry that my writing about grammar comes across as a rant, but sometimes, only a rant seems appropriate. Thus, today's topic will cover errors I've commented on in the past.

Lose vs. Loose
In a recent publication produced by professional writers, I came across a subhead that read "Use It or Loose It." Please, people! How hard is it to remember that "loose" rhymes with "goose"? So let's lose this habit of confusing "lose" and "loose" please.

Possessives vs. Plurals
In a recent communication from a major university, the word "people's" was used when the writer obviously was talking about multiple individuals as opposed to people who were in possession of something. Misuse of apostrophes is so common these days that I've almost stopped cringing when I come across this type of error. Almost.

On the Predominance of "I"
I've written and ranted before about this burgeoning tendency of people to inappropriately use the word "I", but perhaps the most egregious example of this error was mentioned in a recent Q&A column from The Chicago Manual of Style. A reader had reported receiving a note in which the correspondent had written "Thank you for coming to John and I's wedding." For me, this usage trumps the old expression about fingernails on a chalkboard. If I were a violent person, I'd want to find the "I" who wrote that note and scream in "I's" face, "Does that usage actually sound correct to you? What would have been so bad about saying John's and my wedding?"

Okay, I'm calming down now. No need to run for cover. And I'm shutting up now. At least until the next time I'm inclined to rant. Thanks for listening.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

I vs. Me: Don’t Overcorrect Yourself

I recently had the opportunity to present a program for a local writers’ group on “Grammar and Usage for the Modern Writer.” While my main point was that writers must be aware of the changes taking place in our language, I couldn’t resist discussing some of the changes that bother me the most. Many of the writers shared my feelings.

One of the misuses that grates on my nerves if the very common practice of speakers using the word “I” when they should say “me.” I hear television anchors and reporters, politicians, and many educated people making this mistake over and over.

For example, it is not uncommon to hear sentences such as “John invited Sharon and I to go to the movies with Marsha and he.” We’ve heard this type of usage so often, it’s almost beginning to sound better than the correct version: “John invited Sharon and me to go to the movies with Marsha and him.”

It’s easy enough to determine which sentence is correct if you stop and think about how you would word that sentence if you dropped the proper names. Would you say, “John invited I to go with he”? I suspect not.

Even some of my favorite best-selling authors have books in print with this type of error in them. Although I’ll continue to read those authors, I somehow have a bit less respect for them and for their editors.

After all, while it’s not always possible to stop and work out the correct wording before you speak, it certainly is possible to do so when you’ve written something down.

So if possible, think before you speak, and most certainly, proofread after you’ve written.

Friday, January 22, 2010

I hope "hopefully" isn't a problem for you.

Are you one of those purists who hates hearing someone use a sentence such as “Hopefully the rain has stopped.”


Good, because as changes in the English language go, this one appears here to stay.

Many of us have been corrected by someone at some point for saying “Hopefully he’ll be here soon” instead of “Let us hope he will be here soon."

The person doing the correcting probably pointed out that the word hopefully is an adverb and should only be used to mean in a hopeful manner, as in ”Are you leaving soon?“ she asked hopefully.

Fortunately, most grammarians now agree that hopefully has joined other introductory words such as fortunately, sadly, happily, frankly, words that we use to describe the statement that follows.

And frankly, my dear, I’m thrilled that we now accept hopefully to mean...well, hopefully.

Does that make sense?


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Lead, or get the lead out

First, I apologize for the title of this blog. I just couldn't resist.

The thing is, lots of people get confused about the word lead in its different pronunciations and meanings.

First let's review.
Lead (pronounced leed) often is a verb, present tense, as in Lead us out of the maze.
Lead (pronounced leed) can be a noun, as in, Take the lead since you know the route.
Led (pronounced led) will be a verb, past tense, as in I led them out of the maze last night.
Lead (pronouced led) can be a noun referring to a heavy metal, as in That table is as heavy as lead.

Most errors I've seen result from people thinking the past tense led should be spelled lead.

Or they know the difference but just don't realize they've typed the wrong word.

In any case, a quick review of one's writing will help avoid this error.