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.