Monday, July 6, 2009


It should be fairly elementary in most cases to get it right concerning "I," "me," "he," "him," "she," "her," "they," and "them." Weren't we always taught to use the one that would sound right if the partner word were left out? Example: "Heather and I are going to the grocery." "I am going to the grocery." Ok, that was too easy. How about, "Jay is going to the grocery with Heather and me"? The test: "Jay is going to the grocery with me."

Now let's look at some slightly more difficult situations. "I don't know who is going," but, "I don't know whom he is going with" (or "I don't know with whom he is going). Reduce such situations to the clauses that the pronouns are immediately parts of. ". . . Who is going," but, ". . . with whom he is going." If you're not much into "whom," substitute, say, "him" for "whom" and "he" for "who." Thus "I don't know whom she killed" can be analyzed, ". . . she killed him (not he)"; so it's not, "I don't know who she killed." Further, "Whom she killed is lying in the closet." Again "she killed he" is clearly wrong; likewise "who," strictly speaking, is incorrect. Try this one, "Ben is the one who (or whom?) I thought did it." "I thought" is unnecessary or parenthetical; leave it out and test: "Ben is the one who did it." That's right, "I thought he did it," certainly not "I thought him did it."

Most of us know to answer the phone request, "I'd like to speak with Tom," with "This is he." On the other hand, when the police coming looking for Jake, folks usually say, "That's him!" Be consistent. The construction is the same. Say, "That's he!" Oh, yeah, you'll probably shake up the policemen; but, hey, this is a grammar discussion, not a criminology lesson.

Pet Peeve #1

There is a troublesome construction that I happened to notice while I was in high school. Many years later my thoughts on the matter were confirmed and well explained by a local writer in his grammar column. As soon as I hear something to the effect of, "He's one of those men who . . . ," I am prepared for the mistake that mainly for its frequency is my #1 pet peeve. Don't say, "He's one of those men that likes blondes." It should be, "He's one of those men that like blondes." The word "men" tells virtually nothing until it is qualified, that is, explained. In order to qualify a plural, a plural verb must be used: ". . . men that like blondes." Another way to see such a construction clearly is to flip it around: "Of those men that like blondes, he's one." Note the following: "My father is one of the men who are laying bricks." That sentence is essentially the same as, "One of the men who are laying bricks is my father."

Rarely you will run into a situation like this one: "One of those men, who, by the way, is the tallest, is my father." Note how commas separate a parenthetical or unnecessary clause therein. The writer keeps the reader from thinking that all the men are being described by setting off the height information with commas.

Pet Peeve #2

I shall continue to post from time to time, but for now let's look at my #2 pet peeve in grammar. The problem involves a three-letter word--"nor." In my many years I've never learned or seen a reason to use "nor" except for one situation: "Nor" is to be employed with "neither." Period! The end. Case closed. Do not use "nor" with "not," "never," or any negative other than "neither." If you do, you're creating what we used to call one and a half negatives. "Neither . . . nor" we always referred to as correlative conjunctions. Wrong: "I can't read nor write." Correct: "I can't read or write." Also correct: "I can neither read nor write." Wrong: "Never talk during church nor leave the ringer of your cellphone on while you're in the chapel." Substitute "or" for "nor." Does the sentence sound right now? If so, "nor" can't be correct because "nor" and "or" are essentially opposites, ok? Speaking of church, the scriptures use the word "nor" constantly. Let's face it, the scriptures often warn us of what we shouldn't do. There are negatives throughout. "Nor" is strewn out through the chapters, and unfortunately it is repeatedly improperly used. I have seen certain segments that are consistently properly written. Most of the prophets/writers/translators, however, have major trouble with "nor."

Continuing, don't write, "You are not leaving the house while I'm gone, nor do I want you to turn on the television!" Correct: "You are not leaving the house while I'm gone; neither do I want you to turn on the television!" Understand that "neither" means "not either" and may be used alone (without "nor"). Hence, the correct version means, "You are not leaving the house while I'm gone; I do not want you to turn on the television either." That version is exactly what is meant to be conveyed. Again, the incorrect version at the beginning of this paragraph combines "not" and "nor" and thus creates that one and a half negative situation again.

In summary, "nor" does not properly substitute for "neither" but should be used only in conjunction with "neither." If there's no "neither," don't introduce "nor." Further, never substitute "nor" for "or." They're opposites!

Badly Hurt

A common error related to double negatives can be seen in the following: "Kevin was badly hurt in the car accident." If something is done badly, it's not done well. Strictly speaking, the quoted sentence indicates that Kevin was hurt but not effectively or well. Try something like ". . . severely hurt . . . ." Likewise substitute, "extremely upsetting" for "terribly upsetting." Not "horribly scarred," but, for example, "intensely scarred."