Sunday, August 17, 2008

Never end a sentence with one

Today, Granny's topic is prepositions and the pronouns that follow them.

Prepositions are words that show relationships in time, space, or position. They include words such as after, against, until, before, over, under, beside, by, between, below, beyond, near, and many others.

A good grammar book will have lists and lists of prepositions, but these few examples give you the idea. The ones you'll deal with most commonly are with, to, of, and for.

If you have used a preposition and a pronoun follows it, that pronoun must an objective pronoun--me, you, him, her, us, them. And if there are two objects, they must both be objective. Don't make one objective and the other subjective (the subjective pronouns are I, you, he, she, we, they).

Here are examples of sentences with prepositional objects, which is what these pronouns are called.

Do you want to come with him and me?

Is it possible for you and him to meet with Barry next week?

The photographer snapped an embarrasing shot of her and John.

The invitation came only to him and Julie.

Because so many people misuse prepositional objects, speaking or writing correctly may feel awkward at first. Once you do it right a few times, however, you'll be more comfortable--and your grammar will be beyond reproach.

Now you try to choose the right one.

Just between you and (I/me), Henry's a bore.

As I said to (he/him) and Frank, Jake needs to be part of the task force.

She seems to feel that the rest of the staff is against (her/she) and Bill.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

All about myself

Granny's tip of the day: Don't say myself if you mean me or I. Me is a perfectly good and acceptable word. I think myself is misused so often because as people are speaking, they become uncertain about whether the word they want to use is me or I. They retreat into myself because they think that's correct in every circumstance.

It isn't. In fact, in most cases it's wrong, and if you overuse it, you can sound stuffy and pretentious as well as stupid.

Let's straighten it out. Myself can be used under two circumstances:

To intensify a point about yourself. In this case, myself is called an intensive pronoun, and it usually follows the I immediately:

I myself believe that the boss is lying.

To refer to the subject of the sentence. In this case, myself is a reflexive pronoun and usually follows the verb:

I hurt myself professionally when I said I thought the boss was a liar.

That's pretty much it.

Here's a simple rule: If there's no I in the sentence, there shouldn't be a myself either. And if you mean me, say me. And you always mean me after prepositions such as to, for, between, beside, below, under, over, and many more.

Now you try. Which sentences below are correct? (If you need a refresher on the pronouns, go to Granny's previous post.)

Please send the report to Jasper and myself.

Elisa and myself will take reservations for the company picnic.

When you spoke to Jean and myself about it, you never mentioned the deadline.

My family and myself will be trekking in Nepal next month.

This is a great honor for the department and myself.

If you said they're all incorrect, go to the head of Granny's class. The correct answers are me, I, me, I, me. (As Granny's little grandson would say, "Look, it's a pattern!")

The pronouns I and me are usually sufficient for any occasion. Say them boldly.

Friday, August 1, 2008

The I's don't necessarily have it

Granny's topic for today is the pronouns I and me, because they seem to be a source of great confusion.

I was at a meeting yesterday and two of the people who participated made bad choices when it came to these pronouns. One said, " ... let Sharon or I know," and the second said, "If you are scheduling appointments for Jan, Lisa or I ... ."

Both those folks were just plain wrong. I could explain why by getting into a big discussion of objective and subjective pronouns or I can give you a quick and easy way to say it right without worrying about the grammar. Hmmm. I think I'll choose the second. Here's goes.

If you were asking someone to notify you about something, would you say, "Let I know"? If you would, you're beyond my ability to help. However, my guess is you'd say, "Let me know." And you'd be right.

Just because you add another person to the list of those who should be notified doesn't mean you change the pronoun. "Let Sharon or me know" is correct. If you wouldn't say it in the singular, don't say it in the plural.

It's the same with the second example. Would you say, "If you're scheduling appointments for I"? I doubt it. So, if you wouldn't say it in the singular, don't alter the pronoun just because appointments are being scheduled for more than one person.

The trick to knowing which to use is to take everyone else out of the sentence. When the only person left is you, then you make the decision whether to use I or me.

Give it a try. You'll see that it works.

Please bring a copy of the report for Jean, Harry,and I/me.

Please speak to Phil or I/me before you leave for the meeting.

When the meeting's over, please tell Bill and I/me what the committee decided.

See? It's foolproof. You're welcome.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Let's bury this one

I've written about the difference between inter and intern before, but this morning I received an obituary that mentioned where the deceased's ashes would be "interned."

Nope. To inter is to bury. To intern is to confine someone to a specific location, such as a camp, usually during a time of war. So an interment is a burial and an internment is a type of imprisonment.

While I suppose we could argue that someone who's dead is imprisoned in an urn, let's not.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Welcome to my bailiwick

Hello, everyone, and welcome to my new blog.

I'm your grammar granny--the source you come to when you have a question about how to use English properly. I promise not to use a boatload of grammar terms unless the terms are necessary to make a point. As simply and clearly as I can, I'll try to help you straighten out some of the common mistakes people make as they grapple with the subtleties, nuances, and just plain craziness of the English language.

You should always consult a granny if you're confused about English, because we're the last generation of students whose high school teachers taught them how to write properly. When I was in high school, English papers received two grades--one for the content and one for the way that content was expressed. And in my senior year, the term project that was required for graduation was graded by two teachers, one of whom was always an English teacher. Grammar and usage were drilled into our heads every day. We were taught that how we wrote was important, not only in English class, but also in every other subject across the entire curriculum.

By the time my children reached school age, English instruction didn't include diagramming sentences or learning the parts of speech. Those activities--which are very useful for understanding how English sentences and paragraphs are constructed--were deemed irrelevant. Students wrote in journals that no one else ever saw, and they learned about "the writing process," the final product of which was often nearly unreadable. Don't get me wrong. The writing process is important, but if grammar and usage skills are weak, a perfect process still may produce a substandard piece of work.

The degradation of English has continued, and much of the writing I see from teachers, professionals such as doctors and lawyers, PR representatives, communications specialists, business people, and journalists shows a surprising lack of knowledge about basic English usage. It's sad, because reading and writing are still the skills most essential for success, even in the time of text messaging and e-mail. You need to find the answers somewhere, and that's the reason for this blog.

So let's begin with a common mistake: the difference between imply and infer. This is an easy one, although I hear many people mangle the two words.

Here's the rule: A speaker implies. A listener infers. If you're speaking, you imply something. It's up to your listeners to infer what you meant.

For example:

John implied (as he spoke about the incident) that Rick had had cheated on the English exam.

From what John said (as I listened ), I inferred that Rick was guilty as sin.

If you have questions that continually trip you up, send them as a comment, and I'll be happy to tackle them for you.