Case part four

rogersgeorge on November 30th, 2011

Last time I wrote that objective case is for direct objects and other things. Today we’ll look at one of those other things. Think of the objective case as appropriate for anything that’s not a subject and not possessive.

That means you use the objective case with prepositions, and that’s where many people mess up. And it’s your teacher’s fault! Remember you used to say, “Me and Tom are gonna go play in the park.” Your teacher would pounce on you, saying, “Tom and I are going to the park.” And you would endanger your life by saying “Oh! Do you wanna come to?”

I couldn't find a comic that had to do with the objective case, but Loose Parts is a good comic.

We humans are pattern recognizers, and that pattern of putting someone or something else ahead of “I” became imprinted in our minds, so we used it all the time, even after prepositions. This produced sentences like ” The company finances were worked out between the company president and I.”

Sorry—”between” is a preposition. So are a large number of other words. Google “preposition” if you have any doubt what they are. (By the way, “like” is a preposition. The book title Black Like Me is correct.) After a preposition use me, us, him, her, or them. English doesn’t have a separate form for “you” except in the joke, when you act all high-falooting and say, “Whom are youm?” (To which you would get the  reply, “I am me-em.”)

We don’t get it wrong when the pronoun is alone, so a good way to check if you have a sentence correct is to leave out the other person. Suppose your English teacher scolded you and Tom for getting your pronouns wrong. You would not say “He really gave it to I,” you’d say “He gave it to me.” So you know the sentence should be “He gave it to Tom and me.”

I mentioned in the first post about case that the only reason to mention the other guy first is that it’s more polite. If you name yourself first, though, you will use the correct case. It’s easy to say, “He really gave it to me and Tom for not being humble.” That isn’t humble, though, so don’t do it.

That’s it for grammatical case for a while. Fill out the form on the right for some more pointers on how to write well.

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What may you end a sentence with?

rogersgeorge on November 2nd, 2011

(I use “may” in the sense of “permission,” not as a weak version of “might.”)

We all have heard the prohibition: “Never end a sentence with a preposition.”Recently someone commented twice on this blog, both times on the subject of sentence-ending prepositions. I get too few comments to satisfy my narcissistic nature, and this person was kind and alert enough to comment more than once, so I feel the subject merits a fuller discussion. I hope he sees this post. (I think it’s a “he.” The reader uses a pseudonym.)

First, a bit of history. This proscription seems to have descended from English teachers who loved Latin too much. The same folks who said you shouldn’t split an infinitive (to boldly go, for example), which is verboten in Latin. I confess I’ve never studied Latin (Greek and German, yes), but I take it you mustn’t ever end a Latin sentence with a preposition. English belongs to the Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family, and terminal prepositions are fine in German. They are called separable verbs. See the fourth point, below.

Second, a bit of apocrypha. A young aide is said to have corrected Sir Winston Churchill for ending a sentence with a preposition. Sir Winston is said to have replied, “Impertinence, young man, is something up with which I will not put.”

Winnie staring down an aide

Third, a bit of style. A sentence with one o’ them there preposition thingies at the tail end is more casual than a sentence constructed using something such as “with which” or “for whom.” I shall add that formality has its place; but see the rule at the end.

Finally, a bit of grammar. Those prepositions at the end of sentences are used as adverbs. When you see a sentence with a preposition at the end, the preposition goes with the verb; it doesn’t have the feel of missing an object. Take a look at the title of this post. “With” is telling you how.

My conclusion, the rule: Write whatever flows the most smoothly, what your reader will absorb with the least effort and with the least likelihood of misunderstanding. Write so your reader thinks about the content, not the writing.

My thanks again to the person who stimulated this post. If you comment, you might give me something to post about.