Hey folks. Remember those days in school when you were forced to diagram sentences? Remember how painfully confusing the process was? Remember thinking, why on earth do I have to learn this junk?
Me neither. Why? Cuz I am a grammarian (I know someone’s cringing at my poor usage). I actually prefer to call myself a Linguist, but a grammarian I am. I love words. And since I love to read books, learning grammar came easy to me. I’ve always believed that my good grasp of grammar (like that alliteration there?) is in part the result of long hours reading great literature.
My pal Marcia, I’m sure, would agree that reading helps grammar. Marcia has written a book I’m excited to share with you called Word Up! How to Write Powerful Sentences and Paragraphs (And Everything You Build from Them). I know the title is long, but don’t be afraid. Or rather, fear not (inside joke you’ll get if you read the chapter on Be Verbs). Marcia’s book is the grammar book your high school English teacher should have used when teaching. Marcia’s chapters make very clear the hows, whys, and whuts? of writing. The questions you’ve most often wanted answered are contained within the book. And the great news? The answers are in English (hahaha!) meaning the answers are easy to understand; Marcia writes for the flustered everyday person who doesn’t care about diagramming.
Have you ever wondered about when to use a certain pronoun? Marcia covers this topic brilliantly in her chapter: Her and I: How to Banish Painful Personal-Pronoun Pairings. As an aside, these mistakes make my blood boil. Let me give you an example of Marica’s brilliance (my comments are in parentheses):
My father is living with my wife and I.
A businessman sent this statement out to thousands of readers. Does the I hurt your ears? If it doesn’t–if the I sounds right to you, or if it sounds funny but you aren’t sure why, or if you never know whether to say I or me but you favor I because you’ve heard lots of otherwise well informed people talk that way–you’re not alone. Pronoun misuse saturates American parlance. (that’s a fancy word for the way we speak)
The trouble arises in sentences that involve two parties. No one would say, “My father is living with I.” What trips people up is the and. So get rid of it, if only for a moment. Cover the and with your mind’s hand before you speak or write (and split the sentence into two sentences).
Him/He and me/I went fishing this morning.
Cover up the and. Look at each pronoun by itself:
Him/He went fishing this morning.
Me/I went fishing this morning.
No problem. No one would say Him went fishing or Me went fishing…If it’s He went fishing and I went fishing, then its He and I went fishing. (ta da!)
I’m pretty sure Marcia is my soulmate. See how easy she made the above answer sound??
As a grammarian, linguist, reader, and editor, I often cringe at poor grammar. To be sure, we all make mistakes, but I long for the days when people wrote letters full of poetic prose and correct grammar. If you’re like me, you’ll understand. I silently correct others grammar as they speak. I mentally correct signs, pamphlets, and websites constantly. As a freelance editor, I weep because sometimes poor grammar or sentence structure can take a good story idea and turn it to mush. If you feel the same way, look at this statement here that I copied from a church sign:
To whom are you neighbor?
Is that statement correct or not? Check out the chapter Whom Ya Gonna Call? to discover the answer…
You can find more information about Marcia at her website: How To Write Everything. She’s also on Twitter @MarciaRJohnston
What are you waiting for? For what are you waiting? Read the book to find out which sentence is correct!