Friday, January 13, 2017

Quick Fix for Grammar Challenges

I’ll be the first to admit that there are certain things about English grammar which defeat me. I have a tough time with “who” and “whom”. Whichever one I settle on, it ends up feeling wrong.

But some of the other questionable choices in English usage have shortcuts and easy fixes – quick tests to tell you which form is right. I learned these in my high school English classes from some very practical teachers, and I’ve been thanking those lovely ladies (and one gentleman) ever since.

Here’s one that hangs up a lot of writers.

Wade is making Jane and I go to the store.  Or wait -- should it be Jane and me?

The test for whether to use I or me (or he or him, she or her, or they or them) is to read the sentence without the other half of the compound. When you leave Jane out of it and read the sentence, it becomes Wade is making I go to the store.

Obviously you wouldn’t say that; you’d say Wade is making me go to the store. – so it’s immediately clear that in this usage it should be Jane and me.

It’s an easy-peasy test that works in almost all confusing compounds. 

Joe and me are going to play golf. (Me is going to play golf? No. – so it’s Joe and I.)

Sara and him are getting married. (Him is getting married? No – so it’s Sara and he.)

A very similar test means that you’ll never again have to fret about whether to use its or it’s.

The confusion with its / it’s arises because teachers have drummed into us that we form possessives by adding an apostrophe and S. But its is already a possessive (so are his, hers, theirs, ours...) Pronouns, since they have a possessive form, are an exception to the apostrophe-S rule. 

It’s means it is. Always. So when you’re confused about whether to put in an apostrophe,  read the sentence with it is and see if it makes sense.

It’s a far, far better thing I do... (It is a far, far better thing... Apostrophe needed.)

It’s time to go to work. (It is time... Apostrophe needed.)

The power surge made the hard drive blow its brains out. (Blow it is brains? Nope – no apostrophe needed.)

Meanwhile, if anybody has a quick and dirty, foolproof test for who / whom, I’d love to hear it!

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