Tag Archives: grammar

Google Game: Difference

Intelligent queries? Vital curiosity? I could weep.

I could also really go for some sweet potato fries. Or yam fries. Whatever. I don’t know the difference, either. Just put them in my face.

For the record, some answers I can pull off the top of my head:

Affect = verb
Effect = noun

Universities have graduate programs. (feel free to fact check me on that one)

LCD = liquid crystal display (think flat screens that cost less than plasmas)
LED = light emitting diode (efficient light sources)

Then = sequence
Than = comparison

Psychiatrists have MDs.

Yams and sweet potatoes are delicious.

House = Representatives by district
Senate = Two senators from each state

I could get deeper into the political minutiae, but really, what’s the difference?

It’s Not I, It’s Me

Hand I that book, won't you?

Nothing makes you sound stupider than trying too hard to sound smart. (OK, maybe not nothing, but allow me my indignation.) This is why it pains me every time I hear someone use “I” when he should say “me” and “whom” when it ought to be “who.” I can forgive innocent misuse in the kinds of complex grammatical scenarios that call for the I/me and who/m determinations. But there are too often instances when it’s clear the speaker is trying to prove intelligence by opting for the smarter-sounding choice, and  it veritably reeks of desperation.

You don’t want to be this person. And I don’t want you to be, either, which is why I’ve provided this handy guide for when to whom and whether to I.

The two pairs are fairly analogous, and their use can be guided by the same simple principle. You use “I” and “who” like he, she, they, we, and you use “me” and “whom” like him, her, them and us. The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage describes it rather succinctly:

Use who in the sense of he, she or they: Pat L. Milori, who was appointed to fill the vacancy, resigned. (He or she was appointed.) Use whom in the sense of him, her or them: Pat L. Milori, whom the board recommended, finally got the job. (The board recommended him or her.) The same test applies to whoever and whomever: Whoever wins will collect $64. (He or she wins.) Whomever you ask will provide directions. (You ask her or him.)

The idea, if you want to get into the whys, is that of subject versus object. In grammar a subject does things, an object has things done to it. Read on for a detailed explanation.

Continue reading

Fun with Grammar, a Lesson in What Not to Do (When Breaking up, or Pretty Much Ever)

I’d like to draw your attention today to Breakup Letter, Dramatic Reading, which features, as you may have guessed, a dramatic reading of a breakup letter (below), originally posted on Craigslist. It may be familiar to many of you. If you haven’t been to the site you must go. If you have, it’s time to go back. Brought to us by the gents behind You’re the Man Now, Dog (ytmnd.com), this gem in the crown of Internet forwards is more than a hilarious three-minute diversion. It’s an allegory of a world without grammar lessons. A cold, dark place where there’s never time to pause for breath and everyone sounds like a foreigner on uppers.

The link takes you straight to the audio of the reading, so if you’re at work, pop in them headphones:


Please, if you ever have a moment when you’re wondering why it matters where that comma goes, just think of this letter… and of the children.

Syntax and Digital Semi-Cinema

F the message and heed the awesome power of word order. Syntax rules.

[via Primordial Ooze]

Google Game: Less is Fewer (Going Farther to Further Your Edification)

This week, I’ll use the Google Game as an excuse to provide yet another mini-grammar lesson. Today’s class: Less than versus Fewer than.

Searching Google for “less than” brings you ska bands, 80s novels and some obscure Andy Dick sitcom. But search for “fewer than,” less-than’s bookish cousin, and you get queries clearly demonstrating that no one else knows how/when they’re supposed to use “fewer” either.

The basic rule is: If you can count it, use fewer; if you can’t, less. Example:

There are fewer jelly beans in this jar than that jar.
I have less interest in how many jelly beans there are than in how to get them into my face.

The can-you-count-it rule can occasionally returns different results for seemingly the same subject. EG Time. I have less time to do this than I need. (The object, time, is indefinite.) I spent fewer hours on the project than I thought I’d need. (You thought you needed a certain — definite — number of hours, you used fewer than that.) Also consider something like sand: There’s less sand in a minute timer than a 3-minute timer. VS I counted the grains of sand in each timer, there are indeed fewer in the minute one.

Similar questions might arise when determining whether to use “farther” or “further.” According to Webster’s:

Farther and further have been used more or less interchangeably throughout most of their history, but currently they are showing signs of diverging…. A polarizing process appears to be taking place in their adjective use. Farther is taking over the meaning of distance <the farther shore> and further the meaning of addition <needed no further invitation>.

Imagine: physical distance = farther. (Get it? Far?)

But that’s if you’re keen to keep up with current linguistic trends. Webster’s says it’s historically kosher to use further and farther interchangeably when distance is involved, whether that distance is literal (It’s fa/urther from the subway), or metaphorical (He has fa/urther to go before he’ll be ready). But when there’s no notion of distance, further is always your man: This matter needs to be further explored; Further, you have more studying to do.

Got any questions of your own about esoteric adjectives and adverbs? Feel free to send me your queries and I’ll Google the answers for you.

Edit or Get off the Pot [UPDATED]

Attention students: the editing bug is going around. Thanks to Kim for sending this shot taken of a sign in a ladies’ room at Downstate Medical School.


The play by play as I see it:

photo annotatedA for effort, girls. The first step toward proper grammar is acknowledging that you have a problem. If med students in the middle of exams have time to think about usage — while on the potty, to boot! — maybe there’s hope for the rest of us.

Update: September 29. The battle rages on….

photo(2) annotated
This could get ugly.