Tag Archives: usage rules

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.

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The Punisher

serena-williams-yelling

In a pun-soaked teaser to an update on the Serena Williams debacle from over the weekend, CNN’s Kyra Phillips just said:

Tennis superstar shows contempt of court. Now Serena Williams is going to have to pay for her verbal volley. Was she over the line?

I know how tempting it can be. I could pun the pants right off ya. But really, show a little restraint.

Maybe this would be a good time to review some basic writing rules. This list, in various forms, has made the writer rounds for years; certainly any journalist has been read the liturgy once or twice. Here’s a good version of it:

1.       Verbs has to agree with their subjects.

2.       Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.

3.       And don’t start a sentence with a conjunction.

4.       It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.

5.       Avoid clichés like the plague. (They’re old hat)

6.       Also, always avoid annoying alliteration.

7.       Be more or less specific.

8.       Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are (usually) unnecessary.

9.       No sentence fragments.

10.     Contractions aren’t necessary and shouldn’t be used.

11.     One should never generalise.

12.     Don’t use no double negatives.

13.     Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.

14.     Eliminate commas, that are, not necessary.

15.     Never use a big word when a diminutive one would suffice.

16.     Kill all exclamation marks!!!

17.     Use words correctly, irregardless of how others use them.

18.     Use the apostrophe in it’s proper place and omit it when its not needed.

19.     Puns are for children, not for groan people.

20.     Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.

Note, the Unhappy Mediator is a dedicated subscriber to usage rules — but also believes that (pardon the cliche (pardon the cliche)) rules are made to be broken. That is, when I’m doing the breaking.