Reader Denise Wells Palfy speaks for the lot of us, or at least a lot of us, when she laments the beleaguered state of our discourse—and not just the political kind.
"Aren't the English teachers appalled at the frequent ungrammatical speech?" she wonders. "I would like to hear from them."
She was referring specifically to our frequent pronoun missteps. "In recent years, I have been so very annoyed at the prevalence of people who use them incorrectly, especially 'I.'"
Palfy is not alone.
"I realize that reality TV is not the bastion of good grammar," reader Gigi Lubin recently wrote. "But each time I hear one of the stars use 'John and I's house,' I cringe."
So do we, Gigi. So do English teachers. Inspired by Palfy's note, we reached out to a few. Pronouns came up a lot.
We've beaten that particular horse a lot here at Words Work, so we'll make this quick.
It does bear repeating, though: If you're about to launch into a sentence that includes a couple of pronouns (I, me, she, he, they, him, her—any word that's subbing for a noun, basically) take a moment to consider how the sentence would sound with only one of those pronouns.
Let's say you've won the final rose and the heart of the winsome bachelor. When you appear on "The Bachelor: After the Final Rose" to rub your victory in the faces of the spurned contestants, you should not say, "John and I's house is totally palatial."
• You would never say "John house is totally palatial."
• You would never say "I's house is totally palatial."
• You might say "John's house is totally palatial."
• You also might say "My house is totally palatial."
So. Should you find yourself on national television professing your love to the masses, the proper sentence would be: "John's and my house is totally palatial."
This works for "her and I," "him and me," "them and us" and every other lamentable pronoun variation you can imagine.
• Bad: "Her and I are soulmates." (Because you wouldn't say, "Her is my soulmate.")
• Good: "She and I are soulmates." (Because you would say, "She is my soulmate.")
The second most frequent complaint from our teacher subcommittee? The marriage of "have" and "went." Which is, by all accounts, a terrible pairing.
"I wish I could have went on 'The Bachelor.'" (Ick.) "I should have went to the casting call." (Ugh.) "I have went to casting calls before." (Come on.)
"Went" and "gone" are both past tense forms of the verb "go." But they are not interchangeable. If you want to include a form of "have" in your sentence ("have," "has," "had") switch from "went" to "gone." Please.
"I wish I could have gone …" "I should have gone …" "I have gone …"
One of my favorite college professors, Eastern Illinois University journalism instructor Lola Burnham, weighed in with a laundry list of mistakes she sees popping up most frequently in her students' writing. (Pronoun problems were at the top.) We'll save most for future columns, but we'll close with one that happens to also be a personal pet peeve.
"One that drives me crazy is when they use 'everyday' when what they mean is 'every day,'" Burnham says. "As in, 'We go to the dining hall everyday.' No, you go to the dining hall every day. It's an everyday occurrence for you to go to the dining hall, but you go every day."
(Pause here for dining hall flashbacks.)
"I do occasionally have one or two students in a class who will stubbornly cling to the opinion that none of this matters and that I am only making their lives more difficult by expecting them to care about this," Burnham says. "Those are the days when I go home and have a beer after work.
"Fortunately, I also usually have one or two students in each class who love all of this," she adds. "Those students make me want to go buy a beer for their parents or their high school English teacher or their third-grade reading teacher or whoever it was who opened the way for them to fall in love with the English language."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun