Tag Archives: English grammar

Than I or Than Me?

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©Judi Birnberg

Which do you prefer? Elmer loves golf more than I  or  Elmer loves golf more than me?

It used to be, not so long ago, that than was considered a preposition, and prepositions are followed by object pronouns (me, him, her, us, them). But than can also be considered a conjunction, which would need to be followed by subject pronouns (I, he she, we, they).

Times, they are a-changin’. Today, it’s generally acceptable to follow than by either a subject or an object pronoun, whichever one sounds better to you. This is progress! One problem with using the subject pronoun, however, is that your sentence is likely to be seen as stilted, pompous, or stuffy, somewhat la de dah. What you are saying in the first example in the first line is that Elmer loves golf more than I do. When you add those clarifying words, the stuffiness disappears. If you prefer using the object pronoun, you may have to also add clarifying words: Elmer loves golf more than he loves me.

A side note: Than and then may sound very similar, but they have very different meanings:

Than is used to compare things: more than, less than, taller than, stronger than, closer than….

Then shows relationships in which one thing follows another or results from it: Sam came home from school famished; he then emptied the refrigerator for his afternoon snack.

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Conjunction Junction

 

 

What’s your function? Remember that song from “Schoolhouse Rock” back in the Dark Ages? If you can’t remember the words, I’ll tell you what a conjunction’s function is: It joins. It creates a junction when words, or sentences, or clauses, or phrases meet.

The most common conjunctions are AND and BUT. In addition, you can use OR or NOR, YET, or SO. These are all the garden variety, but some other day I’ll torture you with coordinating, subordinating, and correlative conjunctions.

I’m willing to bet that an English teacher once told you never to begin a sentence with a conjunction. I’ll also bet you were never given a reason for that “rule”— because there isn’t one. You can start a sentence with any word in the English language. And if anyone challenges you, blame me.

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Prepositions

First of all, feel free to end a sentence with a preposition, despite what your 7th grade English teacher may have told you. If you don’t, certain sentences may sound very strange or overly formal: With whom are you going to the prom?  Go ahead and ask who your friend is going to the prom with.

When I taught English as a second language, it soon became apparent that prepositions were the most difficult part of speech for my immigrant students to use correctly, no matter their native language. Do you stand in line or on line? Are you bored of a movie or bored by it? No rule exists to tell you which preposition is correct; most times you just have to memorize them in the situations in which they belong — or for the situations they belong in. (I just ended another sentence with a preposition.)

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One Newspaper, One Short Sentence, Two Errors

My Florida friend Cami found this confusing sentence in the Miami Herald. (She notes that Opa-Locka is a section of the Miami area): “A homeless family of six was found by Opa-Locka police officers living in their car.”

No doubt, this is a tragic situation. But from a grammatical standpoint, the sentence raises two questions: were the officers living in the same car with the family of six, or were the officers living in their separate car? It’s hard to tell because of the use of the pronoun their in the phrase living in their car. Their could refer to either the family or the police. Make sure you can clearly draw a mental arrow from your pronouns to their antecedents (the word or words they refer to).

It’s easy to fix this sentence. The rule with modifiers (words that give more information) is to place them right next to the word or words they are modifying. A clear version of this sentence would be, “A homeless family of six living in their car was found by Opa-Locka police officers.”

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Cats and Commas

From my friend Pat in New Jersey. How I love this!

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Tearing My Hair Out

I’ve got a lot of hair, but at the rate I keep hearing a particular verbal atrocity, I may be bald by the weekend. My friend Cami in Miami heard this from the mouth of a supposedly literate and sophisticated lecturer and reacted as badly as I do when I hear it. I’m just surprised I haven’t written about this before.

Here goes: DO NOT SAY, “My wife (or anyone else) and I’s (fill in noun).”  “My friend and I’s lunch date had to be canceled.” 

No such possessive “word” as “I’s” exists. I think this problem arises because so many people think I is a classier pronoun than me or my. It’s not. If you need a subject pronoun, use I.  For an object pronoun, it’s going to be me or my. My wife’s and my apartment was painted last week. My friend’s and my lunch date had to be canceled.

The good news is that I have never seen anyone write this horror. You can use the search box on my blog to get more info about “I vs. me.”

 

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And the Prize for the Longest (Unintelligible) Sentence Goes To…

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I don’t have to tell you who spoke the long chunk of words below. The passage is full of fragments, stream of consciousness musings, and run-on sentences. What is a run-on sentence? Not every long sentence constitutes a run-on. You could join countless sentences together with ands and buts and subordinate clauses; it would be torture to read or listen to, but it wouldn’t be a run-on.

A run-on is when you join two or more intact sentences (subject, verb, complete thought) with either (1) commas, sometimes called a comma splice, or (2) no punctuation between them, sometimes called a fused sentence:

(1) You love dogs, some people adore hamsters.   (2) You love dogs some people adore hamsters.

You can fix these sentences by making them separate sentences with end punctuation. Or you can add a conjunction after the comma. You can also separate them with a semicolon.

I’m thinking it might be beneficial to have people pass a literacy test before running for president.

Look, having nuclear—my uncle was a great professor and scientist and engineer, Dr. John Trump at MIT; good genes, very good genes, OK, very smart, the Wharton School of Finance, very good, very smart—you know, if you’re a conservative Republican, if I were a liberal, if, like, OK, if I ran as a liberal Democrat, they would say I’m one of the smartest people anywhere in the world—it’s true!—but when you’re a conservative Republican they try—oh, do they do a number—that’s why I always start off: Went to Wharton, was a good student, went there, went there, did this, built a fortune—you know I have to give my like credentials all the time, because we’re a little disadvantaged—but you look at the nuclear deal, the thing that really bothers me—it would have been so easy, and it’s not as important as these lives are (nuclear is powerful; my uncle explained that to me many, many years ago, the power and that was 35 years ago; he would explain the power of what’s going to happen and he was right—who would have thought?), but when you look at what’s going on with the four prisoners—now it used to be three, now it’s four—but when it was three and even now, I would have said it’s all in the messenger, fellas, and it is fellas because, you know, they don’t, they haven’t figured that the women are smarter right now than the men, so, you know, it’s gonna take them about another 150 years—but the Persians are great negotiators, the Iranians are great negotiators, so, and they, they just killed, they just killed us.

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