Monday, June 15, 2009

A girl like I

A comment chez one of my Facebook Friends this morning regarding the much simpler '"less" v. "fewer"' issue has prompted this grammar post that I've been meaning to put up for a while now, especially over the last few days when I've been reading for review a self-published novel that has all kinds of charm and interest but that makes this 'I/me' mistake on almost every page, constantly distracting and irritating the reader -- something that could have been avoided if someone had shelled out for five or six hours of a good basic copy-editor's time.

Some will recognise this post's title as a signature phrase of Anita Loos' immortal siren Lorelei Lee from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.* These tales are told by Lorelei herself and Loos puts the phrase in her mouth to signify an attempt to be proper and genteel that, ironically, actually signifies the opposite.

And there's a lot of it about, and so I offer a very simple test to apply when/if one is ever dithering about whether to use 'I' or 'me'. This is a grammatical issue to do with the nominative and accusative cases, but since that sort of discussion makes people's eyes cross, I offer a much easier way to get it right.

Alphonse and I went to the R rated movie.

The R rated movie was very educational for Alphonse and me.

The test is simply to take the other person out of the sentence and see what it looks like then. Would you say 'The R rated movie was very educational for I'? No of course you wouldn't. So if you say 'for Alphonse and I', that's wrong too and for the same reason.


*That Wikipedia entry describes Loos' husband as a 'philandering hypochondriac'. A less attractive and more infuriating combination of spousal qualities can scarcely be imagined.

25 comments:

Deborah said...

Also "its" and "it's."

If you can replace "it's" with "it is," then you have used the apostrophe correctly.

"The cat washed it's face" becomes, "The cat washed it is face."

Hanging apostrophes in general irritate me. A couple of years ago, a local deli was offering "chocolate Easter bunny's" on its blackboard outside the door. I was so annoyed that eventually I bought some chalk and corrected it, much to the embarrassment of my husband who loitered about 10 metres away while I did it, pretending that he didn't know me.

Right, back to marking essays now. Which perhaps explains why I am currently much exercised by apostrophes and the like.

Mindy said...

Another little piece of grammatical knowledge to put away carefully for later use. I'm so glad I found grammar nerds, if I may call them that, when blogging. I can get all that education that I missed.

TimT said...

Did Alphonse enjoy the movie?

Anthony said...

Yes, but if I knock at someone's door and they shout 'Who is it?' from inside, should I reply 'It's me' or 'It's I'?

Pavlov's Cat said...

TimT, I'm not sure if 'enjoy' is quite le mot juste.

Anthony, I try to avoid the word 'should' in these discussions. For me these are not discussions about moral rectitude, but about language, which, like geometry and music, has rules that make it workable.

Grammatically speaking, then, it is I. (It is I, it is you, it is he, it is she, it is we, it is they, and, my favourite, it is it.) But if one were to reply in a courteous and commonsensical way, one would reply 'It's Anthony'. In my observation it is usually (though admittedly not always) blokes who knock on the door or ring up and say 'It's me.' Which is solipsistic as well as ungrammatical.

Stephanie Trigg said...

Yes. Though I think answering "it is we" in this situation would put considerable pressure on the idea of inflexible rules in grammar.

Barry Leiba said...

Careful, Deborah: at least in the U.S., you might be liable for something other than an embarrassed husband. Wait, let me find the news item. [search, search... search...] Ah. Voici:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/24/us/24signs.html

Anthony said...

Thanks PC and Stephanie.

I'm reminded of Ned Rorem's one-liner:

"It is eye" said the Cyclops

F.G. Marshall-Stacks said...

Anita Loos was Really Something.

Helen said...

A husband who spells potatoes "potato's" is almost as annoying.

w/v copelesss


spige

Kathleen said...

Wow. "It is we." I've never considered that before. I have to ponder that one for a while.

Now I'm wondering if it's correct in other languages...so Italian: "Chi e'?" Singular. "Siamo noi." Plural.

I'm lost now. Then again, word verification is "winesti" which sounds suspiciously like Italian past historic for "winere", or, "to booze." This may explain my grammar problems.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Yes, 'It is we' had me pondering, though not as much as 'It is it.' But if it's It is I, and it is, then it must be It is we.

R.H. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

The one that sticks most clearly in my ageing brain was a friend of our son. The boys were probably about 6 or 7 at the time, and I forget the context but Erich's friend came out with:

"Me and me Dad brung it.........!)

And on the other hand, this boy's mother spoke a completely different, strained 'refined' English, that was even more painful to hear.

Gae, in Callala Bay

Zarquon said...

I thought it would only be 'It is we' if you were the Queen.

frog said...

Aha! I've never been able to figure out the nominative and accusative cases in English. German, no problem.

A French history professor was once so exercised by the lack of correct grammatical structures in our essays that he spent half a lecture venting his spleen. It improved my grammar, but!

Fine said...

The strange one I've noticed is the use of 'on' as the general purpose preposition fro all occasions.

On the news last night was an artist who'd just won a prize and said that he was, 'an observer on people'. I notice in sports reports it's always a 'a bump on' someone or other. Whatever happened to 'of' and 'to' as useful words?

tnosaj said...

I've been learning German this year, and was quite confident that we had no formal use for cases in English. I love being unexpectedly wrong on interesting things (when it's harmless being wrong). Thanks!

Pavlov's Cat said...

I started learning French and German when I was twelve and it was sink or swim, cases-wise (and tenses-wise; the word 'subjunctive' still brings me out in a rash), because the teacher -- same teacher for both languages -- took it for granted that we knew all the grammatical terms already and never thought to check. But then, she was German, Sorbonne-educated and a generation and a half older.

Zarquon, my guess is that the Royal We is just the same as everybody else's.

M-H said...

I may have mentioned this before...if so please forgive me. I was once gifted with a black eyeshade, neatly labelled "Compulsive apostrophe correctors kit (apostrophes not included)". Harrrupmh!

Barry Leiba said...

« (and tenses-wise; the word 'subjunctive' still brings me out in a rash) »

But... but...
Subjunctive isn't a tense. It's a "mood".

(Yes, and now here I go, making your rash worse.)

Pavlov's Cat said...

GAAAHHHHHHHHH

*scratches frantically*

Anonymous said...

I returned to university in my early forties, and was left somewhat speechless during a creative writing class when a final year English Literature student said: “I’m confused. What’s a verb.” A victim of that cursed whole language movement. Her chosen career? An English teacher.

Pavlov's Cat said...

See my comment for June 18, which also applies here.

The worst of encountering that level of ignorance as a university teacher was (a) that it was not in any way my job to teach grammar, a labour-intensive, time-consuming and gruelling activity for which I am not trained, and (b) whenever, in defiance of all those things, I tried to teach them a few basics out of sheer self-defence (ie to make essay-marking marginally less horrifying), they resented it bitterly and told me it wasn't important as long as they were Creative.

Pavlov's Cat said...

I hasten to add that I did not hold the students responsible for either their ignorance or their attitude, both of which were learned, but I had to question the intelligence of the ones who maintained that they wanted to be English teachers, academics or -- most of all -- writers without ever bothering to find out for themselves the finer points of how language works.