Oh my. We all have our peccadillos when it comes to English, don’t we? If I addressed them all, we’d be here til next year. So I’ll just give you the cheats…uh, tips I use most often.
—Don’t be afraid of me.
Poor ol’ me has been sorely maligned, as it should be when used incorrectly. Usage such as “Jim n’ me will be happy to talk with you” stirs images of uneducated, backward folk who wouldn’t know a first-person, singular pronoun if it bit them on their knobby noses. But the answer is not to eschew me in favor of what some consider the more intelligent sounding I—not unless the usage is correct. So how do you know? Well, I could wax eloquent on subjects and objects in a sentence, but I’ve learned that there are many out there—yes, even writers– who can’t identify such in a sentence. As one such writer pointed out to me recently, grammar school was a looooong time ago. So here’s a simple test. Ask yourself, “If I took the other person out of the sentence, would the proper pronoun be I or me?” Let’s use the Jim sentence from last week: “Just give Jim and I a call” would become “Just give I a call.” Nope. Doesn’t work. So this should be, “Just give Jim and me a call…” Now let’s take Jim out of today’s me sentence: “Me will be happy to talk with you.” Unless you’re two years old, that just doesn’t work. So bring on the I! “Jim and I will be happy to talk with you.”
—Myself reflects me or I.
Words like myself, himself, herself, themselves are…wait for it…reflexive pronouns. They can only refer back to the subject of a sentenc—oops. Sorry. Hmmm…how about this: Don’t worry about the why of it, just remember Myself reflects me or I. Think about it. What do you need to have a reflection? Someone looking in the window, mirror, etc. So you can’t use a self pronoun unless you’ve already used I or me or him (and so on) in the sentence. For example, last week’s line from the commercial–“This product was tested by myself”–doesn’t work, because there’s no I or me that comes before the reflection. Now, it could say “I myself tested this product.” That’s fine, because you’ve got I to create the reflection. Should be, “This product has been tested by me and others in the medical field…” (I’m not even going to address the passive voice used in the commercial…sheesh!)
—Fewer counts, less doesn’t.
If you can count the individual items you’re referring to one by one, use fewer. So in the grocery line, it’s “10 items or fewer” because you can count the individual items. Or “There are fewer steps than you imagine to getting this right,” because you can count the steps. But it’s “There’s less water in my glass than in Steve’s” because you can’t get in there and count each bit of H2O individually. Go ahead. Try it. I dare ya.
—Which doesn’t matter.
Which phrases are parenthetical, meaning they’re plopped into sentences to give information you may want to know but they don’t alter the meaning of the sentence. For example, “The phrase ‘Which doesn’t matter,’ which Karen shared with us in her blog, helps you know when to use which or that.” If you pull “which Karen shared with us in her blog” out of the sentence, it still has the same overall meaning (that the phrase helps you know what to do): “The phrase ‘Which doesn’t matter’ helps you know when to use which or that.” However, consider: “The key phrase that Karen uses to know when to use which or that is ‘Which doesn’t matter.’” This sentence isn’t so much about the phrase itself, but about the fact that it’s the phrase I use. If you pull “that Karen uses” from the sentence, the overall meaning is changed and the sentence is again about the phrase, not my use of the phrase.
Okay, I think that’s enough for today. I’ll finish up next week, so feel free to ask questions or suggest issues for me to tackle.