The Big No-no


Brace yourselves!

I am going to commit one of the biggest faux pas you can commit in America. I’m going to correct your grammar, Americans!

Yes, my Dutch friends, it’s considered impolite at best to correct anyone’s grammar here.When you do, people think you’re pedantic, rude, or a “grammar nazi”.

I will write about the inflation of the word “nazi” some other time.

So back to you, my American readers. Let me explain myself. In the Netherlands, people correct one another all the time. That’s how we learn. It’s not considered pedantic. Teachers correct our grammar at school, parents correct our grammar at home, and friends and colleagues correct one another as well.

I have no problem with that. It’s thanks to all those people that my grammar is pretty good.

In turn, I correct my kids’ and my husband’s grammar all the time. It’s the family joke. If one of my kids is angry with the other, and yells in frustration, “He/she said he/she is smarter than me!” my immediate response is to say, “Smarter than I am“. If nothing else, it diffuses the situation. I often correct my husband’s grammar when he is lecturing the kids a bit too much, and it cracks them up.

Occasionally my son (15) notices a grammar mistake of mine right when I realize it myself, and he corrects me before I can correct myself. It’s one of the many ways in which I contribute to his self-esteem.

Every now and then–say, about once a year–I really can’t help myself and I correct someone outside my immediate family. My husband then falls all over himself in his rush to explain to the person in question how correcting someone else’s grammar is perfectly normal where I come from. Not at all rude. Perfectly normal! Really!

It’s quite amusing.

There is one grammar mistake that has grown to epidemic proportions in America, and I just can’t stand it, because it’s so simple to fix.

Practically everyone makes this mistake. Even people whose blogs I follow–and who write way better than I ever will–make this mistake, and it’s such a pity. Like that one little red wine stain on an otherwise immaculate white tablecloth. (Okay, yes, I admit it, I’m also a perfectionist.) The president, who is very well-spoken, makes this mistake. People on TV, teachers, very well-educated authors–they all do it.

And it drives me nuts! Because it’s so easy to fix. But I’m not allowed to fix it, because that’s considered bad manners.

But this is my blog, and I make my own rules here. So sit up and pay attention, because I’m only going to tell you this once. No, really, because once is all it takes. It’s that simple.You don’t even have to take notes; you will remember this.

What mistake am I talking about? Pronoun confusion. The I-me, she-her, he-him mistake.

So here goes. Are you paying attention?

Every sentence where you’re not sure whether you should use I or me, she or her, he or him, can be seen as an incomplete sentence. Just complete the sentence in your mind and it’s immediately clear which pronoun to use. You will automatically know which pronoun to use.  I guarantee it.

In the following examples, I have put the unspoken rest of the sentence in parentheses.

Here’s the first example, which is a matter of pronoun-verb confusion.

  • “He is taller than I (am).” You automatically hear that “He is taller than me (am)” or “He is taller than me (is)” is wrong. If you feel that saying “than I” sounds affected, then just complete the sentence out loud. “He is taller than I am.”
  • “I am older than she (is).” You can tell, when you complete the sentence, that “I am older than her (is)” just isn’t possible.

So that’s easy, right? Just add the unspoken verb in your mind to see which pronoun to use.

Now for the next example, which is a matter of pronoun-preposition confusion. Again, just complete the sentence in your mind.

  • “My uncle brought presents for my brother and (for) me.” The common mistake is to say “for my brother and I“, but in the complete sentence, “My uncle brought presents for my brother and (for) I“,  it’s clear that “I” is wrong and that it should be “me“.
  • The dog ran all over the place and then jumped on my husband and (on) me.” When you add the unspoken second “on”, it becomes clear that “. . . jumped on my husband and I” just doesn’t work. You know intuitively that “on I” is wrong.

So that’s easy, too. Just add the unspoken preposition in your mind to see which pronoun to use. ” . . . for my brother and (for) me.” and “. . . on my husband and (on) me“.

And there you have it. Now, was that insulting, pedantic or rude? Or just helpful?

8 responses to “The Big No-no

  1. A great post! Funny AND educational!

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  2. Hehehe@Tony.

    Love it, because many people often have a weird kind of way of typing over here (Kiwi ‘accent’?). Anyway I have to bite my lips and sit on my hands often, because of course how on Earth can I (a foreigner) correct them?! We all make mistakes though and I’m always very thankful for people who help me better my second language. (First checks to see if she can find any obvious mistakes and then presses ‘Post Comment’).

    Like

  3. this is very charming and it is also true. however, all i can say is “good luck!” i believe the american english language is the fastest-evolving language on the planet. proper grammatical speech and writing is subject to whom you are writing/speaking, the circumstances in which you are writing/speaking, and so on.
    cheers, mary

    Like

  4. I’m with you on the whole grammar thing and am trying to correct the ones closest to me….especially with the “I” and “me” part LOL
    What I notice too is that people tend to put themselves first in a sentence, like “me, this person, and that person, went there and there”

    First of all, it is “I” (went there) and second, I was taught that you put yourself last in that line, mere politeness but not sure if I’m the only one who thinks that way?

    Also, with the whole text message hype nowadays, I am wondering how (official) letters will be written in the future because of all the abbreviations that are being used now. I am shivering with the thought that 10 years or so from now I might get a letter that will say “im writing u 2 inform u that ur w8…” etc.

    The occasional time that I do use text messages I simply refuse to use the abbreviations and write the sentences in full. Maybe I’m old fashioned that way?

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    • Barbara Backer-Gray

      I’m with you. I write whole words in my text messages. Of course, I have time for whole words, because I don’t text while driving. And yes, I also teach my kids to say “John and I” instead of “Me and John”.

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  5. One Christmas, my husband said, “This is a gift from [Sat Nav and Cider] and me.” Our sister-in-law corrected him and told him he should say, “from X and I.” She was set straight, but it’s been a joke between my husband and me ever since. Whenever we hear the mistake on TV we look at each other and laugh. But you’re right about Americans, in general. We wouldn’t correcting anyone who says it wrong (we’d just look at each other and, perhaps, giggle).

    Like

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