Thursday, September 11, 2008

Between You and I

This is the title of an installation piece at the Singapore Biennale.

It is wrong because, after a preposition (in this case between), we need to use the object form of a pronoun. Hence: Between You and Me.

This appears to be a case of hypercorrection — speakers being only vaguely aware of rules, and misapplying them in an attempt to be more ‘correct’.

In this case, the ‘rule’ appears to be teachers telling pupils never to say, for example, Me and Sharon are coming to the party, but to say Sharon and I instead because, in subject position, we need a subject pronoun (for this reason we don’t say *Me am coming to the party).

This error brings to mind the saying, ‘A little knowledge is a dangerous thing’.

(Incidentally this error is very common in Britain and in the United States, but not in Singapore.)


Anonymous said...

Hi there, I have a few questions regarding pronouns which get me confused.

1. If anyone wishes to complain,
tell ______ to do it in
writing. Should it be "them"?
What if a child write the
answer as he/she? Is it

2. "Is it true that you and MAry
are going to the camp?"
"Yes, ________ and ________ are
leaving next week."
Should it be 'she' and 'I'
or 'I' and 'She'?

3. "Is John as old as you?"
"John is older than ________
but I am taller than _______."
Should it be 'I' or 'me' in the
first blank? Should it be 'he'
or 'him' in the second?

4. "Will you go to the exhibition
with mother and I?"
"I shall go to the exhibition
with _____ and _________."
Should it be 'you' and 'her'
or 'you' and 'she'?

Lastly, I read that the way to use 'who' and 'whom' differently is between formal and informal writing. Is that true?

My apologies for the long posting. Hope that I will have a better understanding of pronouns after this.

The Grammar Terrorist said...

Hi. Sorry for the late reply -- been really busy marking. Some quick replies:

(1) Yes, "he or she" is the better answer because it breaks no rules. The indefinite pronoun "anyone" is grammatically singular, and may refer to both females and males. Strictly speaking, "them" is therefore wrong because it is plural, but that is what most native speakers would say (colloquial, informal use). "He or she" would be preferred in formal writing.

(2) Either "She and I" or "I and she" -- grammatically they're equally good. However, both sound very odd. In more idiomatic (natural) English, the speaker would reply, "Yes, we are leaving next week".

(3) It depends whether you see "than" as a conjunction or as a preposition (see Oxford Advanced Learner's, for instance). If a conjunction, "I (am)" and "he (is)". If a preposition, then "me" and "him". Note that the conjunction use is very formal, and not so often encountered these days (except perhaps in English textbooks!).

(4) Again, "we" would be more natural here. And the original question is wrong: it should read "Will you to to the exhibition with mother and me", because you wouldn't say "with I" (the reason is that, after prepositions, use object pronouns, not subject pronouns).

As for "who" and "whom" -- yes, the distinction is dying out now and it is only in formal situations (mainly, writing) that it is still used.

All the best,

Anonymous said...

Thanks for taking the time to reply.

I have problems with using pronouns like 'something' and 'anything'.

In this question, "Would you like _________ to eat?"

Should the blank be 'something' or 'anything'?

According to the dictionary, 'anything' is used in questions. For me, 'something' sounds fine too.

Anonymous said...

In addition to the previous question,

"___________ that needs to be done has been done."

Should it be 'Everything' or 'Anything'?

The Grammar Terrorist said...

Hello. To your first question:

In this question, "Would you like _________ to eat?"

Yes, either is fine, and bear in mind that 'something' is common in questions too if they're part of the object (Collins Cobuild) -- as in 'something to eat'.

Now to your second question:

"___________ that needs to be done has been done."

Should it be 'Everything' or 'Anything'?

Definitely "everything" in this case.

Anonymous said...

Hi there,

In other words, questions like
"Do you want some fruit?" and "Do you want any fruit?" are both acceptable?

The Grammar Terrorist said...

Yes, both are possible, but they're different.

'Some' is used when you expect 'yes' for an answer.

Otherwise you'd use 'any'.

(This is from Michael Swan's Practical English Usage.)