Friday, November 16, 2007

Easy Grammar Fixes

This was the title of my Saipan Tribune column for today. You'll recognize that I plagiarized from my own blog, but I did come up with some original material too. I enjoyed twisting the piece. Let me know what you think.


I've been learning a lot of English lately. Granted, I grew up speaking this language, but I never really paid much attention in grammar class. So, all my life, I've wondered about certain words, which is pretty ridiculous for a college graduate. Now that I'm having people edit my writing for a book I’m completing, I'm learning all kinds of things! My eyes glaze over when they start throwing around rules with words like "subjunctive clause," "gerund," and "object of a preposition." So I look for easy shortcuts to remember this stuff. There are a few grammar mistakes that are very common, but that are actually very easy to fix with some simple tricks.

When should I use “Whom” and when “Who”?

Here is one that confuses a lot of people. When do you use "whom" and when do you use "who"? Here is the easy way to get it right. If you can answer the question with the word "him," then use "whom." If you can answer the question with the word "he," then use "who."

"_____ did you go to rob the poker place with?" "I went to rob the poker place with HIM." So, you would use "whom." (The proper way to phrase this question is "With whom did you go to rob the poker place," but it sounds kind of snooty to most people, so they don't. But if you remember the him/he thing, you'll get it right, even if you put the "with" in the wrong place.)

"_____ went to the pawn shop?" "HE went to the pawn shop." So, you would use "who."

The rule has to do with being the object of a preposition, but my mind can never figure that out in a pinch. Just stick with the him/he thing and you'll always get it right.

“Its” or “It’s”

"Its" vs. "It's" can be confusing because most of the time, when we want to make something possessive, we add an apostrophe and an "s". If we want to say that the coconut belongs to the tree, we write, "It is the tree’s coconut." So, we mistakenly believe that we need to write "It is it’s coconut." We put an apostrophe on the "its." That is not correct. "Its" is a possessive pronoun, just like "His" (which also ends in an "s" but doesn't need an apostrophe to indicated possessiveness.)

Sorry, I’m using confusing words like “possessive pronoun.” Here is the easy answer. The word "it" only has an apostrophe when it's a contraction of "It is." (Did you notice I just used it).

So, the above sentence -- "It is the tree's coconut" -- could become "It's the tree's coconut," or "It is its coconut," or "It's its coconut."

Bottom line: If you can replace "its" with "it is," then use an apostrophe. If not, don't.

“I” or “me”?

There is often confusion about the phrase “You and I.” Some people grow up getting constantly corrected for saying “You and me,” that they think they’re always supposed to say “You and I.” Not true. It depends on how the phrase is used. The easy way to figure out whether you should say “I” or “me” is to drop the “you and.” So, for example, is it, “You and me spit pugua,” or “You and I spit pugua”? Drop the “you and.” Which one is correct, “Me spit pugua,” or “I spit pugua?” Obviously, it’s “I spit pugua,” so you would say “You and I spit pugua.” What about this case: “She drank diet soda and ate a hind leg of pig with you and I?” Drop the “you and.” Which is correct? “She drank diet soda and ate a hind leg of pig with I,” or “She drank diet soda and ate a hind leg of pig with me”? Get it? So, here you would use, “you and me”: She drank diet soda and ate a hind leg of pig with you and me.

Farther or Further?

This one, I just learned. Use “farther” when you’re talking about distance. Use “further” when you’re talking about time or amount. “The rotting dog is farther up the road.” That’s correct, because we’re talking about distance. “I’d like to give my CUC bill further thought before paying it.” That’s correct, because we mean “more thought.” The mistake people commonly make is to say “further” when they mean “farther.” “We need to go further to avoid the E. Coli on this sandy beach.” That is not correct, because we are talking about distance, and so we should say “farther.”

Toward or Towards?

This one is easy. Both “toward” and “towards” are correct, mean the same thing, and are interchangeable. “Come toward the crazed chicken,” means the same as “Come towards the crazed chicken.” So which should you use? Easy – if you speak American English, use “toward.” If you speak British English, use “towards.” What about us? Since we’re basically under the American system, we can say, “Come fan toward the crazed chicken.”


Sean said...

I like your example sentences way better than the ones in my grammar text book.

"Come toward the crazed chicken"?


Marianas Eye said...

Another correct way to use "it's" is when it's a contraction for "it has".