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Respect for Pronouns
Is it so hard to know when to use "I" and when to use "me?"
Which first-person pronoun?
“Joe and __ went to Jill’s party.”
Few people would fill in the blank with “me,” but here’s a simple way to test which personal pronoun to use: drop “Joe and” from the sentence:
“___ went to Jill’s party.” Obviously, the correct word is “I.” “I went to Jill’s party.”
But suppose you and Joe are in the object of the sentence, as in “Jill invited Joe and ___ to the party?”
Use the same trick. Dump Joe.
“Jill invited ___ to the party.” The pronoun you’re looking for is “me.” “Jill invited me to the party,” because “Jill invited I to the party” sounds idiotic. Thus, the answer is, “Jill invited Joe and me to the party.”
I hear people with advanced degrees get this wrong every day. Rather than learning the rules of grammar, they simply use “I” everywhere and sound like nincompoops.
I bring this up mostly as an apology for my own sloppy grammar of late. For years, I re-read Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style annually just to recalibrate my writing and speaking. I have neglected that practice for about five years but will return to that masterpiece on proper writing this week.
If you’ve never read The Elements of Style, do. You don’t even need to read it all, though it’s a short book. The book is a series of simple rules that anyone can apply:
Rule 1: Form the possessive singular of nouns with ‘s.
Rule 2: In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last.
Rule 3: Enclose parenthetic expressions between commas.
Rule 4: Place a comma before and or but introducing an independent clause.
Each rule is followed by a short lesson on its application and any exceptions. For example, Rule 2’s lesson:
red, white, and blue
honest, energetic, but headstrong
He opened the letter, read it, and made a note of its contents.
This is also the usage of the Government Printing Office and of the Oxford University Press.
In the names of business firms the last comma is omitted, as
Brown, Shipley and Company
The abbreviation etc., even if only a single term comes before it, is always preceded by a comma.
No other book on English style and grammar so efficiently arms the writer with the basic rules for good writing. More examples of rules easily memorized and applied:
Rule 11: Use the active voice.
Rule 13: Omit needless words.
Rule 13 contains, by way of example, a true gem of a sentence:
A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.
I laughed out loud the first time I read that sentence. I pictured the painting with a few extra lines and a machine with a few extra parts. I remembered the hospital scene from Monty Python’s Meaning of Life and the machine that goes “bing.”
You will never read a superfluous word or sentence again without thinking, “the machine that goes ‘bing.’” As a bonus, this clip tells you everything you need to know about the medical industry and wokeness—and it’s from 1983!
My belated New Year’s resolution, then, is to write better. I say “belated” because, as you know, the new year began last Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent.
(Ironically, The Elements of Style does not expound a rule for using “I” or “me.” I learned that in Sister Catherine Marie’s fifth-grade English class.)
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