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Prose Parade
Grammar and writing basics

May 30, 2009

Me, Myself and I, Part 3

Ok, now we come to “myself.” I don’t know why people use it instead of “I” or “me,” but they do. For example, “Those tickets are for myself and Robert.” No, they’re not. They’re for “me and Robert.” Well, actually, they’re for “Robert and me.” but who’s counting? Or “Myself and Robert went to the concert.” Nah. “Robert and I went to the concert.”

Now, hang on to your hats. There is a rule for when to use “myself” and all the other selves. It starts by identifying those words that have the suffix “-self” or “-selves” as reflexive pronouns. That means the “-self” refers to someone. Ah ha! So, if it refers to someone, then that someone’s identity has to appear somewhere before the “-self.” Get it? For example, “I rewired the house myself.” Look! “Myself refers to “I.” (BTW, if you think I can rewire a house, be prepared to see a blazing fire and my house in cinders.) The “I” has to come before the “myself.” So, it’s “he himself,” she herself,” etc.

The “-self”s can also be used for emphasis. For example, “I myself rewired the house.” That shows how a big a deal it is. (Not how big OF a deal, but we’ll deal with that one later.)

So, no more “myself” as subject of the sentence even if you think it sounds more polite. It ain’t polite, and it ain’t grammatically correct. If the sentence doesn’t start with one of the personal pronouns (I, me, you, it, we, they) or a proper noun (capital letter time), then don’t use “-self.” Period.

May 28, 2009

Me, Myself and I, Part 2

Sorry, I’ve taken so long to get back to the subject, but I’ve had a few hectic days.

Now, though, let’s talk about “me.” The word “me” is the objective case of the word “I.” Remember, it’s irregular.

The objective case is used in direct and indirect objects and as the object of the preposition. (Look in the Parts of Speech and Parts of the Sentence pages for more info.)

For example, “Give the book to me.” object of the preposition to.
“Give me the book.” indirect object
“Jim drove me to the library.” direct object

So, OK, “me” can never, never, ever act as the subject of a sentence because it’s the objective case, and the subject of a sentence is the nominative case. The objective case will always be acted upon in some way.

If you’re tempted to write, “Me and my friend was going to the movies,” think before you do and while you’re thinking, remove the words “and my friend.” Would you say, “Me was going to the movies”? Of course not. Then, don’t do it just because there’s a compound subject.

“Me” and “I” are forms of the same word, but they have entirely different functions in a sentence, and never the twain shall meet.

May 23, 2009

Me, Myself and I, Part 1

Pronouns are not simple. One reason they aren’t is because they’re the only words in English that have case endings, and not only case endings, but they’re also irregular. The one we’ll deal with now is “I.”

“I,” if you care, is the nominative case. This means that “I” is the subject of a sentence. It’s also a predicate nominative, which means it comes after the verb, but the verb has to be a form of the verb “to be.” To put it more simply, there are only two uses for the word “I.”

For example, “I came. I saw. I conquered.” (with many thanks to Julius Caesar) See, it’s the subject of the sentence.

An example of a predicate nominative is: “It is I.” Yes, I know we say “me,” but that’s wrong except in casual conversation. Then, who cares. Everyone gets the meaning.

OK, if “I” can only be the subject or predicate nominative, then why do I see any of the following:

“Me and my friend was going to the movies.”
“Keep this strictly between you and I.”
“Myself and John wrote the report.”

Holy smoke, people. What happened to our language?

For the record:

“My friend and I were going to the movies.”
“Keep this strictly between you and me.”
John and I wrote the report.”

May 20, 2009

Refer/Refer Back

Well, I was going to start by writing that refer back is redundant, but my no-longer favorite dictionary begs to differ. Here is what it says:

It is sometimes believed that the phrase refer back is redundant, since the prefix re- means “back,” but the objection is misplaced. In fact, an expression can refer either to something that has already been mentioned or to something that is yet to be mentioned, and the distinction between refer back and refer ahead may thus be required for clarification.

Are they kidding? Refer ahead?!!! Where do I begin?!

First, let me explain what redundant means. It means superflous or unnecessarily repetitive. So, refer back says the same thing twice. Next, a prefix is the little thingie at the beginning of a word or a word root that clarifies or even changes the meaning. For example, prefix means added to the front. And, yup, that’s what it does.

OK, so if re- means back, how, in heaven’s name, can something refer to the future or something that hasn’t happened?

I say to American Heritage, nuts to you. Stop turning yourself into a pretzel trying to get the word to do something it isn’t meant to do.

Be forewarned. Whenever I see refer back in someone’s writing, you can bet I’ll be the one deleting the word back.


May 17, 2009


Alternate and alternative do not mean the same. Alternate as an adjective means something used in place of another among other definitions. As a noun it means a substitute. Alternative as a noun means a choice between two or more things.

When writing you must choose the right word, or you can confuse the reader. For instance, “Plan B is our alternate” (meaning substitute). Very nice. “Plan A and Plan B are our alternatives” (meaning our choices). See? In the first sentence “alternative” is a no-no, and in the second “alternate” is most definitively verboten. Although Plan a and Plan B could be alternates if they’re substitutes for Plan Y and Plan Z.

Now if you mind is twisted into a pretzel, my work is done.

May 15, 2009


I know proactive is an acceptable word, but I hate it. it sounds made up and too much like public relations or advertising lingo.

It means to act in advance of any expected problem. I think active does the same job quite nicely.

Remember from your high school science classes? Things are active or reactive, two perfectly good words to describe everything that needs to be described in that capacity.

Active can work for proactive. For instance, “We were proactive about the nuclear war.” That means you did something in advance of the nuclear holocaust. “We were active about the nuclear war.” Same, same. Everyone is still taking action.

Most people I know in the publlishing industry know of my constant rant about this word. But, boy, did it feel good ranting about it here.

Yuck, pooey, a pox on proactive.

May 13, 2009


“I’d of thought of that sooner or later.” Huh? I know people say this all the time, but I’ve seen it in print too, and it’s just wrong. The sentence should read: “I’d have thought of that sooner or later.”

Soemtimes when I’ve seen it in print, it’s in a quote from a fictional character, and that just helps to reveal who the character is. However, I’ve seen it with no quotes around it; it’s what the writer meant, and the copy editor didn’t catch, and, oh boy!

Once again, I think our lazy tongues are the culprits. We’re actually saying (get ready for this) “I’d’ve.” Then, the “ve” part slides around inside our mouths until it comes out “of.”

Then, when we get to writing it, we write what we say or what we think we say. And there it is in big, black type–of. Yikes!

Please don’t write “of” instead of “have.” OK?

May 11, 2009


Yes, they’re two different words with two meanings and two different functions. Affect is a verb most of the time, and effect is a noun most of the time.

Affect means to have an influence on something or to change something. It also means to feel something. For example, “Getting older affects the driving response time.” Also, “That music affected me so much.”

Effect means a result or an impression. For example, “Getting older has no effect on driving response time.” Or, “That music has a real effect on me.”

I won’t confuse you, but sometimes effect is a verb, and sometimes affect is a noun, both with different meanings. Always remember, English is treacherous.

May 7, 2009

Writing Tip

OK, you’ve finished what seems like the endless process of writing your manuscript, whatever it’s for. Now, you’re supposed to edit it, but you never, ever want to read this thing again. Well, I’ll cut you some slack because it’s not such a great idea to edit something you’ve written directly after you’ve written it. However, there is one little thing you can do that doesn’t require rereading those pages that are crawling with dots. You can eliminate the passive voice.

The passive voice is explained in detail in the Syntax and Style pages. You can do this change without knowing what the passive voice is. Just know it’s not good writing, and it has to change.

Make a global search for this word: been. Wherever you find it, rewrite the sentence so that the verb doesn’t contain “been.” You’ll probably have to find the subject of the sentence in the body somewhere, usually after the verb and hidden in a prepositonal phase such as “by the teacher.” The subject, then, is “the teacher,” and the verb can now be active because someone is doing something.

For example:

The rotten kid has been punished by the teacher.

The teacher punished the rotten kid.

After you’ve done this easy step, pat yourself on the back and set the manuscript aside for a day or so. Then, you can read it for all the other stuff you need to do to make it easier to read and grammatically correct.

You can do the same with “be” and “being.” Remember in the search box to add a space before and after “be”; otherwise, you’ll get every word that starts with “be,” and that’s frustrating.

May 5, 2009


I noticed on my host’s site that someone wanted info on the word “anymore.” My guess is he or she wanted to know when to use it as one word and when to use two words.

As one word it means either from now on or any longer. For example, “Please don’t pick your nose anymore.” Or, “They don’t make movies like Casablanca anymore.”

The meaning changes somewhat as two words. This gets a little tricky. “Any” when used with “more” is an adverb, not an adjective, which is what we expect. It describes more and means to what extent. “More” means additional. So, the sentence, “Does anyone want any more chili?” needs two words because “any” and “more” together describe the chili, and the question asks whether anyone wants additional chili. OK?

Let me confuse you. Let’s take the same sentence and move things around. “Does anyone want chili anymore?” Oh, look, we moved it, and now it asks whether anyone wants chili from now on or any longer–one word.

Mighty tricky language, English. Treacherous, even.

May 3, 2009


The use of snuck instead of sneaked as the past tense of sneak has insidiously crept into our written and spoken vocabuary over the years, and I for one am appalled. According to my American Heritage dictionary, snuck was a regional formation of sneaked and was considered nonstandard. Then, it sneaked into other regions and is now used by even the most educated people who should know better but don’t.

The good old Usage Panel frowns on the word. So do I. One of the reasons I dislike it is because the trend of English to to keep verbs regular (past tense ending in -ed), and snuck clearly is irregular, so it’s going in the wrong direction from other verbs.

I will relent this far. If you want to say snuck in conversation, go ahead, but do not, do not, do not use it in professional meetings or in writing. Impress them all to no end by saying sneaked.

Although I don’t think I have to say that if you’re confessing to an infraction or crime, it doesn’t matter which form you use. You’re toast.