verba volent, scripta manent – words flee, writing remains
MORE GRAMMAR GAFFES AND HOW TO AVOID THEM
© Marg Gilks
Is it who or whom? Plural or singular? Questions like these can leave a writer paralyzed in the minefield of the English language. Relax. You don't have to start reading English textbooks in your spare time. Here are tips and tricks to help you navigate around three more grammar gaffes.
So which is it, who or whom?
Whoever or whomever? Ask a grammarian, and they'll start tossing around scary-sounding terms like "dependent clauses" and "subjective and objective case." Huh? Here's a trick that neatly sidesteps the jargon.
First we need a sample sentence:
_____ will win the race?
Is it "who" or "whom"? Good question. To determine that, first turn the clause beginning with "_____" into a statement:
_____ will win the race.
What fits here? "Him will win the race"? Nope. How about "He will win the race." That's better. If "he" or "she" makes sense, use who; if "him" or "her" makes sense, use whom:
Who will win the race?
He gave the trophy to the winner of the race, _____ he noticed crossing the finish line first.
Is it "who" or "whom"? First, separate the clause beginning with "_____" and make it a statement:
He noticed _____ crossing the finish line first.
"Him" makes sense here, so use whom:
He gave the trophy to the winner of the race, whom he noticed crossing the finish line first.
Give the trophy to _____ comes first.
Is it "whoever" or "whomever"? First create the statement:
_____ comes first.
"He" makes sense here, so use whoever:
Give the trophy to whoever comes first.
You're getting pretty good at this, aren't you! Try one more:
Give colorful ribbons to _____ you've neglected.
Is it "whoever" or "whomever"? Here's the statement:
You've neglected _____.
Yup, you've got it — you wouldn't say "You've neglected he," so "whomever" fills in the blank:
Give colorful ribbons to whomever you've neglected.
Singular or Plural?
Dealing with who and whom and whoever wasn't so bad, was it. But wait — should that last sentence have contained a plural construction? Should it have read "Dealing with who and whom and whoever weren't so bad, were they"? There were several items listed, after all...
In this case, "who and whom and whoever" can be lumped together into one problem that you had to deal with, not several. So the subject of this sentence can be treated as singular — it wasn't so bad.
My heart and my mind are yours
is indeed plural. Why? There are two separate subjects in this sentence — the heart, and the mind. You wouldn't think of your heart and your mind as one and the same thing, but two things, separated by "and."
How about this one:
The trophy, as well as the colorful ribbons, was given away.
There's a whole bunch of ribbons along with that trophy; shouldn't that be "were given away"? Not in this case. "As well as" signals an addition to the sentence, an extra that goes along with the trophy, which is the true subject of the sentence. Since there's just one trophy, we ignore what's in between, and use the singular "was given away."
Some words suggest "one" or "none" and so signal a singular construction:
neither...nor (none of them)
Everyone is going to the party.
Neither of the books is overdue.
Each knife and fork needs to be washed BUT Louis and Kathy each have different ideas. Why? "Each" before signals "one" — each knife and each fork. "Each" after signals that Kathy has one set of ideas, and Louis has one set of ideas — but there are two of them. So it's plural.
The two daughters or the son stays late at the library BUT The son or the two daughters stay late at the library. When you're looking at a compound subject joined by "or," look at the subject nearest the verb. If the subject is the singular son, the verb — stays — is singular, too. If the subject nearest the verb is plural, as in the two daughters, then the verb is plural too — stay.
"So where's the trick?" you're thinking. This one's not so easy. It takes some concentration. Look at the sentence and determine what it's talking about. Once you've determined what the subject of the sentence is, look at it. Is it one thing, or several? The number of the subject that the sentence is about will tell you whether it has to be talked about as one thing (singular) or several (plural).
Me, I, and...Myself?
Many writers, when faced with "Louise and I" or "Louise and me?" opt for "Louise and myself."
The "-self" pronouns have their place, but this is not one of them. Myself, himself, herself, ourselves, and themselves always need something more specific in the sentence to refer to. In the sentence "Louise and myself," "myself" has nothing to refer to. It's an orphan.
You can use a "-self" pronoun for emphasis:
I myself have no fears; he himself is full of fear; she herself has over one hundred pairs of shoes; we ourselves have no shoes; they themselves have no qualms,
but notice that there's always I or he or she or we or they that this use of "-self" is bolstering.
Or you can use a "-self" pronoun as another way of referring to someone:
I cut myself; he itched himself; she made herself up; we congratulated ourselves; they laughed themselves silly,
but again, there's always I or he or she or we or they that the use of
The solution? Give "myself" a relation to pair up with, and determine whether you should be using "I" or "me" with the separation trick: "Bob and I love sweets" (Bob loves sweets; me loves sweets? No; I love sweets? Yes. Therefore, Bob and I love sweets) or "Nothing could stop Nasser and me" (Nothing could stop Nasser; Nothing could stop I? No; Nothing could stop me? Yes. Therefore, Nothing could stop Nasser and me).
Phew! Another grammatical minefield crossed safely! And I myself am glad it's done.
Marg Gilks is a writer and professional editor specializing in fiction. She's been working one-on-one with authors to help them prepare their work for publication for over ten years. Visit http://www.scripta-word-services.com/ to learn more about her editing services, manuscript evaluations, and FUNDAMENTALS OF FICTION, her 8-week e-mail course covering fiction-writing basics including point of view, showing instead of telling...all the way through to putting the final polish on your manuscript.
This article may be reprinted in its entirety (including bio) if you e-mail me for permission.
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