The Problem with Compounds
A couple years ago, Allie from Hyperbole and a Half wrote about the Alot, an imaginary creature she created to help her cope whenever she encounters the “word” alot and she has to resist the urge to correct people. If you have not read that post, I suggest you stop here and go read it now. If you have read it before, it’s worthwhile reading it again.
In case you haven’t noticed, alot happens a lot. I’m not sure why.
Maybe people don’t have spell-check turned on. Maybe they think they know better than spell-check. For example, until a couple of weeks ago, I truly and honestly thought that desiccated was spelled with two ‘s’ and one ‘c’ – dessicated. Yes, I had my spell-check turned on and a red squiggly line appeared under it alerting me about the misspelling. What did I do about it? To my shame, I scoffed and thought I knew better. Finally, a couple of weeks ago, I looked at the suggested spelling and was mortified to learn I had been spelling this word incorrectly for years! Had to find all previous posts with that word and correct them!
Maybe they think alot is an alternative spelling. It isn’t.
Maybe they think alot is different from a lot, where alot is used to describe “a large amount” and a lot is used when talking about “a piece of land”. It isn’t.
Maybe they are too set in their ways to change.
Maybe they’re like me and the word desiccated, ie, not being able to see the correct spelling even when it is right in front of them.
Or maybe — it pains me to say this — they just don’t care.
Alot is not a word; it is two words: a lot. It is always two words.
Still, it must be comforting to be able to create an imaginary creature as a coping mechanism.
Sadly, there is one particular grammar mistake for which I have yet to find a coping mechanism, and that is when compound subject and compound object pronouns are used incorrectly.
Wait…what? I don’t understand any of this -ject/-ject business! I don’t even know the difference between a noun and a verb, so don’t be bringing in any pronouns into the equation!
Very simply, nouns are names of people, places, things or concepts. Pronouns are just words in place of the noun. Unless you’re Elmo, you’d occasionally use pronouns to refer to people and things.
English is tricky because the subjective pronouns are NOT the same as their objective counterpart.
Create your own sentences using the table above! Choose a word from the first column, fill in your own verb (an action or being word) and complete it with a word from the last column. The ONLY thing to remember is the first word and the last word MUST be from different rows! More about this later.
Ready? Set? GO!
I like you.
(Not “Me like you” unless you’re Cookie Monster.)
She loves him.
He proposed to her.
They spoke to us.
All right, let’s throw more people into the mix, ie, let’s compound the subjects and/or objects.
Me and her like him.
Hopefully, most of you will recognise that this is wrong. This is something little children say and adults are very quick to correct this mistake.
She and I like him.
So well-ingrained is this, however, that many people will revert to the subjective form when the objective form is truly called for. For example,
She spoke to Daniel and I.
This is wrong!
She spoke to Daniel.
She spoke to me.
She spoke to Daniel and to me.
She spoke to Daniel and me.
US English vs UK/Aust/NZ/Canadian/etc. English?
“Is this a US/UK thing?”
No, it isn’t! The fact that this error is so widespread means that many people have learned a ‘rule’ but have not learned how to correctly apply it.
But I remember being told that “you and me” is wrong and to say “you and I”!
I suspect this is similar to the “i before e except after c” rule we all learned, i.e., we only learned part of it.
The above is really more of a guideline than a rule and is helpful when spelling words with the /ee/ sound and contains the letters ‘i’, ‘e’, and/or ‘c’. There are exceptions. Since this post is not about that rule, I’ll just link the wikipedia article.
You and me is wrong when used as the subject of the sentence; one should use you and I. However, when used as the object of the sentence, you and me is perfectly acceptable.
Where pronouns are concerned, I think “use subjective pronouns for subjects and objective pronouns for objects” would be a better rule.
But it sounds wrong!
It sounds wrong because you’re not used to saying it right. It may be a Hard Habit to Break like the band Chicago says, but it can be done if you want to.
Consider the following:
This is not just good rhyme, it is good grammar as well!
And when Mariah Carey sings
that also is good grammar!
And when the Bible translators translated Joshua 24:15 in this way
they, too, used the correct pronouns.
The Bible is replete with compound pronouns.
“…the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand…” Genesis 19:16
“May the Lord judge between you and me!” a common phrase found in various places throughout the Bible
But when the boys in One Direction sing
they obviously did not take into consideration that, for some people at least, bad grammar can be a deal-breaker.
What about ‘myself’?
For some reason, even if some people recognise that it is wrong to use I as the object of the sentence, they still cannot bring themselves to use me and will use myself instead. Where I stands straight and stiff and stately, me is short in both stature and length. So lowly and common and humble. Myself sounds more distinguished, and therefore, must be more proper and correct, right?
You can either speak to my partner or myself.
Sounds professional, right? No, it sounds wrong! It is wrong.
You can speak to my partner or me.
Pronouns+self are reflexive pronouns and there are only two ways to use them.
1. For emphasis
I myself will do the work.
She applied for the job herself.
2. Something one does to oneself.
When using reflexive pronouns, stay in the same row — do not cross over into other rows!
You can talk to yourself.
I can talk to myself.
You cannot talk to myself, nor can I talk to yourself.
You can talk to me and I can talk to you.
Learn this properly or you will make a fool of yourself!
How to remember?
One common suggestion is to remove ‘the other party’ and then it will be easy to see which pronoun to use. However, that creates another problem.
You know not to say between he and I, so you remove the he and decide see which pronoun to use (me), and end up saying between he and me!
I suggest a different way: One person at a time.
She spoke to him.
She spoke to me.
She spoke to him and me.
She spoke to he and I.
ONE PERSON AT A TIME. ONE PRONOUN AT A TIME.
PERSON BY PERSON. PRONOUN BY PRONOUN.