Saturday, March 5, 2011

Did You Remember?

Yesterday Was National Grammar Day

Did you march forth?

Me, Myself, and I

A recent story on the local news show ended with the interviewee saying, "It was good for the neighborhood and myself."

I was glad that things had worked out for the community, but, being as concerned as I am with grammar, I couldn’t help thinking, Why is that grammar error becoming more common?

The error of which I speak, of course, is the incorrect use of the pronoun myself. The –self pronouns are called either reflexive or intensive depending on their function in a sentence. What’s important here, though, is that in either case, myself shouldn’t be used unless there’s an I previously in the same sentence.

* I prepared it myself.
* I saw myself in the mirror.
* I consider myself fortunate.
* I, myself, haven’t had that problem, but I know someone who has.
* They asked whether I, myself, had ever encountered that particular problem.

Don’t use –self pronouns when a nominative or objective pronoun is in order.

* It was good for the neighborhood and me (not myself).
* He gave the book to him and me (not myself).
* She and I (not myself) are going to the opera.

It might be easier to determine the correct pronoun if you separate each pronoun into its own sentence. For example:

* He gave the book to him. He gave the book to (I, me, or myself). It’s clear that the correct pronoun is me, so the sentence is He gave the book to him and me.

* She is going to the opera. (I, me, myself) am going to the opera. The correct pronoun is, of course, I, so the correct sentence is She and I are going to the opera.

It’s interesting to note that there have been reputable writers who have used the reflexive pronouns incorrectly (as is true with all grammar errors), so if you, yourself, are an offender, you’re in good company.


I also found the following on The Economist -

National Grammar Day
What is grammar anyway?

Mar 4th 2011, 18:12 by J.P.

GRAMMAR is a strange and wonderful thing. It is also fuzzy. At least the word "grammar" is. So fuzzy, in fact, that linguists rarely invoke it, other than in the broad meaning of "language". They tend instead to plump for the narrower terms. And so morphology deals with the bits of words, like affixes and roots, that contribute to meaning; syntax looks at how morphemes are arranged in utterances; semantics hones in on meaning, be it of single words or more elaborate linguistic constructs; finally, pragmatics tries to understand how context in which words appear affects their interpretation. (Some linguists—a notoriously fractious bunch—will no doubt take exception to this taxonomy.)

So, is there anything sensible to be said about grammar? Theorists' finicky distinctions aside, few would object that it is a set of rules that govern the way bits of speech come together to become meaningful utterances. That, of course, raises the question of who sets these rules. Here the bickering begins. Some institutions, notably the French Academy, seem to think they do. Then there are the linguists. Mercifully, they rarely claim to be rule setters. But they do often give the impression of believing that they know them better than "ordinary" speakers.

True, language scholars pore over pages of books, peruse transcripts, listen to endless reels of recorded speech. If all goes to plan, they will come up with a set of rules that predicts how non-linguists actually speak. But it is, at best, a belated snapshot. Should enough people run afoul of these theoretical findings, they do not deserve to have their wrists slapped—with a rule or anything else. Rather, it means that the linguists described a grammar as it once was, not as it now is.

Both académiciens and grammarians may, then, have got things the wrong way round. Grammar is subject to majority rule, not autocratic decree. If a speaker does not abide by the same rules as most others, he is, by definition, not speaking the same language. It does not matter one bit that he happens to be a member of an academy or a prominent linguist; minorities are excluded. (More precisely, no two people, let alone all the members of a community, follow the exact same set of grammatical rules; the key is a big enough overlap.)

National Grammar Day can, therefore, be viewed as celebrating consensus and inveighing against tyranny (other than the tyranny of the majority that is language). Now, here is something everyone, not just language buffs, can cheer.


  1. I didn't have a chance to remember, because I didn't even know. That will be an easy date to remember because of the pun. A couple of days before my 21st birthday in October, I broke my leg. After a long winter in a cast, I was finally freed from it on, yep, March 4th. I said that "I shall march forth from my cast." I still think of that when the date comes around. Now I shall be sure to remember National Grammar Day. Thanks, Stan.

  2. I'm glad to hear that you are on the mend, Rimpy! Treat yourself to some pi on 3.14!

  3. And what do we say to my cousin-in-law who always announced, "I and Pat are going to church."?