Sunday, July 8, 2012

A Sample of Verbal Pet Peeves

As many of you, my non-existent readers, might know, I can often be identified as a minor (or sometimes full-fledged) grammar nazi. I definitely like to keep my speech as correct as possible (in most situations) and have been known to mercilessly point out others' grammatical and/or orthographic errors. In tonight's post, I'm going to highlight two particular errors in speech that I see frequently and which, therefore, annoy me more than most others. I've mentioned both before in the past in different forums, but they both continue to plague English speakers worldwide. So they can certainly bear repeating.

"I could care less."

When people don't care about something, they'll often state that they "could care less" about it. This is frustrating to me because what they're saying is actually the opposite of what they mean. If you say you could care less about something, then that means you actually care about it! It's like saying, "I could own fewer apples." If it's possible to own fewer apples, then, logically, you must own at least one apple. Only if you owned at least one apple would it be possible to own fewer than you already do. The same is true for how much you care about something. If it's possible to care less, than you must already care some. And so, to say that you don't care, you must say, "I could NOT care less." That definitively states that you are at the absolute minimum level of caring, which would be to not care at all.

"<blank> and I" vs. "<blank> and me" (aka The Use of First-Person Subject vs. Object Pronouns in Compound Subjects and Objects)

I'm sure every English speaker has been told a million times by both parents and teachers that it is correct to say "<blank> and I" rather than "<blank> and me." The problem is that, while that's very often true, it's not ALWAYS true. Unfortunately, it's popularly thought that, whenever your're talking about yourself along with someone or something else, then you must use "I". However, that actually has absolutely nothing to do with whether you say "I" or "me". What determines which you use is whether you are referring to yourself as a subject of the sentence or as an object.

When you are a subject, then you much use the subject pronoun, "I". For example, "My friend and I went to the park." The subjects in this sentence are "my friend" and "I". Or, more properly, the sentence has a single "compound subject", "my friend and I". The popular rule applies here, so there's no problem.

Things change once you become an object of the sentence. For example, "The man told my friend and I a story." In this case, you and your friend are the objects of the sentence (or, again, you are both part of the "compound object"). As an object, you must now refer to yourself using the object pronoun, "me". Therefore, to say "my friend and I" is now WRONG, despite anything your elementary school English teachers may have drilled into your head. It actually is correct to say "The man told my friend and me a story."

This may seem terribly complicated, but it's really not that hard to figure out which one you should be using. The simple trick is to imagine that you're only talking about yourself. Whether you are the subject of the sentence or you are part of a compound subject, the rule is the same. (The same is true for object vs. compound object, of course.) If you were the only one going to the park, then you would say "I am going to the park." You would never say "Me am going to the park." That's very obviously wrong. Bringing your friend along doesn't change anything. That's why you must say "My friend and I", rather than "My friend and me."

The same trick applies to compound objects. Just imagine you're the only one hearing the story. You would never say "The man told I a story." Once again, that's obviously wrong. Instead, you say "The man told me a story." Adding your friend doesn't change anything here either. Therefore, it's correct to say "The man told my friend and me a story."

And, with that, my pedantic nature has been satisfied. At least until tomorrow when I shall again, undoubtedly, encounter one or both of these persistent errors.