Saturday, January 27, 2007


A jewelled pin by Rene Lalique, 1899-1900.
Art Nouveau.
Danish Museum of Decorative Art, Copenhagen.

Any SF/Fantasy writer wishing to describe unusual jewellery for their worlds might find inspiration from Lalique and Art Nouveau.

Grammar rules are not set in exquisite eternity, like a fly in amber, neither may they be ignored as outmoded conventions.

Some learn their language logic by imprint. They have read and read until choice is instinctive.
Others by having been rigorously force-fed in language class.

Since I sometimes royally screw up pronouns and their antecedents, thought I needed a refresher course. Also, someone mentioned recently that who/whom confused them.
Unfortunately, the defining terms used may vary widely or change more swiftly than the conventions themselves.
To that end, thought I might just provide examples.
Remember, dialogue may contain as many incorrect or colloquial usages as you wish - as long as the meaning is clear.

He and Bob manage a fast food franchise after school. (If this were dialogue, a character might casually say him, instead.)

Celia's brother Gerald is six inches taller than she. (she is the subject of the understood verb is.)

Who did she say sang the lead in that production? ( Who is the subject of sang.)

The mayor praised the work of the telemarketers, who he said had sold or taken pledges for $25,000 worth of bonds. (Who is the subject of had sold/taken - he said is parenthetic. )

Give the message to whoever answers the telephone. (Whoever is the subject of answers, not the object of the preposition to. The object of to is the clause whoever answers the telephone.)

More tomorrow, unless I hear you screaming.


anna said...

love the brooch. Yes sci-fi writers could be inspired by Lalique also by the gal that plays Tempe Brennan on the TV series Bones. She wears the most wonderful pendants.

Who Whom - dear lord.. all my characters speak with poor grammar it seems. Informative in any event.

Bernita said...

Relax, Anna.
Many people are careless about the finer points of agreement when speaking, however careful they might be in written work.
Doesn't make it "poor" - just natural.

spyscribbler said...

*shudder* They never managed to teach me grammar in a way that made the slightest sense to me. (Can you tell, LOL?) I did understand it better once I learned German.

Thanks for a refresher! They should have taught me German, and then grammar!

writtenwyrdd said...

I've been meaning to get back to my grammar series on my blog. You inspire me to get on with it, lol.

As a suggestion, with compound subjects involving proper names and pronouns, it is often easier to break the choice down. 'He and Bob went to the store' becomes 'He went to the store' and 'Bob went to the store." If both sentences sound correct, they both belong in the subject. I STILL have to do this because subjective pronouns compounded with proper names sounds wrong.

For some reason, we English speakers don't like the sound of "He and Bob"!!

Bernita said...

Are you screaming, Spy?

It's a variant of "Bob and I," Written.
Your trick prevents the no-no "Bob and me went to the store."
Except in dialogue, of course.

writtenwyrdd said...

As for whom, one clear-cut rule is that whom should be used instead of who when it is the object of a preposition, such as "To whom were you speaking?" I forget the other rules off the top of my head. Just remember: you aren't wrong for just using who unless it's the object of a preposition. Unless some grammar Nazi is at hand. You can safely ignore them, lol.

I also thought I'd mention that in your examples below, you could have used "whomever" or "whom".

"The mayor praised the work of the telemarketers, who [whomever] he said had sold or taken pledges for $25,000 worth of bonds."

"Give the message to whoever [whomever]answers the telephone."

If you really want to be confused, what threw me was learning the various cases of English. Many are so archaic you only find them in Shakespeare or other Middle English works. Or in old English.

writtenwyrdd said...

Er, can't read apparently. That first example should have read [who]. Damn, not enough coffe yet.

Bernita said...

Also,in the second example you quoted, Written, the pronoun is not the object of the preposition.
Many people allow the pronoun be incorrectly attracted to the objective case by a preceeding preposition.
Yes, I found it sometimes confusing in A-S, but some Latin helps(nominative, accusative, genitive, dative...)
Now, I'm screaming.

Ric said...

Of course, we must take into account that Bernita, by virtue of living north of the border, is discussing the Queen's English and not what we use here.

Erik Ivan James said...

Better educated minds than mine are talking here today. I'll just observe, and learn.

Bernita said...

That's quite explicitly dismissive.
Ric, even the Queen's English always emphasizes that expressions like" Who does the book belong to?" are correct colloquial or informal English.

Bernita said...

I just had the idea that it might help, Erik.
Some publishers and copy editors can get quite anal about grammar.

Ric said...

My dear Bernita,
That cryptic post was only to send you screaming.
These are most instructive - especially to those of us who sat through Mrs. Wood's 9th grade English class absorbing little from the ether.
No offense intended - just wanted to inject a little humour into the discussion.

writtenwyrdd said...

Gosh, bernita, you got me there! But I think it is now acceptable usage nevertheless. One thing I recall from my Grammar professer in college was his saying that grammar rules were subject to change. He also taught Linguistics, so perhaps that perspective gave a leavening effect!

Bernita said...

"that grammar rules were subject to change."
Thought I made that - and other caveats - clear, Written.

If one were writing in first person, for example,( unless the character speaking were of a certain type) informal/colloquial English is certainly "correct."

writtenwyrdd said...

Oh, you definitely made it clear. I was just waxing anecdotal.

Erik Ivan James said...

It does help, Bernita. I always find value in your "instructional" post.

Bernita said...

I'm certainly no expert in grammar, Erik, so this is six for me and half a dozen for whomever.
Just sharpening a tool.

kmfrontain said...

The 'he is bigger than she' thing I tend to be flexible about. So many people would blink at the proper grammar, especially for longer sentences with little prep phrases between beginning and end. If it sounds really, really weird the right way, I use the bad grammar version. And then, so many people write in a colloquial style, there really isn't any choice.

Savannah Jordan said...

I hated Grammar in school. Now, I find myself cringing when someone misuses the language--and I can realize it. Of course, I've already confessed my confusion between 'its' and 'it's,' so I am also admitting that I don't know as much as I should. :(

Bernita said...

I use it to freak out telemarketers, Karen.
Asked if they may speak to the lady of the house - in my best IODE voice I say "I am she" or "This is she."

Bernita said...

What horrifies me, Savannah, is after seeing "it's/its" abused so many times, t'other day I did it.
The down side of the imprinting method.

Gabriele C. said...

The bane of my existence are prepositions. Why do languages have to use different one with the same verbs? :)

Bernita said...

I always think of prepositions as showing a relationship, position or direction between two substantives, Gabriele.

raine said...

I can't believe you left off with 'whoever' and didn't proceed to 'whomever'. There I was, chomping at the bit...

Bernita said...

Guess I missed the objective then, Raine...

Gabriele C. said...

But why do we in Germany say to wash a jumper 'von Hand' (by hand) when the Swedes say 'för hand' (for hand), the English will ask for a pen to fill in a form, the Germans 'nach einem Stift um ein Formular auszufüllen' (after a pen to fill out a form - and 'fill out' is correct in the UK) - some of these are what keeps me tripping even today. :)

Zany Mom said...

I once had a character say to another, "Lay down." Because that is what the character would say. I got totally jumped on by the grammar police in my crit group...

I also just happen to come from an area where lots of educated folk say this, grammatically incorrect as it is.

Look at how common gonna, hafta, wanna, and kinda show up in dialogue these days.

Bernita said...

To wash "by hand," is common here, and fill in or fill out a form is used quite indiscriminately.
Perhaps some evolve as idioms and that complicates things.

That is annoying, Zany.
But I've seen critics - who should know better - complain about cliches used in dialogue by a character who only thinks in them.
Dialogue has only to be consistent with the character.In fact, the grammar choice is one way to show character.
You must have laughed.

ORION said...

I done got it ain't I?



Me and he got to work on this.

Anonymous said...

lay vs. lie! Ack! Hives!

Bernita said...

Dadgum it, Pat...

No, Anon, shouldn't be.
Think we did lie/lay some months ago.

Sam said...

My mother is an English teacher and an editor in her spare time. She will call me (I'm in France) to tell me that she caught a typo in me of my books. And to correct it. Now.

I'm teaching pronouns and possessive pronouns to the kids I'm tutoring. It's easier in English than in French, where the possessive pronoun takes the gender of whatever is owned.

sink sink socks said...
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Anonymous said...
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Gabriele C. said...

Bernita, please get the word verifiaction on. Those two posts are porn spam (the one with the German links may even have illegal material).

Bernita said...

Raine, that went right over my head!

Right now, Sam?
~but Mother...~
I can imagine. Less gender- logic in English.

I'll try, Gabriele.
Was hoping I could avoid it because it takes time for posters.