Thursday, October 29, 2009

straight and narrow

Apron Strings sent out a heartfelt plea to the universe at large and to me in particular for a map to guide her through the Slough of Despond (or, if you prefer to swipe your metaphors from children's board games rather than 17th century Christian allegories) the Molasses Swamp that is the who/whom distinction. Like, when are you supposed to use "who" and when are you supposed to use "whom?"

Now, I'm the first to admit that, while I have a perfectly adequate array of talents, grammar is, sadly, not among them. Nonetheless, I will share with you my time-tested, easy-to-apply, practically-never-fail who/whom rule. Ready? Cause here it is.

Unless you're absolutely, positively sure it's supposed to be "whom," you should always use "who."

Because if you use "who" when you really should be using "whom," you're incorrect.

But if you use "whom" when you really should be using "who," you're not only incorrect, but you also sound like a prissy grammar snob.* A prissy grammar snob who can't actually, y'know, use proper grammar.

hugs n kisses,

*Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Please feel free to add your own grammatical tips, tricks and pet peeves in the comments.


areyoukiddingme said...

Have I told you lately that I love you? I am sometimes a grammar snob though (I tried to type "slob" instead of snob and that is equally true).

Pet peeves:

There is a place
Their belongs to them
They're means They are

Your belongs to you
You're means you are

Please feel free to hunt me down and smack me if you catch my doing any of the above.

Also, I believe that whom is supposed to be an object of a preposition (i.e. to whom, for whom, etc.) and otherwise it's who.

painted maypole said...

just recently I learned this who/whom trick...

if the pronoun RESPONSE to "Who/whom?" would be "Him or Her" then use "whom" (I use the m connection of him and whom to remember) but if it would be "he or she" then use "who"

but when in doubt, I still use your rule, and stick with who.

angie said...

Though I am a grammarchist, I thought who precedes a verb, and in every other case use whom.
Like "Do you know who ate my bread?"
The answer:
The dog, whom I told time and again not to climb on the table, ate your bread (and drank your bourbon.)

slouchy said...

whence is always just whence. it means 'from what place, source, or cause.' writing "from whence" is REDUNDANT.

Eva said...

I hate it when people think an apostrophe just means "Look out! Here comes an S!"

Southern Gal said...

As a grammar Nazi, I love all of you who have posted above me - and you, too, Niobe, of course. I particularly share Eva's frustration with random apostrophe syndrome (I have a boss with two degrees from a prestigious university who continually uses "it's" as the possessive). And, since I look at resumes all day, I have become greatly offended by Those Who Capitalize Every Word in a Sentence - or, worse, capitalize Random words in mid-Sentence. Or, even worse, put random "quotes" around words "in" "their" resumes. (and, yes, I know that is not a complete sentence!) Whew, I feel better!!!

Tash said...

We can haz LOL Catz grammar rulz?

loribeth said...

Who vs whom can be a little tricky. But there/they're/their, your/you're, its/it's, etc. drive me absolutely bonkers.

I also concur with Southern Gal about the misuse of capitalization. I find this a lot in corporate writing. I think people do it to try to make what they're writing about look more important.

Some blogs you might enjoy:

Joy said...

Um... how about a simple grammar and punctuation test for people who paint signs for a living. "Try our Nut's"? Seriously? Did you not stop and think, hm, should I maybe LOOK THAT UP? Amateurs in conversation making dumb mistakes, not so bad, but in letters three feet high... sigh. Really bugs me.

Jus and Kat said...

Oh Loribeth, now I'm gonna be out and about looking for stuff to submit to those sites!

Personal Pet Peeve: the always-redundant "ATM Machine"

Aunt Becky said...

I got an entire email, a huge long email, of corrections that someone sent to me of things that he had found wrong on my blog.

People who have to comment or send emails that are very obviously condescending and rude, nitpicking my grammar which, on the whole, isn't terrible, THAT is what annoys me.

I am not stupid. I may use the wrong word now and again, but the smug superiority that transcends any helpfulness. Rudeness is never appreciated.

SouthernGal said...

Aunt Becky, your point is well-taken - and I never correct others, although I, of course (impressed with my own knowledge), will answer questions like "who or whom" when asked (and with great glee). Rudeness is never in order, and certainly not over something as relatively inconsequential as grammar on a blog (which is, after all, a personal space). That being said, I correct my son's atrocious spelling and occasional grammar lapses freely - since I paid for his five years of college!!!

Furrow said...

I've already been ranting today about the overuse of the ellipsis. But the one I really, really can't stand is when some uses "I" or "myself" when it should be "me." I know that it is a fear of sounding uneducated that causes people to do it. It sounds really low class to say "Her and me went to the store," but I think it's just as bad to say "that was just between my brother and I." It is a person trying too, too hard to avoid an error. It is much like the who/whom thing. In fact, they pretty much share the same rule: one is a subject and one is an object.

Yolanda said...

My pet peeve is people using then when they should be using than. It makes me insane whenever I see it.

Suzanna Catherine said...

Pet Peeves:

Using "anyways" instead of "anyway" at the beginning of a sentence. As in: Anyways, that's the news from here. Back in the olden days we were taught to use anyway without the s.

Also, people who confuse "here" and "hear" just make my skin crawl and my teeth itch.

My personal stumbling block: I tend to throw in too many commas.

Gibson Twins said...

Easiest way to figure out whether to use who or whom is this:

If it's "for", "to", "with", you need to use "whom". (ie "With whom am I speaking? "To whom does this letter go to?")

"Who is generally used to enhance the subject (ie "Niobe is a blogger who keeps her readers on their toes."). Or used when questoining about a group of people/in plural context (ie "Who do you think is going to the movies tonight?")

Grammar is my pet peeve. But not the who/whom debate. I like the their, they're, there one. And spelling. Imagine my fun in A&P with a bunch of morons who can't spell body parts.

Melissia said...

I cannot really comment on spelling and grammar error as my written sentences are now riddled with them, but what is with the additon of the "s" to the name of Walmart here in Texas? Is that just a deep South thing or a coastal thing? I swear I have never heard that in other parts of the country, but many people here say that they are going to the Walmarts. It drives me nuts!

Anonymous said...

I always like to hear English as Second Language folks say, "the nature," or "the life." Somehow it seems fitting, even though it is incorrect.


Melissia said...

I needed to add, I did actually check to see if had the name correct, as I hate to shop and you could not pay me enough money, plus ours is filled with people all the time by the look of the cars in the parking lot, so no way am I going in there.

Kristin said...

Just read Eats, Shoots and Leaves. It covers all my major grammatical pet peeves.

Kymberli said...

Mixing then/than irritates me to no end.

A whole nother problem is what the heck is a "nother"? I know what "another" is, but when "a" is split from "nother" it drives me nuts.

Wishing 4 One said...

I hate when to is used and it should be too.

Also their and there.

BTW i am no grammar queen, at.all.

Wabi said...

A good general rule is to only bother using whom for indirect objects. And if figuring out whether you've got a direct or indirect object on your hands is too much bother, just remember that whom is very often preceded by prepositions such as for, to, from, or with.

There are of course exceptions to this rule. But I'm not a purist when it comes to anything, so that doesn't bug me!

leanne said...

You are just full of the hugs n kisses lately :)

I have lots of grammar pet peeves (though I don't go around correcting people unless they are asking for help -- and admittedly editing is part of my job description). However, the one that bugs me the most is putting a comma between the month and year (October, 2009). There is absolutely no need for that comma.

hugs n kisses to you, Niobe.

Anonymous said...

what's wrong with you people? who and whom? its and it's? there and their? walmart and walmarts?

yes, there is something very wrong with prissy grammar snobs. they're editors, not authors. substance matters.


Brid said...

Why is it that some people will spell a lot wrong, but rarely a little?

Anonymous said...

Me or myself.....would you EVER say "If you have any questions, please call myself" NO! So why do people say "please call John or myself". Drives me crazy. Then there's the "I seen it on TV last night". How about "we was"? Yes, I'm a grammar snob. Funny thing is I couldn't begin to tell you when to use who or whom. LOL

Meg said...

Oh, I love this! I get really bothered by I/me, there, their, they're and when people spell things wrong like hear/here. ARG!!! These are fun to read. :)

myskytimes said...

Great post, interesting comments.

English is my 2nd language and I accidentally annoyed quite a few people by asking things like: "Why did you just say "we WAS at the store?" Simply because I thought that was an exceptional rule I didn't know yet.

I love that the english language doesn't have too many capitals, that prevents a lot of mistakes on my behalf. Though you might find a lot of additional hyphens on my blog, whom I use excessively. (Couldn't resist to try to use "whom, forgive me, if it's wrong). ;)

Anonymous said...

Can you please address when to use "that" versus "which"?

Emily said...

May I send out a heartfelt plea of my own to you in particular?

Remember the digital pumpkin carving link you posted last year? Could you post that again?

Thank you ever so much!

Hope Springs said...

I hate the 'myself' thing too. But one of the weirdest things that my husband does is to refuse to acknowledge ownership of his own body parts - "I move the bath mat [another of my pet peeves] because THE feet get cold", "THE nose is a bit stuffy today", etc. Drives me nuts!!!

Anonymous said...

I would like to know the proper use of which v. that, also. My early education was steeped in the King James tradition, and MS Word grammar checker firmly believes I am far too fond of which.

Personally, I shudder every time someone types out "of" as a phonetic alternative to the contracted "have". Woulda, coulda, or shoulda would have actually been much less grating on my editorial sensibilities.

Allison said...

Why do folks fear using the word "me" as the final pronoun in a sequence and always substitute the word "I" incorrectly?

Incorrect: "Between you and I" Correct: "Between you and me" Incorrect: "Mom took Jenny and I to the store."
Correct: "Mom took Jenny and me to the store."

The rule is that you take away the first noun and determine how the sentence would read without it. (Mom took I to the store? Horrors! But Mom took me to the store? Ahh, yes.)

Me is a legitimate word. It's OK to use it.

Alexicographer said...

Anons, my understanding is that "which" follows a comma whereas "that" does not. But grammar snobs everywhere may want to refer to this document:, though frankly I'd recommend doing so behind closed doors and only with other consenting adults because its precision may leave you moaning, in a good way.

Sue said...

When I taught SpEd in a middle school, one of the English teachers had a project, I think it was called the Never Again List. It included things like You're/Your and their/there/they're. Each student had to do a presentation/graphic representation to help the class remember a different one. I thought it was *brilliant* -- it also gave her free reign (rein?) to deduct points from essays if the students made any of the mistakes on the list.

Personally, there/their/they're and your/you're make me nuts. As does the inappropriate use of apostrophes. Since when do plurals need apostrophes???

coldspaghetti said...

Well said!

Who needs grammar when you can nail it like that?!

Sue said...

Sorry, just remembered one more:

The proper word after different is from, not than. Different is not a comparative.

X is different from Y because they are different species. They are qualitatively different. X maybe larger than or smaller than or weirder than.

Sorry. Just had to get that out. Thanks.

p.s. Have you ever read *Ex Libris* by Anne Fadiman? Awesome writing about words and language and grammar and growing up in a wordy family.

Hope Springs said...

By the way, grammar is so badly taught in the UK these days that we have to run an extra course for our graduate trainees (all with good degrees from good universities, and all in their twenties or older), which covers things like how to use apostrophes, differentiation between 'I', 'me' and 'myself', etc. I wrote the manual and included all my pet peeves in it.

But the worst thing is that when I teach that course, I have to spend at least the first hour trying to make them understand that these things are important and that (some of) our clients will get irritated if they receive badly written, ungrammatical letters and reports. Most of them have spent their entire life so far being told that none of that matters.

Alexicographer said...

Sue ... on the one hand I do now want to kiss you for the "different from" point. Yes! On the other hand, I thought I was pretty pet-peeve free until I saw the phrase "free reign" in your other comment (though I do realize you raised the question. As a horseperson for whom the phrase "free rein" (the correct, but rarely used, version) makes perfect intuitive sense (I often give my horse free rein), the other version makes me nuts. See discussion (e.g.) here:

And now that I'm thinking about it (and entirely unrelated to any of the points you mention), "often times" or (worse) "oftentimes" also irritates me, though only in written language.

Anonymous said...

This has been most enlightening. Here's another. The phrase "all of a sudden." Lately I have been hearing (and reading!) it as "all the sudden." I shuddered and laughed and then realized that maybe "all the sudden" is correct and I've been saying it wrong all these years? Please help!