Those Problematical Gerunds

What’s wrong with this sentence?

The boss didn’t like me talking back to him.

First, let me define what a gerund is.  In this sentence talking is a gerund, a noun formed from a verb by adding an ing.  Now when you want to modify a gerund, you must use the possessive case.  In the sentence above the speaker/writer used the accusative case me instead of the possessive case my (as in my bad–LOL).

This mistake is very, very common, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Oxford English Dictionary hasn’t already signed off on it as okay.  However, as that sentence is composed, what it actually says is this:

The boss didn’t like me [who, by the way, happened to be talking back to him/her].

If the boss were objecting only to the smoking, which he evidently was, you must use my here.

Their Cheatin’ Hearts

In one of my university classes the other night, I sat through some student presentations on [tag]academic dishonesty in education[/tag].  One group did a well-researched job on [tag]grade inflation[/tag], detailing its causes and potential cures.  The other group presented what on the surface appeared to be a primer on how to cheat and why it’s essential to do so in school, at any level.

Ouch!

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Tips on Using Who and Whom

I believe I’ve mentioned before that, in speaking at least and often in writing, using who exclusively and forgetting whom exists will work just fine.

However, the other day I listened to a radio ad about an online dating service in which a woman extols the qualities of her new boyfriend “who I met online,” or words to that effect.

This grated on my ears.  Why?

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Comprised v. Is Comprised Of

I’ve always run into those blow-hard [tag]editors, copyeditors and proofreaders[/tag] who insisted that comprise be used in the active sense, meaning "to include."

Hence, one could write, "The program comprises dieting, exercise, and yoga." One could not write this in the passive voice, "The program is comprised of dieting, exercise, and yoga," which is the way I always used the verb.

 Now,"blow-hard central" had a point in the sense that I never recognized comprise as a transitive verb that took objects, but I’m not sure they were right about not using "is comprised of."

Now to the rescue comes Common Errors in English, which has a solution–use "is composed of" instead, but that doesn’t quite, to me at least, convey the same meaning as "is comprised of."

Whatever, the blow-hards are always right.  Blow-hards rule just about everywhere, don’t they?  But they’re not always right!

My Compliments on Your Complementary Work

My title is an example of two words that are often confused.  Actually, what’s confused in many writers’ minds is how to use and spell complementary. I’ve even seen professional Web sites where companies are trying to sell their “complementary services” and they use complimentary completely incorrectly.  Sure, I’ll take their free services anytime.

Here’s an explanation of the difference.

Grammar Horror Stories (Teaching-Wise)

I have my NotWords and MorphedWords categories, and now I’m toying with a Grammar Horror Stories category.

I bring this up because I can’t remember how many college students I’ve taught over the years who live in mortal fear of K-12 English admonitions from well-meaning (I hope) but un-grammar-educated (for sure) teachers.

Examples?

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I’m Through With the NotWord Thru

Like Milton in Office Space, who proclaimed “the last straw” when they turned the lights off on him, I am now beyond the last straw with the newer generations’ misuse of the NotWord thru, which is a misspelling of the real word through.

Thru belongs in only one usage, and that’s for fast food joints such as [tag]Drive-Thrus[/tag].

The final straw was reached when a student of mine, who has Mensa-caliber brain functions, turned in a paper with [tag]thru[/tag] used throughout it.

Enough. Let’s banish this NotWord forever. I’m through with thru.

Use of Subjunctive Mood in Verbs

Now here’s a misusage that almost no ear, nor eye, will ever catch. 

What’s wrong with this lyric:

“If I was a rich man…”?

If this clause reads and sounds okay to you, then you’re definitely among the majority of English users who don’t know, don’t understand or otherwise just ignore the subjunctive mood.

Briefly, the to be verb takes the subjective form were when used in if constructions expressing a wish or condition.  For instance:

“If I were in New York today, I could visit my friend Daniel.”

You’re not in New York, so the if expresses a wish or condition and thus requires the subjunctive mood in the verb, which is plural rather than singular.

If I was just learning English, I’d be confused, but if I were born here, I might still be confused.  (Find the error–or irony–in there yet?)