Let’s Talk with Lois Winston

I vs. Me
By Lois Winston

Peggy Riley Hughes, my seventh and eighth grade English teacher, was a grammar martinet. Her weapon of choice was a yardstick which she slammed against the blackboards that lined the front and one side of our classroom, metaphorically beating grammar rules into her students. As a result, those blackboards were pockmarked with tiny gouges. Rumor had it that she once shattered one of those blackboards. Occasionally, her yardstick would even come down on the desk of a clueless student. If you had Peggy Riley Hughes for English, you learned grammar—one way or another.

In My Fair Lady, Henry Higgins laments, “Why can’t the English teach their children how to speak?” Not a day goes by that I don’t think of that song and Peggy Riley Hughes. I may no longer remember the names of all the parts of speech or parts of a sentence, but I remember the rules Mrs. Hughes drummed into us. And I cringe every time I see or hear certain ones being broken.

I’ll be the first to admit I lost my reverence for the OED when they declared it was acceptable to split infinitives. Do you have any idea the reaming out I would have gotten had I dared to split an infinitive on a writing assignment?

But the breaking of the grammar rule that bugs me the most is when I see or hear a nominative pronoun being used in the objective case. For those of you who didn’t have a Peggy Riley Hughes in your life, the nominative case is the subject of a sentence. It’s where you use I, he, she, and they. The objective case is when a noun or pronoun is used as the object of the sentence. For pronouns, that’s me, him, her, and them. It’s the direct or indirect object of the sentence or the object in a prepositional phrase.

Putting it simply, you wouldn’t say, “He’s going with I” or “Jack drove she to the store.” You’d say, “He’s going with me” or “Jack drove her to the store.” So why would you say, “He’s going with Anna and I” or “Jack drove she and I to the store”? When you think about it, it makes no sense.

Yet I see the nominative being used in place of the objective in just about every book I’ve read for years now. It doesn’t matter if it’s a first time indie-published author or a multi-published New York Times bestselling author from a major publishing house. Maybe schools aren’t teaching grammar anymore, but wouldn’t you think editors would be schooled in proper grammar usage?

I admit, this is one of my major pet peeves. In the greater scheme of life, I suppose it’s a minor one, but it’s like fingernails on a blackboard when I read or hear an “I,” “she,” “he,” or “they” when it’s supposed to be a “me,” “her,” “him” or “them.” Maybe it’s a bit of PTSD from all those whacks of the yardstick from back in my junior high school days.

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Comments

  1. Well, well, well. Haven’t you just set off a firestorm, Lois? As one of those writers who bend the grammar rules to fit my character, I’ll simply raise my hand and say, “Guilty, as charged.” That doesn’t mean I don’t have pet peeves, though. To be honest, my biggest hasn’t been mentioned. Perhaps I’m alone in this, but mine is that so many authors use a name when a pronoun will smooth out the writing and not harm the clarity of the sentence.

    • Lois Winston says

      Terry, you obviously didn’t spend two years in Peggy Riley Hughes’s English class! 😉

    • That’s one of my peeves too, Terry. Authors only need to name a character under 2 circumstances: to orient the reader to the character speaking (and that should be done as early as stylish in the paragraph) and when the extra emphasis is needed for style reasons or dialogue impact. “Emily!” she snapped. versus “Emily?”

  2. S. D. Frank says

    When I read “she poured over the documents,” I wonder what she was pouring. Maple syrup, perhaps?

  3. Great grammatical rant there, Lois!
    I’m less of a stickler for “I/me’ errors, especially if they’re in characters’ dialogue because they show something about the character’s attitude or education level. I’m firmly on Team Oxford Comma, though, and my current pet peeve, after a month of reading submissions from university students and even MFA graduates in Creative Writing, is the practice of connecting two discrete sentences together with a comma instead of a period, colon, or semi-colon. Yes, the dreaded ‘comma-splice’ is alive and well, at least in academia and, worse, it’s being defended as ‘okay’ by people with fiction editing certifications from reputable schools.

  4. What about “eager” and “anxious?” So many writers I’ve read will write, “She was anxious to go.” No, she’s eager to go. She’s only anxious when she’s nervous about going.
    BTW, I find “It is I” rathe stilted. From so much usage, “It’s me” sounds better to my ears.

  5. Taylor R Williams says

    I have a couple, starting a sentence with And or But, only having 1 space after a period

    • Taylor, in typing class we were taught to use two spaces after a period, but publishers have always used one space. You may find two spaces occasionally if the type is justified left/right but only then. Years ago, I forced myself to move to one space in my manuscripts to make life easier for my editors and the formatters at my publishing house. Since switching back and forth is too taxing on the old brain cells, I now use one space for everything I type. 😉

  6. Woe is me (or should I say I to annoy everyone). This truly is a sore subject – especially when young whippersnappers think they know everything and change the style to remove my oxford commas, the way I set off too with a comma, and all the tricks I learned diagramming sentences. I fear the books we will read in the next twenty years will be sadly lacking the grammar we learned.

  7. I get annoyed when people don’t know the difference between it’s and its. It’s = It is.

  8. I”m with you on the frustration of hearing “He drove she and I” but the one that gets me worse is misuse of lay and lie. People do not lay out at the beach; they lie out! A childhood neighbor always said, “People lie; hens lay.”

    • Good way to remember the difference, Judy. Another is further and farther. I always remembered the difference between those because farther refers to distance, hence “far” and not “fur.”

  9. My mom was a school teacher she retired and my youngest sister is a 4th grade teacher so I always try to correct grammar. A pet peeve of mine is the use of the comma. I hate it it when there should be a comma and people don’t use commas. If you’re not sure, at least try to put a comma in the sentence even it’s not right I give people an E for Effort for trying.
    In Elementary school & high school, I just hated diagramming and past participles mostly because I never understood them what diagramming had to do with English.
    Looks like good book and would love to read & review in print format.

  10. I learn new grammar rules all the time. I had an eighth grade teacher who loved diagramming. Not too bad for me as I thought of it as breaking a secret code. LOL

  11. It’s the Oxford comma for me too. Or is it me (comma) too?

  12. My pet peeve is the using of loose when the word should be lose. You don’t loose your diamond ring. You lose your diamond ring.

  13. cherylhollon says

    Mrs. Robinson, my seventh and eight grade English teacher, taught us diagramming. I thought it made excellent sense and loved to see the results of complex sentences. She also taught me that poetry writing was not limited to the elite. She’s my forever hero.

  14. Maggie Toussaint says

    I had an intense grammarian for a teacher early on. For most of my upper education, I marveled that no one else in my class knew how to diagram sentences. Still do that in my head today. Amazing how some things stick with you!

  15. Diane A.S. Stuckart/Anna Gerard says

    Lois, that’s one of my pet peeves, too. OK in character speech to show them being casual and/or uneducated, but IRL no way! But my biggies are misplaced apostrophes (Room’s For Rent) and not adhering to the Oxford comma rule. Wikipedia calls it “optional”. NO IT IS NOT! 🙂

    • Yes, Diane, you also see that misplaced apostrophe all the time on wreaths and yard signs that state “The Smith’s”. The Smith’s what? And only one Smith lives there? Fine if you want the sign to read “The Smiths’ Home” but not fine otherwise.

      And another one of my pet peeves is people who rely on Wikipedia. 😉

      • Diane A.S. Stuckart/Anna Gerard says

        LOL, someone years ago gave us a cute Christmas reindeer sign that said “The Stuckart’s”. Luckily, it was painted, so I managed to scrub off the apostrophe before I stuck it in the yard.

  16. Kathy Laweryson says

    My grammar pet peeve is when people don’t use commas!