Ideas for grammar column can be found almost everywhere

Posted

Some weeks, I have to go looking for column ideas. More often, they come looking for me: typos in my reading material, questions from friends, oddities in my editing work.

For example, I keep seeing “lead” in place of “led” in my online reading and social media feeds. That is, when someone wants to use the verb “to lead” in the past tense, instead of saying, “A beach cleanup effort led by local environmental groups removed three tons of trash,” someone would write of an effort “lead” by environmental groups. It’s a very easy mistake to make. After all, “lead” the metal rhymes with “led” the past tense of the verb “to lead.” Because “lead” is a homograph with two different pronunciations, that’s double the reason to get it wrong. This is why careful writers should make an effort to get this one right. “Lead” when you mean “led” is a famously treacherous pitfall we should know to watch out for.

Here’s a harder error to catch (I know, because I blew right past it in my editing work recently): “The 500-thread-count linens, marble-appointed bath and expertly curated artworks envelope guests in luxury.”

I’m relieved to report that I caught the error on a second read. (Note to aspiring typo slayers: One pass is never enough). The error is “envelope.” That’s a noun meaning a piece of paper folded to encase another piece of paper. The verb that means to surround, immerse or engulf is “envelop.” No E at the end. Make a note of it.

Another language issue that sought me out last week came in the form of an email from my friend Tracy. She’s an editor for hire, and her corporate clients sometimes challenge her wisdom. She turns to me for backup. Here, slightly disguised, is a sentence that one of her clients wanted to argue about.

“We welcome the children’s visits because we have lots of elderly people here, like my husband and I, who don’t get out as often as we used to.”

Tracy’s question, which you may have seen coming, is whether that “I” should be “me.”

My answer, which you also may have seen coming, is yes. It should be “me.”

Harder to guess, however, is why. Grammar sleuths might begin by parsing the sentence or dropping “my husband and” to see how each pronoun would look all by its lonesome. This works great, because you can clearly see that “like me” is better than “like I.” But there’s another way to get to the correct answer, requiring only a basic knowledge of prepositions.

Prepositions take objects: “until tomorrow,” “with cheese,” “at him,” “to her.” Most personal pronouns have two forms: subject and object. I and me, he and him, we and us, they and them -- in each pair, the first is a subject, the second an object.

“Like,” in our sentence, is a preposition. (Yes, it can also be a verb or an adjective, but not this time.) The object of a preposition, by definition, must be in object form. That’s why “like my husband and me” is right. The preposition “like” requires the object “me” instead of the subject “I.”

Our final came-looking-for-me grammar issue arrived via a friend who sent me a transcribed Prairie Home Companion sketch with a funny take on common grammar errors. Most of the sketch was exactly right, but there was one place where the grammar went wrong. In the sketch, Garrison Keillor’s character told a waitress “irregardless” isn’t a word.

That’s just not true. It is a word. True, it’s probably born of an error -- a blending of “irrespective” and “regardless.” But “irregardless” is listed in most dictionaries. It means regardless.

Of course, it’s a terrible choice -- preferred over “regardless” by exactly no one in the whole wide world. But that doesn’t mean “irregardless” is not a word.

- June Casagrande is the author of “The Best Punctuation Book, Period.” She can be reached at JuneTCN@aol.com.

Comments