Tuesday, May 18, 2010

grammar nitpicking

I'm simultaneously disdainful of certain grammar nazi pet peeves, but quite picky about most other rules of punctuation, usage, syntax, etc.

I believe that language is constantly evolving and that when a grammatical abuse has become common enough, we can stop calling it an error. 'Whom' can be 'who' in most cases, especially prepositional phrases. 'Me and X' can replace 'X and I'. I actively promote split infinitives; they're more precise if you think about it. It's ok to start sentences with 'And' or 'But' and it's certainly ok to end them with a preposition. 'Media' and 'data' can be used as singular nouns. The redundant 'PIN number' is acceptable.

In the second category, I really hate plural possessives that are apostrophed before the s, commas splices instead of semicolons, incorrectly or doubly pluralized nouns like 'phenomenas' (gag), adverbs missing their -ly's, and certain abused words like 'less' used to mean 'fewer' or 'intuitive' used to mean approximately 'insightful'. (Something is intuitive if it's easy to understand; you are not intuitive if you find something easy to understand. The exactly correct word for that doesn't exist in English as far as I know. Please enlighten me if it does.) And of course there are the really common mistakes that make my skin prickle even though I make them too simply because of the muscle memory that takes over my typing: there/they're/their, its/it's, too/to, etc. And ya'll instead of y'all! That one kills me. American southerners are the only people in the world who use the word and half they time they don't get it right.

(But the WORST is when grammar sticklers try so hard to be correct that they start making the opposite mistake. Ie, "Come to the store with Bob and I." Please stop it if you do that! It's nearly as bad as nails on a chalkboard!! Especially when you act all smug for not succumbing to the same plebeian errors as the rest of us!!!)

Back to the real point. Neither the "if it sounds right, you can say it" rule of thumb nor the mechanical rules of syntax help me know how to make a name and a pronoun simultaneously possessive.

Consider "Dave and Larry's car is broken." That's fine. The second subject is made a possessive and it sounds right.

But "Dave and my car is broken" doesn't sound right at all, although it follows the same rules. "My and Dave's car" sounds a little better, not perfect, but breaks the rule that 'I' or 'me' should come last in a list, and also possessifies both subjects. Avoiding the double possessive, "I and Dave's" sounds horrible. "Dave and I's" is what I actually most commonly hear, but it is painfully, unequivocally wrong. "Dave's and my" is what I've settled on as the best option, although Dave really shouldn't be possessified.

What to do??

Addendum: My dad (conveniently, an expert on coordination syntax theory...) confirms that "Dave and my" is technically correct but that "Dave's and my" sounds more natural. "Dave and I's" is most common not because of the impulsive "and I" correctness, but because "noun classes break down in coordinate structures": we treat the coordinate structure as a unit and then tack on an -'s at the end.

Unrelated ranting addendum: Grammar education in the U.S. is profoundly sad. I didn't learn squat about grammar until taking English as a second language in Germany in 7th grade, and then in Mrs. Ramsey's class in junior high at a still shockingly rudimentary level compared to what was standard in decades past. Grammar is fun! Why did they stop teaching it? I'm gonna have to teach myself.

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