Grammar Manners Matter

Exemplary Behavior – by Horatio Henry Couldery (1832-1893)

 

Having and using good manners will always be important to me. Although I don’t feed my dogs at the table, I couldn’t help admiring the good manners displayed by the dogs in this painting.

My old “Good Manners for All Occasions” says it’s polite for the man to open the door for the lady, and for that matter, for any younger person to open it for the older one. This custom is considered to be polite, but in the penguin world, letting someone else go first is based on survival.

penguins

Penguins stand in a line at the edge of the ice, ready to go for a dip in the ocean for a bit of fishing. Who will test the waters first? The crowd gathers at the water’s edge jostling each other until finally, one of them falls in. If he isn’t attacked by a lurking leopard seal in the next few moments, the rest of the penguins dive in.

But surely, we humans have evolved from these primitive, yet effective, tactics. We now consider it polite to allow others to go first. We offer others the first choice from the food platter, even though it occasionally backfires on us.

This was the case when at dinner, Joe passed the meat platter to his brother Bob first before helping himself. When Joe complained because Bob took the biggest piece, Bob asked, “What would you have done?”

Joe sniffed. “I would have taken the smaller piece, of course.”

“Well, you have it,” Bob said. “So what’s the problem?”

*****

In spite of these odd cases, modern society generally agrees that we should let others go first. And so it is with grammar.

We name the other person(s) first and then ourselves. If it is that simple, why is it still such a problem in our writing?

Following are some tips and guidelines.

When naming others first, we would not begin a sentence with: Me and Joe, Me and him, Me and her, I and Joe.

Okay, we know we should name Joe first, but even so, is it Him and me, Joe and me, or Joe and I?

Let’s look at some sample sentences where you and Joe are the subjects of the verb. Here are the possibilities:

Joe and me / Joe and I / Him and me / Him and I / He and me / He and I / drove to town.

 

When in doubt, leave Joe out. Without Joe in the car, you are in the driver’s seat and of course you would say “I drove to town” not “Me drove to town.” When you take on that extra passenger, if you need to get the feel of whether it’s Joe or him or he, try leaving yourself out. “Joe drove to town” or “Him drove to town” or “He drove to town”?

“Him drove to town” simply does not work, so you can use either “Joe” or He.”

*****

I’m still shocked when I see sentences like “Me and him went to the party.” You would never say “Me went to the party” or “Him went to the party,” so why would you say “Me and him” or even “Him and me” (went to the party)? Same goes for “She” and “Her.”

And now we come to the other situation where you and Joe are the objects of the verb. Which is correct? The sun shone on:

me and Joe

Joe and me

Joe and I

him and me

him and I

he and I

First rule is to mention others first so that narrows it down to Joe/him/he and me/I. Second, leave out me/I and we have “The sun shone on Joe (or him).” Then leave out Joe and we have “The sun shone on me” (you wouldn’t say “I”). So together we have “The sun shone on Joe/him and me.” Better yet, say “The sun shone on us.”

Now may the sun shine on your grammar and mine.

Anneli new footer c

 

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