Get With Your Grammar
- On June 10, 2014
“I think the grammar was all screwed up in that sentence, so let me start again.”
That’s our president talking to David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker.
I suspect President Obama had been trying to convey too many thoughts in a single sentence and the sentence collapsed.
That happens a lot in business writing, too.
One way to keep your writing clean and clear is to write in short sentences. When you do, you have more control, and you’re less likely to get your grammar in a jam.
Unfortunately, you can write—or speak—in the shortest sentences possible and still get me and I mixed up. That might be the No. 1 grammatical mistake of all time!
Consider these faulty sentences:
- Please tell Ted and I when we can schedule this meeting.
- There is no meeting without Ted and I.
- “I’m trying to protect you and I” (said shady Frank Underwood, aka Kevin Spacey, in House of Cards just before he threw Kate Mara in front of the train).
Bullet No. 1 should read, “Please tell Ted and me when we can schedule this meeting.” The unspoken you (as in, “You tell Ted and me…) is the subject. “Ted and me” are the objects of the verb tell—we’re receiving the action.
If you dropped Ted, would you say, “Please tell I when we can schedule the meeting”?
Bullet No. 2: “There is no meeting without Ted and me.” Here, me is the object of the preposition without. If you ditched poor Ted again, would you say, “There is no meeting without I”?
Bullet No. 3 is trickier. “I’m trying to protect us” would be correct. Us is the objective pronoun (we’re receiving the action) of we (aka you and I). Frank also could have said, “I’m trying to protect you, and I’m trying to protect myself,” which given his motives, would have been both grammatically correct and truthful.
- Use “myself” only when you’re doing something to yourself—never as a replacement for “me” or “I.”
- If there’s a Ted before your “I,” drop him and see if your sentence sounds right.
- Consult grammar guides. I like Woe Is I by Patricia T. O’Conner. Grammarly is a good online grammar checker.
- Use short sentences.
Credit owed to: Verlyn Klinkenborg, author of Several Short Sentences About Writing. David Remnick,“Going the Distance: On and off the road with Barack Obama,” The New Yorker, January 27, 2014. My friend Kirsten Lundberg.