Thursday, April 12, 2007

Today's English lesson

From the American Heritage Book of English Usage:

Don't Get Personal
With Me, Part One

personal pronouns after as.
Your mother is just as proud as me.
said the father to the child with good grades. But should he have said, Your mother is just as proud as I?
As with similar constructions using than, there is a traditional rule stating that the pronoun following as … as … constructions must be in the nominative case (I, you, he, she, it, we, you, they), demonstrated by the fact that
She is just as proud as I.
is really a truncated version of the sentence
She is just as proud as I am.
Another way to put it would be to say that the second as functions as a conjunction, not as a preposition, in these sentences. Whatever the merits of this logic, the as me construction is very common in speech and appears regularly in the writing of highly respected writers. Moreover, you can argue that the second as is really a preposition in these constructions and demands the objective case. And there is the objection that as I constructions are overly formal, even pretentious. In short, both constructions are defensible and both are subject to attack. When you want to play it safe, use the as I construction, but throw in the verb to make it a clause:
She is just as proud as I am.

personal pronouns after forms of be.
That must be him on the phone. No, it must be he.
Traditional grammar requires the nominative form of the pronoun following the verb be:
It is I (not me).
That must be they (not them).
and so forth. Nearly everyone finds this rule difficult to follow. Even if everyone could follow it, in informal contexts the nominative pronoun often sounds pedantic and even ridiculous, especially when the verb is contracted. Who would ever say
It’s we?
But constructions like
It is me.
have been condemned in the classroom and in writing handbooks for so long that there seems little likelihood that they will ever be entirely acceptable in formal writing.

The traditional rule creates additional problems when the pronoun following be also functions as the object of a verb or preposition in a relative clause, as in I
t is not them/they that we have in mind when we talk about “crime in the streets” nowadays.
where the plural pronoun serves as both the predicate of is and the object of have. In this example, 57 percent of the Usage Panel prefers the nominative form they, 33 percent prefer the objective them, and 10 percent accept both versions. Perhaps the best strategy is to revise these sentences to avoid the problem. You can say instead
They are not the ones we have in mind.
We have someone else in mind.
and so on.

personal pronouns after but. Should you say
No one but I read the book.
No one but me read the book?
If but is a conjunction in these sentences, you should use the nominative form I. If but is a preposition, you should use me. So which is it—conjunction or preposition?

Although some grammarians have insisted that but is a conjunction here, they have had to admit that the objective form me is appropriate when the but phrase occurs at the end of a sentence, as in
No one has read it but me.
And in fact there is a strong case for viewing but as a preposition in all of these constructions.

For one thing, if but were truly a conjunction, you would expect the verb to agree in person and number with the noun or pronoun following but. You would then say
No one but the students have read it.
but you normally say
No one … has read it.
What is more, a conjunction cannot be moved to the end of a clause, as in
No one has read it but the students.
You can tell this because you cannot use the similar conjunction and in this way. That is, you cannot say
John left and everyone else in the class.
For these reasons it seems best to consider but as a preposition in these constructions and to use the objective forms of pronouns such as me and them in all positions:
No one but me has read it.
No one has read it but me.
These recommendations are supported by 73 percent of the Usage Panel when the but phrase precedes the verb and by 93 percent when the but phrase follows the verb.


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