Learning a new language is a challenge to anyone, especially if he is . . . let’s say . . . not young. I am actually in the process of learning French. I don’t know how this will go, but I am willing to give it a shot. There are many programs that claim to help someone learn a new language in record time, but the one thing that I am learning very rapidly is that it is not so easy. My goal is to ride my bike in France and speak to local people that I meet without losing anything in translation. But I digress. The question that I pose is why so many Americans want to learn a new language when they can’t even speak proper English. I am very tired of the excuse that speaking or writing correctly can be “turned on or off” whenever the occasion arises. Is there an occasion when a person needs to be ignorant?
I tell my students all of the time that if they wish to be considered intelligent they must speak and write intelligently; after all, it is what communicates ideas and opinions. To say that the English language has not devolved is an understatement. This has nothing to do with slang. This has nothing to do with me being left behind the times. It has to do with an appreciation of language. I am stunned by the limited vocabulary of many that I hear speak on a daily basis. A limited mind lends itself to a shallow depth. The great philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell once wrote, “I remain convinced that obstinate addiction to ordinary language in our private thoughts is one of the main obstacles to progress in philosophy.” It is at this point that I want to convey two simple grammatical rules that I see and hear violated so many times:
1. “Jim gave a wonderful present to Linda and I.” The nominative pronoun should never be placed as the object of the preposition. Many do it to sound correct, when it only does the opposite. The nominative pronoun (he, we, she, they, I, etc.) should only be used as the subject of the sentence, a predicate nominative, or in a comparative sentence. In this case, the sentence would be that Jim gave a wonderful present to Linda and me.
- “Linda and he received a wonderful present from Jim.” (subject of the sentence)
- “The one to whom she told the secret is he.” (predicate nominative)
- “Larry is a bit taller than he.” (comparative statement)
2. “I’d be careful. He don’t know what he’s doing.” With the contractions don’t and doesn’t, it is a simple matter of plural and singular. Don’t is plural. Doesn’t is singular. In this case, the sentence would be that he doesn’t know what he’s doing.
- “Linda doesn’t keep a secret very well. (singular subject)
- “Bob and Sara don’t stay at home very much.” (plural subjects)
- “Mike or Tom doesn’t put the seat down on the toilet.” (singular subjects separated by OR)
- “They don’t get enough sleep.” (plural subjects)
- “Mike or they don’t need the money.” (blended subjects separated by OR, so the word “don’t” goes with they because it is closest)
- “They or Mike doesn’t need the money.” (same as above, but the word “doesn’t” goes with Mike because it is closest)
This is the kind of blog that is a stress reliever. I’ll be the first one to admit that I make mistakes, both spoken and written, but I work at it. Maybe this will reach someone who passes it to someone else. This could be the blog that sparks a grammatical revolution! Not really, I could only hope.