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Grammarphobe: Charlie and I

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Something happens to us in grade school. We lose our natural sense of what’s right or wrong in English and come to rely on rules instead. One of the first rules we learn makes us do crazy things for the rest of our lives. Maybe you just came in from outside, flushed and excited.

“Me and Charlie were down by the creek catching nightcrawlers,” you begin.

“Charlie and I,” says your Aunt Mildred, a retired second-grade teacher from Mt Sterling, Ohio.

This has happened before. You suddenly know that any hope of communicating the enthusiasm, the unmitigated joy, the pure delight, of looking for nightcrawlers and finding instead a three-foot serpent has been lost. Aunt Mildred launches into a lecture of which you hear only one refrain: “Never use ‘me’ when speaking of yourself and another person, and always put yourself second.”

“Charlie and I,” you repeat dully. The moment is forever lost.

Even Aunt Mildred, shocked as she was at hearing such disgraceful grammar from an eight-year-old, would have to admit that “Charlie and I” is not a catch-all for speaking of yourself and Charlie. You might have been pursued by a dragon, for example, while you and Charlie were playing with your little sister. ” The dragon chased Charlie and me,” you say, “and we led it far away from Sally.”

But somehow now it doesn’t sound right. Somehow you’ve got it into your head that “I” always follows “and” no matter what role the words play in the sentence. How can you tell when to use “I” and when to use “me?”

Simple. Drop “Charlie and.” If it’s a sentence you would still say, then you’re probably on the right track.

The dragon chased Charlie and I.

The dragon chased Charlie and I.

The dragon chased I. Oops!

The dragon chased Charlie and me.

Just between you and I me, if you apply this trick to your writing, you will rarely go wrong. And you will save yourself some embarrassment when the grammar cop pulls you over for using the wrong case pronoun for the object of a verb or preposition.

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Ungrammatical Worship

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Bad grammar bothers me. I can’t help it; it just does. Whether it’s friends asking me to “borrow” them a book or a newspaper article that confounds lay and lie, bad grammar irks me. Still, I usually content myself with a muttered correction and go on.

On Sundays when I worship, I like to be caught up in the contemplation of God. I like to sing with the rest of the congregation and let my spirit take flight. Then I’m suddenly confronted with a phrase like this one:

The beauty of Your majesty awakes my heart to sing

Leaving aside the question of whether awake ought to be a verb or a modifier, if it is a verb, it certainly ought to be intransitive, and it ought to describe the action of  the thing that awakes not of the thing that does the awakening. It ought to be:

The beauty of your majesty awakens my heart to sing

or

My heart awakes to sing because of the beauty of your majesty

Of course, neither of these lines scans with the rest of the song.

Don’t get me wrong. I really like this song. I like its focus on God and its overall singability. But that one line bugs me, and I can’t help thinking that it should have bugged the songwriter too.

Soon after we moved on to the next song. It was Father, You’re Glorious by Johnathan Stockstill. This song brought me up short with:

Nothing can or ever will come between the love we share.

“…and what?” I thought. The preposition between always takes a pair of objects: “Between a rock and a hard place;” “between you and me.” Even “between us” or “between friends” implies a pair; if their were more, it would be “among friends.” Again the meaning is plain. It should be:

Nothing can or ever will come between us in the love we share.

Am I the only one bothered by this playing fast and loose with grammar? I don’t know which is more charitable: to suppose that the songwriters don’t know or to suppose that they don’t care. Ignorance is perhaps more pardonable than carelessness, but I can’t help feeling once again that Christians are touchy-feely anti-intellectual backwoods barbarians. In short, supposing them ignorant makes me embarassed to count myself a Christian.

So I guess I need to go pray for humility.

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