Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Disputed English grammar
Cases of disputed English grammar arise when individuals disagree about what should be considered correct English in particular grammatical constructions.
Such disagreements often are surprisingly impassioned. Sometimes, one side attempts to argue on the basis of logic or functionality that a particular usage is better. At other times, people appeal to precedent: a particular usage should be used because the best writers have used it in the past. In some cases, people will even appeal to writers who wrote several centuries ago, such as William Shakespeare. Such appeals to old usage are dubious, since many grammatical constructions used by Shakespeare could not possibly be used in educated writing today, as in the use of "his" for "its", or "an" for "if". We do not hold such usages against Shakespeare, since they were normal in his day and the language has changed since then.
Writing about usage tends to be most useful to other people if it makes clear what kind of impression a particular usage will make on particular kinds of readers. Some usages will strike some readers as "barbarous" and uneducated. Other usages pose the opposite risk, that they will strike some readers as pretentious. Ideally, good advice will help a writer to best adapt his or her writing to the intended audience. Unfortunately, there are also cases where no single usage will please all readers: one choice will sound vulgar to some readers and another pretentious to different readers. For an example, see the discussion of usage in the Wikipedia article tempo.
See split infinitive.
Object and Subject in Prepositional Phrases
Sentences containing a prepositional phrase like to Joe and me are often changed to to Joe and I in the belief that "...and I" is always correct. The use of subject pronouns (e.g. I, he) in prepositional goes back several centuries but is considered incorrect by prescriptivists. Another example of such usage is described in the section Between you and I below.
Prescriptivists would mandate the same form of the first person singular pronoun as would be used without the other noun. For example, Lucy gave a dollar to Joe and me would be mandated because Lucy gave a dollar to me is almost universally considered correct, as opposed to Lucy gave a dollar to I.
It's I/It's me
Prescriptivists consider both of these forms correct. English is approaching the end of a period of transition from one usage to the other. The second is more common, but the first is also considered correct.
The I in "It's I" is a subject complement. Subject complements are used only with a class of verbs called linking verbs, of which to be is the most common. Unlike object complements, subject complements are not affected by the action of the verb, and they describe or explain the subject. In this case, I is not affected by the action of the verb is, and it specifies exactly who the subject It is. The subject complement therefore takes the subjective case. Usually, this makes no difference in the sentence because English nouns no longer distinguish between subjective and objective case. But English pronouns make the distinction, and the subject complement takes I instead of me. It's I is sounds strange to many English speakers, but is considered correct by prescriptivists.
However, the subject complement usage has been fading out due to the "simplifying" that English has been undergoing for centuries. The usage makes English more complicated by requiring a speaker to distinguish between two types of complements and using different forms of the pronoun. But this complication adds nothing to communication, as shown by the fact that the same form of the noun is used in both types of complement, without harm to understanding. English speakers have discovered that they can dispense with the subject complement usage, and they are gradually doing so.
At this point, the use of the subjective in the subject complement has almost entirely disappeared. Both usages are still current, but the use of subjective in the subject complement is much less common.
Between you and I
An example of this phrase occurs in Shakespeare;
- All debts are cleered betweene you and I...
It was also used by the Restoration playwrights. This phrase was acceptable in Tudor and Restoration England, but today, most educated people, including the authors of style manuals, would consider it ungrammatical. The principle that is cited is that prepositions always take object pronouns, and it does not matter whether the pronouns occur singly or are joined with a conjunction.
A comparison that sheds further light on the phenomenon is the following:
- All debts are cleared between you and us.
- All debts are cleared between you and we.
Here, the subjective case sounds clearly wrong to most writers, and is almost never used in current written English. The example suggests that "between you and I" is in fact an idiom; it has been used so frequently for so many centuries that it tends to sound fairly acceptable in comparison to "between you and we". Indeed, "between you and I", though avoided in writing, would be considered acceptable in oral use by many educated speakers.
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