I have stopped wondering if there are polite ways to correct people when they make the mistake of using “I” in a phrase that is the object in a sentence, as in this case: “I’m so extraordinarily delighted with the studded credenza you sent to Lord Codswallop and I,” when the correct phrase is “Lord Codswallop and me,” the fortunate credenza recipients.
I haven’t lost hope in people’s ability to made changes in their habits of speech, but I’ve come to the conclusion, as Hamlet puts it, that “the readiness is all.” If someone is relating a story that features a “Lord Codswallop and I” mistake, I can hand them the fact (or a reminder of the fact) that they’ve just made a grammatical error, but in that moment they may not have any place to put it.
If, on the other hand, someone comes to me with a question about how this particular sentence construction is supposed to go, or sends me a manuscript for editing, they’ve got a hand extended, ready to receive. It’s a much better time to relay the information about the grammatical rule and accompanying tips for figuring out if it applies in a specific case.*
As an editor, I may be better placed than some to catalog the sorts of mistakes that make frequent grammatical traps. But that doesn’t keep me from making mistakes myself—I probably say or write things from time to time that someone else is itching to tell me how to fix. Some of those mistakes I might not know about. Others I’m aware of but haven’t yet wrestled to the ground. For instance, I grew up using “lay” in a few places where I should use “lie,” and that one still sometimes trips me up.
Are you currently wrestling with a grammatical issue that’s giving you trouble? Do you have any strategies to suggest? If you notice grammatical problems in any of my posts, consider my hand extended, ready to take what advice you’d like to give me.
*Here is one such handy tip: to figure out whether “I” or “me” is the right choice, ask Lord Codswallop to step aside momentarily, taking the conjunction with him. I’ve lifted him right out of the sentence and parked him here for now: [Lord Codswallop and]. Then read the sentence with just the remaining pronoun: “I’m so extraordinarily delighted with the studded credenza you sent to I.” Without the distracting presence of Lord Codswallop, it’s quite clear that “me” is what was needed instead.
[Image: loveantiques.com, shakespeareillustration.org, wikimedia commons]