Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies by June Casagrande
This book is as entertaining as Eats, Shoots & Leaves. In fact, it’s naughtier. June Casagrande not only devotes a chapter to “copulative conjuctions” (about which more later); she has another chapter titled “I’m Writing This While Naked”. There’s this scene as well:
Male student: You sure make love good.
Female teacher, in bed next to male student: Well, I make love well.
It’s all for a good cause. The scene is meant to be instructive — a lesson in the proper use of adverbs.
Copulative conjunctions, on the other hand, don’t live up to their billing. Casagrande explains:
Copulative conjunctions add on more information to the first part of a sentence. The Chicago Manual lists “and”, “also”, “moreover” and “no less than” as copulative conjunctions and gives the following examples: “One associate received a raise, and the other got promoted”, and “The jockey’s postrace party was no less exciting than the race itself.”
But there are more exciting chapters. For example, the author — whose pretty face appears in the book — invites readers to visualise her lying naked in her bath. She wants to make a point about the “predicate nominative”. Come again? She explains:
Have you ever wondered why it is that when you call, for example, my house and ask to speak with the naked sex symbol, I answer, “This is she”? …
Why would I say “she” instead of “her”? That is to say, why would I use the subject instead of the object pronoun?
Before I answer that, let me slip into this claw-foot tub full of hot, steamy water and bountiful bubbles. Aah! Delicious, isn’t it?
Now where was I? Oh yes…
The reason, as you all eager enthusiasts have already guessed, is the predicate nominative.
Here’s how it works. Whenever you have a noun or pronoun, followed by a form of the verb, “to be”, followed by another noun or pronoun that’s basically the same as the first noun or pronoun, that’s called the predicate nominative.
She may be right. But do you say, “It’s me” or “It’s I”? “It’s him” or “It’s he”? “It’s me”, “It’s him”, are perfectly acceptable, according to The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage. In fact, Michael Swan in Practical English Usage calls “It’s I”, “It’s he,” “overcorrect”. Go, figure.
Casagrande is an Angeleno who writes for the Los Angeles Times community supplements. Aah, she is an American: that explains it.
There are other instances where she carps about what’s perfectly acceptable in British English. For example, she finds fault with this sentence: The college which I attend is better than the college which you attend. According to her, it should be either: The college that I attend is better than the college that you attend. Or, better still: The college I attend is better than the college you attend.
But, according to the New Fowler, all three sentences are correct: “which” can be used as a substitute for “that” in restrictive clauses such as “that I attend” or “that you attend”.
Still, this is a book worth reading. Casagrande shows how English can’t be tied down by simple rules.
For example, she writes, it’s better to say “a friend of Dick’s” rather than “a friend of Dick”, but “a member of the church”, not “a member of the church’s”. She explains,”Try replacing ‘Dick’ and ‘Dick’s’ with pronouns. It becomes immediately clear that the possessive pronoun ‘his’ is better than the non-possessive ‘him’.” But why then should we write “a member of the church” and not a “member of the church’s”? She quotes the Associated Press: “Two conditions must apply for a double possessive — such as ‘a friend of John’s’ — to occur: 1. The word ‘of’ must refer to an animate object, and 2. The word before ‘of’ must involve only a portion of the animate object’s possessions.”
But don’t be intimidated by grammar, she says. She certainly has fun.