Archive | August, 2011

Subjects vs. Objects (A Treatise on Grammar and Reality Television)

26 Aug

I have something I need to get off of my chest:

First, this 90-pound dumbbell. Why do I keep it there?  It’s bruising my sternum.

Second: I watch The Bachelor. Regularly.

That’s it. That’s my flaw. It’s the one trashy television show that I watch.

… okay.  I also watch the spin-off of The Bachelor, The Bachelorette.

NOW I’ve exposed all of my shameful secrets, each and every one of them, so the air is clea–YES, I also watch Bachelor Pad, the spin-off spin-off.  Are you happy now?! Is this interrogation over?!

Bachelor Pad is a terrible show. It is trashy television to the extreme.  Infamous ex-contestants pretty much fight and make-out in their swimsuits, and somehow games and roses are involved, and there’s a lot of crying.  And I’m digging myself a hole here, but you need to know that each episode is THREE HOURS LONG. Episodes of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette are already two hours long, which is ridiculous, but people WATCH them, so the producers must have gotten cocky and thought, “You know what, if we can get them to watch this regular reality show for TWO HOURS every week, what do you think we can make the desperate lower-crust of Bachelor/Bachelorette aficionados who would actual consider watching a spin-off of an already ridiculous show do?  Do you think … oh, goodness, you don’t think we could get them to watch for three?”

I had no intentions of ever watching Bachelor Pad.  I mean … three hours.  Three hours?!  But I turned it on one day for background noise while I was doing laundry, thinking the whole time, “Seriously, what kind of person do they actually think they’re going to get to watch this asinine show for three hours?”

180 minutes later, I knew.

This is a long, embarrassing rant that leads me to this week’s topics: subjects and objects.  My original train of thought had something to do with the different dynamics in each show, and the emphasis on one male or female as the subject, and then some sort of play on words about how the 25 other contestants were all object…ified.

It’s almost pointless to discuss who/whom or I/me or objects of prepositions if you don’t have a working understanding of how and when you should use subjective pronouns and when you should use objective pronouns.

First, brief definitions.

1. A subjective pronoun is a pronoun that is the subject of a sentence.  Plain and simple.  The subject performs some kind of action.

The subjective pronouns are I, you, he, she, it, what, who, and they.

She went to school is a sentence where she is the subjective pronoun.

2. An objective pronoun is a pronoun that receives the action from the subject of a sentence.  In other words, something happens to the object.

The objective pronouns are me, him, her, it, us, you, them, and whom.

John punched him is a sentence where him is the object.  He is receiving the action of the sentence (the punch), and therefore, the objective pronoun is used.

You’ll also notice that you and it show up in both lists.  Their forms don’t change, so you can’t lose! You’re the exact opposite of the Chicago Cubs!

But for the most part, people are fine with simple sentences like John punched him.  Rarely do I hear someone say, “John punched he.”  Maybe because all the Johns I know are pacifists, but also maybe because our ears have trained us against sentences like that.

However.

There are a couple of instances when people simply cannot get their subjects and objects straight.  The first one is a rule logic wouldn’t lead you to naturally, so it’s almost forgivable.  Here it is:

Whenever a pronoun (all those words I listed earlier–he, she, that, whom, him, etc.) follows a preposition, it takes the objective form.  You don’t need to ask yourself if the word is the subject or the object of the sentence; if it follows a preposition, it takes the objective form.  I offer a brief definition and a few examples of prepositions here.

THE NUMBER ONE MISTAKE PEOPLE MAKE–and it is, I believe, in an attempt to appear intelligent–is saying “Between you and I” instead of “Between you and me.”  Between is a preposition, and therefore, any pronoun that follows must be an object.  You does double duty as a subjective and an objective pronoun (you’ll notice it shows up in both lists), so in this case, it is being an objective pronoun; we just don’t realize it because it looks no different than the subjective you (although I’ve heard that the objective you is the preferred candidate for grading tests, while the subjective you is favored by the post-modernists. Someone high-five me!).

Between you and me.  Between you and me.  Between you and me.  Drill that into your brains.

Here is one more practical application.  People also struggle with which pronouns to choose to follow the word than.  Is it She likes breakfast sausage more than I or She likes breakfast sausage more than me?  Well, it depends.  First of all, NO ONE likes breakfast sausage more than I do.  That’s actually your first clue.  You use “I” following a comparative sentence that uses the word than when you could say “I do” instead of “I” and mean the same thing.  She likes breakfast sausage more than I is the same as saying She likes breakfast sausage more than I do.  The subjective I is chosen because I is the subject of its own independent clause (“I do”).

The second sentence uses the objective me instead of the subjective IShe likes breakfast sausage more than me is the same as saying She likes breakfast sausage more than she likes meMe is not doing anything, and it is receiving the action of the subject (the not-liking).  Therefore, you use the objective pronoun!

If the logic bothers you, don’t worry about it.  Just follow the formula.  If “than I am” or “than I do” or a similar statement can replace “than I,” then you’ve found the right pronoun.  If not, me is the answer.

Incidentally, that’s the exact response that all contestants screened for The Bachelor or The Bachelorette give when asked, “Who does the world revolve around?” and also, “What is the abbreviation for the state of Maine?” and also, “What is the acronym for Myalgic encephalomyelitis, a medical condition known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?”

It’s a weird screening process.

(Parentheses)

14 Aug

It was a long time before I understood dimples.

I was very young the first time they were described to me, and I walked away from the conversation thinking that the dimples were ill-named.  Face scars.  That was how I understood them.  A permanent skin divot?  Don’t tell me that’s a dimple.  Don’t tell me that’s cute.  That’s a scar.  You’re telling me that little girl has adorable matching face scars.  I’ll compromise and call them half-moon gauges, but you’re not talking me any lower than that.

Then a few years later, in 4th grade, I met a boy upon whom I had a tremendous crush.  And everything changed, because he had dimples, and when he smiled at me, all of the sudden, I got dimples.  When he smiled at me, I didn’t want to make fun of his face mutation; I wanted to say, “Those dimples on your face are tiny hammocks in which the lightest parts of my soul were meant to sleep.”

I still think dimples are funny.  People who have them are essentially walking around with a pair of parentheses on their faces.  And the same thing is always between those parentheses: their mouth.  So no matter where you are or what you are doing, if you have dimples, every conversation you have–whether you like it or not–silently ends with your face parentheses saying, basically, “Oh, by the way … my mouth.”

This brings me to the first rule of using parentheses:

1. The information contained within your parentheses should be disposable.  Information in parentheses is usually of minor importance: you might use parentheses to add a small, clarifying detail or an afterthought.  Your sentence must still be able to maintain function and meaning without whatever is written in the parentheses.  The main part of your sentence should be outside (and you can sneak little fun tidbits inside).

2. There should be one space (like the one after space) before the first parenthesis mark.  There should not, however, be any spaces between the parenthesis mark itself and the first word within (see how there is no space before see?).

3. IN MOST CASES: end punctuation goes OUTSIDE of the parentheses.  Remember that the parentheses contain optional information.  This means that you need to punctuate your sentence as if the parentheses are not there.  Here are a couple of examples.

Example 1:

In this sentence (you know, the one you’re reading right now), the parenthetical remark is in the middle.

Always remember: information within the parentheses is optional information.  That means you should be able to lift it out at any time, and the sentence will still make grammatical and logical sense.  This includes punctuation.  In Example 1, if we lifted the parenthetical remark out, we would be left with, “In this sentence, the parenthetical remark is in the middle.”

We put a comma after the end parenthesis in the example because if we took the parentheses OUT, we would still need a comma after the introductory phrase In this sentence.  The only difference is that with the parentheses in, we put the comma outside of the parentheses themselves.

Example 2:

This is a sentence where the parentheses are at the end (right here).

The period goes OUTSIDE OF THE PARENTHESES.  I cannot emphasize that enough.  A period always goes at the end of the sentence, even if some dimply punctuation marks get in the way first.

Example 3:

This is an example (see what I’m doing?) where there is punctuation inside of AND outside of the parentheses.

Like I said, you must always punctuate your sentence the exact same way you would if you weren’t including whatever you have in parentheses.  This almost always means punctuation outside of the parentheses.  However, that doesn’t mean that there is never a place for punctuation INSIDE the parentheses as well.  In Example 3, a question is asked within the parentheses.  Therefore, the logical thing to do is to use a question mark.  The sentence that is going on outside of the parentheses is still punctuated normally; since a question was asked within the parentheses, though, it should be indicated with the proper punctuation.  The same would go for a parenthetical exclamation (like this!).  And you’ll notice I still put a period outside of the parentheses, because I need that period to end the outside sentence.

There is more to be said about parentheses, but now is not the time.  Now is the time to continue brainstorming ways to bring those with dimples back down to Earth.  They’ve spent too much of their lives being praised for their face parentheses.  I consider it my mission to give them far less adorable names, like Twin Baby Banana Face.

And no, most celebrities: that’s not a viable option for a baby name.

Although Twin Baby Banana Face Danza does sort of have a ring to it.

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