Saturday, October 30, 2010

He and I, Him and I, He and Me, or Him and Me?

Question 1:
When you and JoeBob are telling mom where you'll be on this fine afternoon, do you say:

A. Him and me are going to the movies.
B. Him and I are going to the movies.
C. He and me are going to the movies.
D. He and I are going to the movies.

Question 2:
OK, now if you're asking mom for money for popcorn, do you say:

A. Please give him and me $20.
B. Please give him and I $20.
C. Please give he and me $20.
D. Please give he and I $20.

Write down your answers now. You'll get a chance to answer a second time and then compare and contrast your answers.

I've never quite grasped why these are so hard for so many people--even many very well educated, literate people sometimes pick the wrong ones. My puzzlement peaked when a friend posted this week on Facebook: "I already dropped off Joe Bob and I's absentee ballots." "I's"?! Wow. The friend blamed it on doing Facebook before ingesting the morning coffee dose, but still--

I think the inappropriate use of "I" goes back to so many childhood episodes where you say, "Joe Bob and me are going down to the creek to look for frogs," and Mom would say for the thirty-seven-hundredth time, "Joe Bob and *I*." And so children grow up thinking that any grouping involving another person and oneself ALWAYS requires "I," which just isn't true. (Although, in the example given here, Mom was, of course, correct.)

The reason I don't find it complicated is because--well--it isn't. When in doubt, simply figure out which word you'd use if it were SINGULAR--that is, there's only one person involved.

Question 3:
I'll bet everyone will choose the right answer from among these two:
A. I am going to the movies.
B. Me am going to the movies.

and from these two:

C. He is going to the movies.
D. Him is going to the movies.

If you answered A and C, you are, of course, correct, and voila, now you know, when saying who's going to the movies, that it is "I" and "He," even if you're both going. So go back to Question 1 and see how you answer now.

Question 4:
So now, do the same thing here: pick the word that you'd use if the sentence were singular--involving only one person. Bet you get this right, too:

A. Please give me some money.
B. Please give I some money.

and this:

C. Please give him some money.
D. Please give he some money.

The answers are, of course, A and C. So now you know how to answer Question 2.

So that there's no confusion, the correct answers are:
1. He and I are going to the movies.
2. Please give him and me $20.

Remember: Pause and think which word you'd use if only one person were involved, and you'll then have the correct word to use even when there's someone else involved.

P.S. The same strategy works for other pronoun forms. For example, it would be, "I already dropped off my absentee ballot" and "I already dropped off Joe Bob's absentee ballot," hence, "I already dropped off Joe Bob's and my absentee ballots."

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Lying Down Off the Job

Vocabulary: What's the difference between prone, supine, recumbent, prostrate, lying down, and lying around?

This morning, lolling in bed, it occurred to me suddenly, as I'm sure it would occur to many of you on an ordinary morning, "Huh, I'm prone in my bed." Then I rolled over so that I could say to myself, "I'm now supine in my bed." At that point in my smug self-congratulatory mood, the dogs insisted that, if I were going to play vocabulary games, I was awake enough to get up and get to playing some REAL games, and that put an end to that. So I didn't have a chance to ponder whether I was also prostrate or, furthermore, recumbent.

First: Quick, without thinking too hard: when I was prone and then supine (pronounced suh-PINE or SOO-pine), which is face down and which is face up? I'll bet most people get this without realizing that they knew it. I'll answer in a moment, but next:

All four words mean lying down. (And there's another interesting phrase--would you ever be caught lying up? But I digress.) Ah, yes, the beauty of the English language--so many subtle variations on certain words to get exactly the nuance you're searching for. Is it scary that we have so many synonyms for just lying around?

Recumbent implies sleeping or resting; think of the recumbent bicycle, where one is in a relaxed, nearly horizontal position, although hopefully not sleeping, at least not while operating near heavy traffic.

Prostrate is not to be confused with one's prostate gland, although i wonder whether some people have a prostrate gland that makes them more inclined to spend time recumbent, say, when they should be washing the family pony? This word implies lying down full-length in defeat or submission.

Meanwhile, prone is, yes, you probably guessed it, face down. If you pay a little attention to the Latin sources of words, you might guess that "pro", meaning forward, plays a part in this word's formation. It's from the Latin pronus, meaning to lean forward. So imagine falling forward onto the ground; now you're prone.

And supine is the opposite; you're facing up. If you want a mnemonic for that, think sUPine. Also most likely from the Latin supinus, related to the prefix sup meaning, among other things, up (by means of being under)--think supplant which is equivalent to uproot.

Now, the next time you're snuggled up to someone special in bed, you can whisper fondly but knowledgeably into his or her ear, "I wonder whether there's a special word for 'lying on one's side'?" In my case, the dogs will most likely growl and go back to sleep.