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Rules and Preferences
There were fervent protests from readers reacting to “Old Superstitions Die Hard.” The article established that the relative pronoun that refers to people as well as to things and has done so for centuries.
Never was an essay more aptly named.
“I don’t care what all of your quoted sources say,” wrote a fiery businesswoman. “Executive-level communications candidates who use
‘that’ do not endear themselves to this veteran headhunter.” One can understand her passion—the raw anger and frustration we all feel when a principle we’ve lived by for years is exposed as an old wives’ tale.
Meanwhile, we’ll leave it to you to decide whether those responsible for the following quotations are English-challenged hacks …
“I am he that walks unseen.” —J.R.R. Tolkien
“I am he that aches with amorous love.” —Walt Whitman
“… children that belonged to a man I didn’t even know.” —Mark Twain
“A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” —King James I,
the Bible, Proverbs 18:24
Another reader took issue with Kingsley Amis’s preference for the man that I spoke to rather than the man whom I spoke to—but for a different reason: “I would have written ‘the man to whom I spoke.’ ”
The gentleman who wrote this believes that prepositions should not end sentences. It’s another of the myths about English that just won’t die,
right up there with “Do not split an infinitive” and “Do not begin a sentence with And.” Amis set a trap, and this person
fell into it. There is no living English scholar who will defend “Do not end a sentence with a preposition,” yet the superstition is still
believed by an alarming number of intelligent people.
Here is what the snarky Mr. Amis himself had to say about it: “This is one of those fancied prohibitions dear to ignorant snobs … It is natural
and harmless in English to use a preposition to end a sentence with.” Amis goes on to quote H.W. Fowler, the dean of English scholars, who wrote,
“The power of saying People worth talking to instead of People with whom it is worth while to talk is not one to be lightly
We are all entitled to our preferences—even our prejudices—but declaring them rules everyone else must live by is crossing a line.
Because of the e-newsletter’s large readership, please submit your English usage questions through GrammarBook.com’s “Grammar Blog.”
Pick the correct choices. Answers are below.
A) This is the man who got away with murder.
B) This is the man which got away with murder.
C) This is the man that got away with murder.
A) She is not someone to whom you want to be rude.
B) She is not someone whom you want to be rude to.
C) She is not someone that you want to be rude to.
D) She is not someone you want to be rude to.
A) I just saw Vada, who looks distracted.
B) I just saw Vada, that looks distracted.
C) A and B are both correct.
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Our crazy English language.
1. The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
2. Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.
3. I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
4. How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?
Pop Quiz Answers
1. A and C are both correct.
2. All choices are correct.
3. A is correct.
Learn all about who and whom, affect and effect, subjects and verbs, adjectives and adverbs, commas, semicolons, quotation marks, and much more by just sitting back and enjoying these easy-to-follow lessons. Tell your colleagues (and boss), children, teachers, and friends. Click here to watch.