Common Stupid Mistakes. Custom Essay Writing


Who and Whom

This is similar to the preposition problem. A sane, logical rule exists for when to use "who" and when to use "whom." "Who" is the subjective form; "whom" is the objective form. Thus, use "who" when the word is the subject; use "whom" when it is the object. "The girl whom he kissed" is good grammar, but so is "the boy who kissed her." The problem comes when the "who" phrase gets confused with its surrounding sentence. The rule is to take the "who" phrase out of context and examine it by itself to determine if the "who" is doing the acting or is being acted upon. "Good grades are possible for whoever deserves them." In this example, the preposition "for" immediately suggests to the ear that "whom" is needed. Didn't I just say in the section on prepositions that prepositions always take the objective form of the pronoun? Isn't "for" a preposition? And isn't "whom" the objective form? Yes to all three questions. But one must look at the "who" phrase and only the "who" phrase. "For whoever deserves them" is correct because in the phrase "whoever deserves them," "whoever" is the subject and "them" is the object. These can be tricky; watch out.

Even nastier is the "who" phrase that makes the "who" seem to be the object of the phrase when it isn't. If the sentence read "for whoever I think deserves them," doesn't "I" become the subject and "who" the object, making "whom" correct? No! Why not? Because "I think" is a parenthetical aside, an additional bit of information. "Deserves" is still the verb of the "who" phrase. Cute, eh?

And while we are "whoing," people, even cops, capitalists, and teachers are always "who," never "that" or "which."

Unclear Referents

These come in two flavors: pronouns that could refer to any one of a number of nouns, and pronouns that could refer to absolutely anything. "Whenever dogs bite people, they get put to death." To what does the "they" in this sentence refer? Is it the dogs or the people? The referent for "they" is unclear, and thus this dog of a sentence needs to be fixed. Either the dogs or the people should be put to death.

The pronoun "it" is too often used without any referent at all. This leaves to the imagination the job of figuring out what is being talked about. And since most people think about sex most of the time, the result is all those bumper stickers saying "Divers do it deeper," "Conservationists make it last longer," "Bakers make it rise," "Teachers do it in front of the class," or whatever your profession is. A furniture company in the Washington, D.C., area advertises "You'll love it at Levitz." Well, I love it, but I never considered doing it on one of the beds in the Levitz showroom. Nevertheless, in such advertising the use of the unclear referent "it" is a deliberate attempt to exploit the ambiguous potential of the word. When done deliberately like this, such use of "it" is clever; when done unintentionally, it is just stupid. Note the ambiguous "it" in the last line of the introduction to this book; am I referring to life or to grammar? Here, the ambiguity is intentional.

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