Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Oh Claire...and you claim to be a grammarian?

See, that's the thing. I do. I do claim to be a grammarian.

And a good one.

And, when it comes to it, one to whom you would actually want to pay money to help improve your own language skills.

So why can I not work out what is structurally wrong with the following sentence?

"It wasn't me who baited him this time."

(This is quite beside the point, but I feel the appropriate response to this tweet would have been "I am most proud of you for your sudden maturity".)

Now, in the sentence "It wasn't me" - I thought me was a direct object. Whereas in the sentence "I did not bait him", the word I is clearly an subject. Which makes it all very confusing. How can I be a subject and an object at the same time?

But. Once I'd torn myself away from twitter, I practised saying "It was not I who baited him" in a posh British accent (my own) and I have to say, it does have a certain ring of, well, rightness to it.

Somebody called @blabbate quickly picked me up on my subject/object issue, which I had foolishly assumed would silence the critics, dizzying them with all my jargon. But oh, no. @blabbate said:. "Direct objects do not follow linking verbs. Subject complements do. In this case, a predicate nominative. In prescriptive English you must use the nominative case, which is "I". However, a descriptivist will tell you either is fine."

Ha! I would say next. See. We are both right. Even Wikipedia says so.

Except that, like Josh Malina, I *am* a prescriptive grammarian. There are elements of my "descriptive" grammar textbook which make me wince when I am supposed to teach them. Such as the lie that "whom" does not exist anymore. Don't be ridiculous! Of course "whom" exists.

This appeared to be one of those moments, like being twenty-three and having a degree from Cambridge and realising one has been spelling "forty" wrong all one's life. Why did no one ever tell me it wasn't "fourty" till I worked in a bank? (If only that had been the worst mistake I'd made there. But anyway...) Shame on me.

These points, in my defence: And yes, Josh Malina, and yes, Safari spell-check, I do mean defence with a C. We are not all American, you know.

- I was not wholly focused on the task in hand. I was, in fact, teaching a French lesson. But as previously discussed on this blog, I am unable to ignore tweets from certain people, whatever the time of day or night. Still, I do feel a little guilty about this, and I wish I could say it would not happen again.

- I was also a little dizzy with the excitement of being engaged in two of my favourite activities at the same time: grammar, and bantering with Josh Malina.

- We Brits in our 30s did not have any grammatical knowledge imparted to us at school. The reason for which I know some is my Belgian education. This whole "It is me" thing does not apply in French.

In fact, there it is. That's the reason. Mother tongue interference. "C'est moi qui". Never "c'est je qui".

Yet, here I am again, late to bed because of twitter, and standing duly corrected, duly rebuked, duly ashamed. At least now I have a posh-sounding excuse for it.


aburcubur said...


Claire said...

Erm... thanks?

Laura and Ben said...

Don't worry, I forgot how to spell four a while ago - I went for 4our. I don't have any mother tongue excuses, sadly.