Practicing What I Preach

My mother told me not too long ago that ever since I became an editor, I have been speaking better English.

The funny things about her compliment are (1) I didn’t even notice that my spoken English was better, and (2) I was not even consciously trying to speak better English.

I guess it goes with the profession. Don’t tell writers to use grammatically correct language when you don’t even do so yourself. In other words, practice what you preach.

I’ve found, however, that there are times when I do make a conscious effort to improve my grammar, both in speaking and in writing. For example, even though The Chicago Manual of Style says this is acceptable, I personally don’t like the use of “that” when referring to people. “That,” in my opinion, is for objects and animals. It is for this reason that I say, “The man who is married to Penny,” instead of “The man that is married to Penny.” The former just sounds so much better to me.

Or the use of the subjective vs. objective pronouns. At this point, I would not say, “Julie and me went to the arcade.” It’s easy to remember how to measure the correctness of such a sentence; cover up “Julie and” and read the rest of the sentence. “Me went to the arcade.” You wouldn’t say that, would you? That’s how I know I should say, “Julie and I went to the arcade.”

It works the same with reflexive pronouns. “Ronny, Johnny, Donny, and myself went to see the CEO.” Cover up everything to left of “myself” and read the sentence. See how incorrect it sounds? It should be “Ronny, Johnny, Donny, and I…”

My informal writing (mostly writing emails to friends) has improved as well, although I’m still occasionally guilty of writing to imitate speech, such as “I been trying…” Ohhhh…shame on me.

One word of caution: I’m not going to get into the who vs. whom argument in this post. Although “whom” is correct whenever an objective pronoun is called for, I (and several other editors) believe it is often too formal, especially in speech. “With whom did you go to the Sex Pistols concert?” Can you see a punk rock fan saying that? (Okay, maybe I’m stereotyping.)

Do you have any strong opinions on grammatical issues?

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