Like, it’s another grammar rant.

In a 2012 posting, I lamented the poor grammar used by some journalists. Unfortunately, I don’t think anything has really changed since then and it seems to me that the attacks on standard English as a standard have escalated.

Maybe that’s the price we pay for having an overabundance of entertainment options. With so much content being spewed forth each day across an endless number of media channels, the imperative for proper English is diminishing.

By now it should be clear that my position on grammar is that of a prescriptivist. But even those in the descriptive grammar camp surely must find some spoken or written words cringeworthy. Can anyone believe the following sentence is anything more than string of meaningless words?

“So, yeah, I’m like, I’m sorry, but me and my friend think he’s too fixated on grammar.”

What does “I’m like” even mean? You’re not like something, you’re it. Own it. The dislike of saying like is not unique to me. Many others have written articles about it. Here are a few excerpts from those articles.:

How to: Stop Saying “Like” and Immediately Sound Smarter

Like it or not, how you talk can lead people to make a lot of assumptions about who you are, where you’re from, and how educated (or not so educated) you might be. One of the most pervasive bits of vernacular speech in recent years (though beginning in the 1970s with the classic “Valley speak”) has been the use, and subsequent overuse, of the word “like” in both casual and professional conversations. While there are many grammatically appropriate ways to use “like” in a sentence, many young people, and a few older ones as well, use the word as filler in sentences, cluttering up their speech and making them sound unsure and possible even uneducated.

The Like Epidemic – Using Word “Like” Excessively

A number of audience members and I were so distracted by his excessive use of like that we were unable to focus on his insights and analysis of the movie.  He came across sounding very immature, uneducated, and unsure of himself.  To spice things up a bit, he tossed “you know” and “really” into the mixture.

5 steps for, like, literally cutting the word ‘like’ out of your life

Valleyspeak spread across the States, morphing into what’s now called “Mallspeak,” described as a “garbled version of English in which ‘goes’ takes the place of ‘says’ and ‘you know,’ ‘I mean’ and especially ‘like’ occupy every conversational pause.

Colleges Try To Muffle `Mallspeak,’ Like, Totally

Call it mallspeak, garbage talk, teenbonics, anything you want, but this is the idiom of today’s youth – and the bane of educators and linguists who say it is invading college campuses and creeping into job interviews.

“Mallspeak is failure to allow silence until you have something generally worthwhile to say, and we’ve got to quit doing it,” said Patricia Skarda, an English professor at Smith College in Northampton, Mass.

The danger of such slang, Skarda said, “is when students are interviewed for jobs beyond college, and for internships and fellowships and going abroad. It indicates a lazy mind.”

Wayne Young has been subjected to more of those interviews than he likes to admit.

“When I interview these young people out of school, I look for how they speak,” said Young, president of Management Recruiters of Morristown, N.J. “If they come across with any of this slang I won’t hire them. I absolutely won’t hire them.” Case closed.

I’m sorry

Moving on to the next irksome idiom in the sentence -“I’m sorry, but.” Are you really sorry? You probably aren’t, so, like, why say it?

To me or not to me.

Dare I bring up cases? Oh well, why not? “Me” is an objective case pronoun. That means it’s the object of something, e.g. give the book to me. Objective case pronouns are never used as subjects, e.g. me and my friend went to a show. Writing that is a real fingernails-on-the-chalkboard moment for I. (So was writing that sentence with the wrong case pronoun!)

So, just always use “I?” No. This really isn’t hard. “I” is a nominative case pronoun so it can’t be used as an object. For example, “He gave the tickets to my friend and I” is wrong because the object of “give” must be the objective case. “He gave the tickets to my friend and me.”

As an aside, the personal pronoun is listed last – it’s not “me and my friend.” Maybe it’s not uncommon to hear “me and…” because we’re firmly in the “me” generation where it’s all about I. Me hope you see the humor in the misuse of personal pronouns in this paragraph.

As long as we’re discussing “I,” maybe we should touch on the practice by some to try to make “I” possessive by adding an apostrophe s.  As in “My wife and I’s seafood collaboration dinner.” Some might try to defend the I’s by arguing that “my wife and I” is a phrase so it can be made possessive by an apostrophe s. This is not geeking out on grammar – it’s 6th-grade grammar at the most. If you want to see what a grammar geek-out is, then read the article at the end of this posting from a Stack Exchange discussion

That’s it. Stand by for the next grammar rant in another eight years. 🙂


“My wife and I’s seafood collaboration dinner” from Stack Exchange

Argument: The apostrophe s is making the phrase possessive.

Short answer

Yes, this argument does have a basis in linguistic fact, which is why some people do it in the first place, but that doesn’t mean it must be correct in Standard English (and it isn’t).

Longer Answer

This argument does hold water in the linguistic sense. “My wife and I” is, in fact, a phrase — a syntactic constituent. The fact that this phrase happens to end with the word I does not preclude it from taking the Saxon genitive as a whole unit. There are many cases where people apply the Saxon genitive (‘s) to entire phrases in everyday speech:

  1. John and Marsha‘s house was robbed last night.
  2. I’m not a fan of 1995 to 2005‘s music scene at all.
  3. The plants were eaten by the man next door‘s cat.

In the case of (1), if we follow the logic of “my wife’s and my”, we should have to say “John’s and Marsha’s house” — the genitive should have been distributed among the nouns in the conjoined phrase. Same for (2) and (3). And in (3) the ‘s is directly next to an adjectival phrase “next door”, not even a noun phrase.

Now, people may have different opinions about which of these types of constructions they would allow and in what context; the fact is that people say these sorts of things all the time, and for most people they don’t even register as anything out of the ordinary when they happen.

In Standard English, when a pronoun is involved in a conjoined phrase like “my wife and I”, the genitive marker is distributed to all the noun phrases in the conjoined phrase. This would yield the construction “my wife’s and my”.

However, in the case of “my wife and I’s”, what we are seeing is one or more dialects extending this phrasal Saxon genitive to include some conjoined phrases that include pronouns. So the phrase is getting the genitive marker, rather than each of the units within the phrase.

Both approaches are linguistically sound, but only one is accepted as a standard; namely, “my wife’s and my”. Standard forms are chosen somewhat arbitrarily. This means that they don’t have some sort of objective “correctness”; it also means that you can’t argue for the correctness of a non-standard form based on logic. There are many logical ways to convey ideas, and one was chosen to be the standard. If you wish to communicate in a context where adherence to formal/standard rules is beneficial, then you should choose the standard form.


2 thoughts on “Like, it’s another grammar rant.

  1. Dude, like, your totally correct with this! [and yes, that was your not you’re on purpose] ☺

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    SHANNON FRANKS
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