Disputed Grammar

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Grammar and usage aren’t always cut and dried. Here are some disputed points:

Taller than I/me

Most grammar books consider the following sentence an error:

Mort is taller than me.

The error here is the object pronoun “me.” It should be the subject pronoun “I”—Mort is taller than I— because what the sentence really says is “Mort is taller than I am.”  But not all grammarians agree. Some argue that in this sentence, “than” is a preposition and requires the object pronoun “me.” The object pronoun sounds more natural to most people, and there is no confusion about the meaning. Alas, the meaning is not always so unambiguous. Look at the following sentence.

Marsha  likes the snake more than me.

Does this sentence mean that Marsha likes the snake more than she likes me, or does it mean that she likes the snake more than I do? In this case to avoid the ambiguity, we have to fill the sentence out.

It is to be hoped/Hopefully

Many traditionalists object to the adverb “hopefully” as used in the following sentence:

Hopefully, Colbart will repay the money he borrowed from  his blind date.

The objection rests on the notion that “hopefully” can describe either the speaker’s state of mind or the manner in which Colbart will repay the money. But increasingly this objection is rejected. “Hopefully” here functions as a sentence adverb and clearly expresses the hope that Colbart will indeed repay the money.  Few would object to “regrettably” used as a sentence adverb:

Regrettably, Colbart never repaid the money.

 

Over/More than

 

Some purists insist that “over” can’t be used to mean “more than” as in the following sentence:

 

             Over a thousand fans greeted the rock star at the airport.

 

Ignore them. This usage is well established and perfectly acceptable.

 

Loan/Lend

 

Some, mostly British, grammarians insist that “loan” is misused as a verb in the following sentence:

 

       Abigail loaned Mort the money to pay off his gambling debt.

 

The use of “loan” as a verb is not considered an error in American English. But “loan” can be used in place of “lend” only to describe physical transactions. In a metaphorical sense, use “lend”: The painting lends the room a melancholy air.

 

Between/Among

English teachers and the like will sometimes insist that “between” is used for two and  ”among” for more than two. In fact, competent writers have violated this rule for centuries.  Here is a comment from the usage note on “between” in the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: “Between is used when the entities are considered as distinct individuals; among, when they are considered as a mass or collectivity. Thus in the sentence The bomb landed between the houses, the houses are seen as points that define the boundaries of the area of impact (so that we presume that none of the individual houses was hit). In The bomb landed among the houses, the area of impact is considered to be the general location of the houses, taken together (in which case it is left open whether any houses were hit).”

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