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Grammar

April 3, 2008 | 28 Comments


Sir:
Great column about the volcano of finance. You may be good at spelling but a little short on grammar; regarding your sixth paragraph, it should read "The Puritans from whom I am descended from …" The pot calling the kettle black?

I always enjoy your column.
Peter G.

I prefer my version, "The Puritans who I am descended from were not cockeyed optimists."—"The Puritans from whom I am descended from" sounds rather clunky to me. But thanks for the suggestion.


28 Comments


Sounds clunky, because the reader's suggestion is wrong; it doesn't need that second "from"...the uptight, grammatically correct version should read: "The Puritans from whom I am descended were not cockeyed optimists." Am I right? Though the who/whom argument is valid and dependent on how casual the context of the writing (please excuse the fragment). You're more polite than I; I find it funny that someone would deign to correct a writer and then do so incorrectly. I would've rubbed his face in it more, but then again I'm a transplanted Southerner, and y'all are much more taciturn in the Midwest.


I agree with Melanie in that the second "from" is redundant. However, I would say that there is no such thing as "correct" or “proper” grammar – grammar is a standards based system and so any review or critique should be qualified.

Hence in the UK you’ll hear exclamations like “that’s not Queen’s English” when, say, a Scouser asks “...any ah ewes wanna annuder pint?”

Queen’s English is a received pronunciation that is usually perfected by the British Middle Class during higher education and in no way affects their ability to accept free beer.


Melanie J., I may be all wrong, but your version is correct in my opinion. You beat me to the punch.

Peter G., your post is very entertaining.


Keillor's version is perfectly grammatical. It just says something different from what the reader's version suggests. In Keillor's version, "who" is the subject of an elliptic clause. The full version would read "The Puritans who (are the ones) I am descended from were not cockeyed optimists." Consider this. The reason we're supposed to say "my brother is older than I" is that "I" is the subject of an elliptic clause: "my brother is older than I (am).

The elliptic clause is more emphatic, by the way. Therefore, Keillors' version is both grammatically correct and more effective.


Dear Sir,

Ditto Melanie J's comment.
Although it is essential to know good grammar, it ain't necessarily essential to use it. (It is OK to say "ain't" so long as you know it ain't right). Vibrant language (written or spoken) is not learned from a textbook.
Peter G. reminds me of my Norwegian ex-wife.
Please keep on a keep'in on the way you do.

Tom L.


Melanie J.'s version is indeed the "proper" one, and I share her amazement at the clumsiness of the self-appointed grammar police and the charity of G.K. Misplaced prepositions may be technically incorrect, but superfluous prepositions are MUCH more obnoxious.


It reminds me of a coffee mug I saw in graduate school, which read: "This mug belongs to an English major. Don't steal it, no matter whom you are."


Exactly! Melanie has it correct! The second "from" is unnecessary!


I agree with Melanie J., right up through her last sentence.
The nerve of it all!


Melanie J. is right. The second "from" in the suggested correction is not needed. My vote is to cling to the rules of correct grammar when writing and let 'er rip in a more casual manner when speaking.


Melanie, you are correct and you said it beautifully. Thank you.


fussin' ovr proper english iz pretenshis n' ovrratd neways.


Vince B.--
You should have felt free to take the mug. It clearly didn't belong to an English major. Because "are" is a linking verb (I think that's the correct term), "whom" should be the nominative "who" in order to agree with the subject. I hope that is correct. I shouldn't like to think of the nuns who taught me grammar rolling over in their graves.


Yes, of course, Melanie is correct. The second "from" is redundant.


Monika ought to rethink her suggestion.An elliptical (not "elliptic") clause may indeed be completed to ascertain pronoun case. However, completing the sentence as Monika proposes yields "The Puritans from who are the ones I am descended. . . ." Though "whom" is correct in FORMAL standard English, Mr. Keillor is using INFORMAL standard English -- note the use of the 1st person. Be sure you're on firm ground before criticizing Mr. Keillor's writing. A little learning is a dangerous thing.


I'm afraid this could go on forever, but
(i) Keillor is my favourite American (sorry to make him blush), approximately on a par with Jon Stewart
(ii) Melanie is correct (at least in her grammar) and
(iii) the version "The Puritans who (are the ones) I am descended from were not cockeyed optimists." is okay (unless you're really anal) but strictly wrong, at least in the sense that I infer Keillor intended (see? I just did the same thing). Use of who here implies a specific subset of Puritans rather than just Puritans in general.
This would make "The (those) Puritans who I am descended from" the subject, whereas I think he just intended common-or-garden Puritans to be the subject.
He also treated us to some additional info about his Puritan heritage, which was nothing to do with the main sentence, so he made it a related but non-defining clause. It ain't the subject (good old English word, ain't; I'm sorry we almost lost it in Britain; thanks for keeping it alive for the rest of us to enjoy), so "addendal hygiene" means it needs to be related to the main sentence by whom.
And now I shall go and lie down; I can only maintain hyperanality for short periods at my age.
Hugs & best wishes, Doctor Whom


The exchange between Peter G. and Garrison K. could be entitled "When two fools met."


I prefer it be shorter, "The Puritans I descended from were not cockeyed optimists."


How about just " My Pilgrim ancestors were not... etc. " ?


Yes, Melanie is correct. I came here to post exactly the same thing.

And I also find it funny that someone would incorrectly "correct" a writer. Perhaps it was simply a typo?


I refre you to the famous quote from Winston Churchill:

From now on, ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put.


I don't know about "elliptic" and all those fancy terms. I do know that Mr. Keillor's phraseology always sits right with me. It makes sense. And if something makes sense and your gut tells you it's right on, well, there you have it.


The nub of the problem here is expecting American-English to have similar constructions to English-English.

I listen to the BBC7 of GK's show on Saturday nights. I can't think of a better way to get to sleep.


There's grammar, and then there's linguistics.

Grammar tells us: 'The Puritans from whom I am descended' is formal prose. It also tells us, 'The Puritans I am descended from' is standard and acceptable nowadays (the old 'never end a sentence with a preposition' rule being pedantic).

Linguistics tells us, 'If a native speaker of the language would say it, it is legitimately that language.'

So, 'If I had not eaten that third piece of pie, I would not have a stomach ache' is grammatically correct.

But 'If I would not have eaten that third piece of pie, I would not have a stomach ache' is grammatically INCORRECT. However, since native-speakers of English say this and see nothing wrong with it, a linguist would tell you that it's English and it's OK to say it.

For 16 years I have worked in a college in Poland where we train people to be teachers of English in public schools. We have this problem ALL the time: the text book says, 'This is correct' and the students do exercises to learn the grammatically correct structure. Then the grammar book says, 'This is also acceptable,' and the students have to learn something that flies in the face of the rules - like 'the people who I am descended from' - and so the students have to learn exceptions to the rules.

Then they go online and read a blog which says, 'If I would not have eaten that third piece of pie' which violates all rules (and sense), and they have to remember that in linguistics classes, this is OK; in grammar classes, this is wrong; in casual, spoken English, this may or may not be acceptable depending on where you are.

This is the thicket we struggle through every day in my line of work. Who said there's no drama in being an English major?


Now come on Nel, surely it's "the thicket through which we struggle" and on it goes...


The correct grammar is:
"The Puritans from whom I am descended..." or "The Puritans from whom I descended..."

Nel is absolutely correct linguistically and grammatically. ALL of her arguments are on target. From one linguistic to another,

Shari


I agree with Melanie. As for Vince B,
The mug an English major's? Obviously
Not. One would know, it seems to me,
That "whom" is the objective case, only
Receiving the action. For subjects we
Always use "who," as with the verb "to be".


Thoroughly enjoyed this conversation this bright spring morning.- What hotel we were staying at? or At what (or is it which) hotel we were staying at? the indirect repetition of "What hotel are you staying at?" As one of you said, one grammar book used suggests one rule is correct and then we find another book or SCHOOL TEACHER who corrects our corrections saying they are incorrect and nobody actually knows just who is correct or in whose court the ball is......STILTED is you ask me.(not that my opinion counts!)
By the way, can anyone answer my query about the reported speech. I am just a homemaker NOT AN ENGLISH NAJOR and I do not know which is to be corrected or accepted.

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