writing for your life

Posted on 10 February 2013 | No responses

Ok, so I’m a little bit anal about the way people write, and I am constantly voicing my opinions. It’s time to put my (digital) pen where my mouth is.

I work mostly in tertiary education – a sector known for its jargon and often impenetrable prose – so that’s where I find most of my examples. But I, like many of you, also find plenty to ponder in other media.

Writing for your life will comprise my opinions about the things that I find irritating, that are confusing to the reader, and that (I think) could simply be written better. I hope it will be a collection of tips that will help those of us who write for others in our daily working lives.

There is no better sign of respect for your reader than to write well.  Do you want your writing to be understood for your reader to act on it? Use plain English and good, plain grammar. And keep a dictionary and style book close at hand.

I’m not the world’s expert – hey, sometimes I’m even wrong ;-). But I’m always ready to have a discussion or to refer/defer to real experts. And I’m more than ready to discuss the things that bother you too. I’m writing a list….

pesky pronouns: me myself I

Posted on 9 February 2013 | No responses

Hannah, a friend and colleague, popped up on Skype the other day, with a grammatical question.

Is it best to say: ‘If you have further questions please do not hesitate to contact Robert or I’ or ‘…Robert or myself’?

Well. Neither is correct. Hannah should write:

‘If you have any more questions, please contact Robert or me.’

Put aside my substitution of ‘more’ for ‘further’, and my deletion of  ‘do not hesitate’ for a moment, and let’s focus on the pesky pronoun in this sentence.

I won’t even get into the details of subjects and objects, possessive and reflexive pronouns…

Here’s the rule.

If you’re not sure which pronoun to use (me, myself, I), simply take away any other participants in the clause or phrase.

Here, you would get rid of Robert.

‘If you have any more questions, please contact … me.’

Not ‘I’. Not ‘myself’. It’s ‘me’. It’s easy.

Look at some other examples:

Hannah and [me/myself/I] discussed this problem on Skype.

When you take Hannah out of the sentence you can see that the correct pronoun is ‘I’.

                After we’d made many phone calls, the promoter sent Pauline and [me/myself/I] an 80% refund.

The correct pronoun is ‘me’.


There’s another little refinement to consider. Look at this example:

[Me/myself/I] and my teammates have been training every day.

The correct pronoun to use is ‘I’. But you should show your good manners by putting your teammates first.

                My teammates and I have been training every day.

None of these examples uses ‘myself’. Why have ‘myself’ and ‘yourself’ become so pervasive? My theory is that many people are unsure of when to use ‘I’ and ‘me’, and so opt for what is perceived to be a more formal word – ‘myself’. Misuse of ‘myself’ has crept into written English, and thence into spoken English. This use is now so endemic that it has begun to sound ‘normal’. But no amount of misuse will make using the reflexive pronoun correct in the examples above.

I’ll write more about reflexive pronouns another time.

(With thanks to Hannah and Joan Armatrading :-))

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