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Author Topic: Dealing with annoying English grammar errors (12th in a series of 14)  (Read 83 times)
Joe Carillo
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« on: December 15, 2017, 12:23:03 AM »

This is the 12th in a series of 14 essays on what I consider as the most annoying English grammar errors. It is running consecutively here in the Forum from November 7, 2017 every Tuesday and Friday until December 22.

7 – Usage of nouns or pronouns in the wrong case (2)

In the preceding part of this series, I invited readers to figure out if the case usage of the following sentence from a housekeeping magazine article is grammatically and semantically correct: “After a couple of months, their newly acquired digital camera had gone missing from Mary Ann and her husband’s bedroom.”


A reader, Ronald Galura, observed that the sentence is inconsistent in case usage and suggested that the noun “Mary Ann” should also be in the possessive case. Another reader, Jaye Riggs, saw the sentence in an altogether different light. Finding it “too fancy,” she observed: “It even ‘animates’ the object camera by suggesting that it had gone missing. I can almost imagine the camera having two feet and sneaking away from Mary Ann’s and her husband's room.”

Ronald’s observation about the sentence was right on the dot, and I will now discuss precisely what’s wrong with that sentence from a case standpoint. As I pointed out last time, the applicable general rule here is this: For a combination of a noun and pronoun to properly perform the action of a verb or receive its action, or for them to act as the compound subject of a sentence, they should both be in the same case. In other words, nouns and pronouns in different cases should never be mixed. They should all be nominative, objective, or possessive when performing the same grammatical function.

The problem with the sentence lies in the prepositional phrase “from Mary Ann and her husband’s bedroom.” The object of the preposition “from” is the noun “bedroom,” but this noun is being wrongly modified by a noun and pronoun pair in different cases. The noun “Mary Ann” is in the objective case but the pronoun “her husband’s” is in the possessive. This gives the cockeyed impression that there are two objects of the preposition in the phrase—“Mary Ann” and “her husband’s room.”

As Ronald suggested, the case mixing here can be fixed by putting the noun “Mary Ann” in the possessive form in the same way as the pronoun “her husband’s.” The sentence will then read correctly as follows: “After a couple of months, their newly acquired digital camera had gone missing from Mary Ann’s and her husband’s bedroom.”

Now let’s go back to Jaye’s interesting observation about the original sentence. To fix its problem, she said, “I think simplifying it is the key.” Indeed, she suggested the following revisions: (1) “After a couple of months, Mary Ann and her husband lost their newly acquired camera from their room.” (2) “After a couple of months, Mary Ann’s newly acquired camera went missing from her husband’s room. (“Not my favorite,” Jaye said, “since I keep picturing the camera going AWOL.”)

The virtue of Jaye’s first sentence revision is that it not only sidesteps the problematic case mixing but also makes the original sentence simpler and more straightforward. Of course, another way to simplify that sentence and still make use of the compound possessive form is this construction: “After a couple of months, Mary Ann’s and her husband’s newly acquired digital camera had gone missing from their bedroom.”

The semantics of the sentence above is faithful to the original; in contrast, Jaye’s second version unduly changes the semantics by attributing the camera’s ownership only to Mary Ann and the room’s ownership only to her husband.

(Note to Jaye: It isn’t advisable to provoke marital conflict over property ownership just to achieve grammatical simplicity!)

(Next: Wrong pronoun usage for compound subjects)     December 19, 2017)

This essay, 12th in a series of 14, first appeared in the column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the October 13, 2007 issue of The Manila Times. It subsequently formed part of the book The 10 Most Annoying English Grammar Errors, ©2008 by the author, © 2009 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.
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