Southern Scotch

Southern Scotch

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The ear always knows best...sometimes

The other night I watched a concluding episode of Prison Break's last season. In one scene Michael's evil mother received a pained howl from Miss Grundy--everyone's least favorite stickler for prim and proper English.

Michael's mother, Christine, is presented as a well-educated, upper middle-classs psycho who prides herself on her smooth carriage and polished speech. And yet in this scene she says:

"Between he and I..."

To many ears that may have the proper ring. But in this case the ring is deceiving. Ask yourself: Would you say Beween us or Between we? Between him and...or Between he and...? Between requires, in this instance, a pair of objects, not subjects. And we can't fault Miss Grundy for protesting here because the error can be avoided by simply recasting the sentence to double-check the sound from another angle.

Another common slip:
More importantly...Gore Vidal pointed out decades ago that the adverb form of important is wrong. It should be More important...And if we have any doubt, we can always try the phrase in full: Are we saying The more importantly thing...Or The more important thing?

Still, Miss Grundy,these days, is wrong as often as she's right. And unless we're writing formal English, we can follow the rules of current usage. Hemingway didn't hesitate to end a sentence with a preposition, if his ear gave the okay. Rules are also changing to accept some once-forbiddens: e.g. confusion of 'like' vs. 'as'.

Google will often tell us the current status of a word or phrase. But if Google and our ears all fail--

well, what the devil are editors...for?


  1. Thanks for the tips, Teach. The... corrections... are duly noted.

  2. It's all so tricky, isn't it, Felicia? I'm still in favor, when I'm on the phone, of saying: 'Hi, it's me!'


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