One of the most enjoyable things I have done of late was to go to a talk, given by Mary Norris, at Dublin’s Italian Institute of Culture.
I am learning Italian and when you sign up for classes at the institute you automatically become a member. That’s good news because the institute hosts an excellent programme of talks and events, all of them free to members.
Mary Norris (aka The Comma Queen) is, in case you don’t know, a copy editor (sub-editor) at that bastion of fine writing: The New Yorker. She is also the author of a book, part memoir, part grammar manual, published in 2015, called “Between You and Me: the Confessions of a Comma Queen.” And she’s the presenter of a watchable series of language usage videos on The New Yorker website – see here.
Now, I am not a grammar nerd. I suspect to be one you need a pristine grasp of language, and of the rules governing its usage, plus an intimate knowledge of how to correctly punctuate a sentence so its meaning is crystal clear. I, on the other hand, am grammatically challenged. That’s borne witness to on the blog by: my failure to spot typos; my egregious use of the colon and the semi-colon; and a wanton disregard (because I don’t fully understand it) for the that/which rule.
I am also bad at correct comma usage. I used to think that didn’t matter. However consider this: ‘Let’s eat grandma.’ And this: ‘Let’s eat, grandma.’ You can find the grandma thingy on language sites on the net and unsurprisingly the strap line is: ‘Commas save lives!’
I would like to improve: ergo I am a wannabe grammar nerd so I found Mary Norris’s erudite and amusing talk most useful. She was hyper generous with her time in answering a mountain of questions and gracious and patient when she signed copies of her book. The talk didn’t, nay how could it, cover everything: so I am glad I have her book (and others) to refer to.
My main takeaway from her talk and from reading “Between you and Me”, is an understanding of why the book’s title is grammatical correct and why the phrase ‘between you and I’ is grammatically incorrect. You, dear reader, most likely knew that already. But I didn’t.
I gather it’s do with subject and object. ‘You and I went for a walk.’ is correct because ‘you and I’ are the subject of the sentence and I is a subject pronoun. However ‘The dog barked at you and I.’ is incorrect because ‘you and I’ are the object of the sentence: it should read ‘The dog barked at you and me.’ because me is an object pronoun. An easy way to test its correctness is to take away the ‘you’: you wouldn’t say – ‘The dog barked at I.’ I was clueless as to why ‘between you and me’ is correct but adding grist to my grammar mill Mary Norris explained that prepositions take the objective case so after a preposition such as ‘between’ you must use the objective ‘me’ rather than the subjective ‘I’.
Phew, I hope I got that vaguely right and is there anyone still reading! And what hope do I have of understanding Italian grammar given how I struggle with my native language.