By Zac Kieser & Donna Reish
Compound possessives! They are incredibly tricky! Zac does a great job teaching them in this week’s Punctuation Puzzle, but I am going to give you three “Tricky Tricks to Help It Stick” right up front about possessives (a little cheat sheet before the test!):
1) When two nouns possess the same thing, only the noun closest to the “possessed” object needs to show possession.
2) When a noun and pronoun both possess something, use a possessive pronoun and show possession to the noun (both).
But the most important tricky trick of all is one that is taught incorrectly in many sources and handbooks.
The placement of an apostrophe to show possession is based on whether the word ends in S or not—not whether the word is plural!
The who/whom question is a tricky one. Out of all “pronouns” (some grammarians call who/whom pronouns; some call them subordinators; some call them…who knows…grammar is so subjective!)…anyway, out of all pronouns, who/whom is the trickiest to use correctly because it simply doesn’t sound as “wrong.” (We all know that you don’t say “Her is coming over later!”) Stick with Language Lady—and I’ll give you a tip for every usage problem you encounter (okay, maybe not every one…but I’ll sure try!)
Part of it sounds easy:
“Susie and me are coming at ten.” How many times do we tell our kids (or students) that it should be Susie and I?
It sounds simple. Even the rule seems simple: Use I in the subjective position (when used as the sentence’s subject). Use me in the objective position (when used as an object—give it to me).
But pronoun use is way more complex than the correcting of our kids when they use me as one of the subjects.
Did you know that there is a group of pronouns called reflexive pronouns? I know, right? Not mentioned that often. I hardly remember studying them in school at all. And yet, we use them all the time—and even eloquent people use them wrong quite often. (How many interviews or speeches have you heard someone say, “Then my friend and myself….” or “He began talking to my friend and myself…” WRONG!
Do you remember the two steps for determining whether to use who or whom from the other day? Here they are again followed by more practice sentences!
I hope you are one who uses who and whom correctly and not one whom others talk about concerning your grammar!
(Who uses who and whom correctly? HE does. /Who do others talk about? Others talk about HIM!)
To tell whether you need to use who or whom, you have to do two steps, and the second step is rather laborious:
1. Remember the little trick from earlier:
2. Then reword the sentence so that you can answer the question with he or him–and use the who or whom that goes with your answer (he/who and him/whom).
1. They didn’t say who/whom was going to lead the group.
a. Who did they not say was going to lead the group?
b. They did not say HE was going to lead the group.
c. They didn’t say WHO was going to lead the group. (He/Who)
2. I hope that whomever/whoever wins will be good for the job.
a. Who do you hope will be good for the job?
b. You hope that HE will be good for the job?
c. I hope that WHOever wins will be good for the job. (He/Who)
3. I think that we should ask whoever/whomever arrives first.
a. Who will arrive first?
b. HE will arrive first.
c. I think that we should ask WHOever arrives first. (He/Who)
4. Give honor to whom/who honor is due.
a. Who should we give honor to?
b. We should give honor to HIM.
c. Give honor to WHOM honor is due.(Him/Whom)
5. I didn’t think he was one whom/who could carry out the job.
a. Who could carry out the job?
c. HE could carry out the job.
c. I didn’t think he was one who could carry out the job. (He/Who)
6. I didn’t pass it to the one who/whom they said I should.
a. Who did you not pass it to?
b. I did not pass it to HIM.
c. I didn’t pass it to the one WHOM they said I should. (Him/Whom)