Saturday, August 28, 2010

Is Sue Interested in Dative Bob?

I think it’s high time we talked about the dative case, which requires a little exploration of direct and indirect objects. To further this purpose I’ve constructed a little example for you. We’ll try this sentence two ways:

Sue gave Bob her phone number.
Sue gave her phone number to Bob.
As you can see, whether you’re assuming “to” Bob in the first example or congratulating him after the second, the man indirectly receives the action of the verb no matter how direct Sue may have been with him. The phone number gets the giving here and Bob is the indirect object thereof. You can’t use such a verb without an indirect object, but the direct object will always be what is being given or shown.

Now I hear you asking, “What if I wrote ‘Sue gave at the office’?” In this case, your reader assumes the direct object to exist. While our giving friend Sue could have donated anything from half a bologna sandwich to a thousand dollars the crux of the matter remains that she gave something. One also guesses that she handed it to someone or sent it to some place, but that indirect object also declines to appear in this idiom (the general intent of which is to remain non-specific). “At the office” is just a prepositional phrase, not an object of any sort.

Shockingly, I haven’t yet made my point, which was that indirect objects (and any adjectives describing them) take the dative case. And what, pray tell, does that mean to your day-to-day writing life? In most cases it affects your writing very little as the case does not require specialized word forms. You should care simply because, someday, someone might as you to explain the dative case. Alternatively you could take up translating Latin (or a less-dead language) and need to know what to do with those dative forms when you find them.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Cute Overload Hurts Everyone

Thanks to my unseemly interest in the residential sprinkler debate, I find myself with yet another example of bad grammar in journalism. The Greenville, South Carolina Examiner published an article recently that contained the following:

After an emblazoned battle between industry professionals and 100's of firefighters that were in support of fire sprinklers and the Home Builders Association and numerous builders who were against, the SC House and Senate sided with the latter.
I can find at least three problems with this sentence, and I don't mean the implication that the HBA and builders are not industry professionals. I started looking at the grammar because of the use of the word "emblazoned", which was too cute by half. While you could, indeed, make a case for interpreting the word to mean "having been made famous" no reader should have to work that hard to interpret a newspaper article.    

The battle may have been bitter, contentious, well-publicized, or otherwise notorious. To emblazon something is to make it more noticeable, certainly, but the usual use involves adding decoration to the thing rather than arguing about it in public fora. Do we suspect the author used the word solely because of the "blaz" in the middle? I don't know about you but I certainly do.

Once I got past that, the "100's" pulled me up short yet again. First, why the heck wouldn't you just use the word hundreds in this context? Second, that apostrophe made me post this. I was willing to let emblazoned pass but this? No. The little jot of punctuation seems to have strayed from the word Builders, where it by rights ought to be at the end. To be fair very, very few associations make use of the plural possessive correctly but the writer should have known better. As the longest sentence of nine in the article, one would have thought the editor would have made him.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Which Is Less Wet? Drier vs. Dryer

As a quickie, let me clarify this little question. If you wish to write about something that is comparatively more dry, you write drier. If you mean a machine or other device that makes something drier, you want the word dryer. A dryer makes things drier. Personally, I avoid the whole things by using "more dry" but technically the comparative form exists. Now excuse me while I makes the driest martini ever while drying my clothes.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

I Said That I’d Return

Actually, I didn't say that. But I have returned and I will again, the dearth of posts this year notwithstanding. I chose that name for this post because I want to write about the word that today. It's been a bone of contention between a co-worker and me when used in documents for an official record so I thought I'd explore its role in sentences such as the title above. Consider the following:

He explained that he had seen four different versions.
I contend that (nudge nudge) you should include the word "that" in this example for the sentence to be grammatically correct in its formal setting. My "opponent" in this believes it to be superfluous in this and all similar cases (said that, believes that, opined that, hoped that, etc.) and requested that I remove all "thats" from the record I'd created. Which of us will stand victorious?

When used at the start of a predicate noun clause as shown, "that" acts as a conjunction linking the thing being expressed, believed, or what have you with the subject. It ties a comment to the person making it. (What, you did think I'd turn out to be wrong, did you?) While the conjunction can be assumed, in informal communication, strict English grammar requires that (hint hint) it exist.

Without that you can be left with unclear or awkward sentences, both of which cause your reader to work to understand your meaning. You wouldn't want that, would you? Well, in this case you would.