Errors and Omissions: She or her? The tricky business of English pronouns

Our Letters Editor reviews the slips from this week's Independent

Share

Here is the finest example I know of sheer grammatical brio. It comes from J R R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings: “You will find naught that is not well known to me, who am master of the lore of this city.”

Not coincidentally, these words are reported by Gandalf, who is an Oxford don with magical powers and a mission to save the world from a descent into darkness. You don’t have to be, as Tolkien was, Merton Professor of English Language and Literature in the University of Oxford, to have the self-confidence to write “me, who am”, but I suppose it helps.

Anyway, what we need is a mission to save English pronouns from a descent into chaos. This is from a book review published last Saturday: “To the outside world, their money and good looks make she and her husband an enviable pair.”

That is not unusual; perhaps most writers would do it like that. But it still makes no sense, and it should be “her and her husband”. Full marks to Microsoft Word, by the way: its spelling and grammar checker picked up the error. Nobody would write “Money and good looks make she an enviable woman.” So why does the insertion of  “and her husband” turn the accusative “her” to a nominative “she”, in defiance of grammatical logic?

Up and down: Tuesday’s Dilemmas column was about a mother’s difficulty in trying to get her son to do his school work. One of the answers from readers said that the motivation must come from the boy himself. The headline: “It’s down to him”.

No, it’s up to him – that is to say, it is something he has to do. Something that he has already done would be down to him – down, so to speak, on his score card.

No principals: On Monday, a story about the Booker Prize quoted an author: “In principal, I should believe in all prizes being open to everyone.” That should be “in principle”, but it is hard to write with conviction about “principal” and “principle”, since they are the same word, derived from the Latin princeps. To spell it one way when it means “first in rank” (principal) and another when it  means a fundamental maxim of belief or behaviour (principle), is just an arbitrary nuisance. In speech, both are pronounced  the same without ambiguity, so why spell them differently?

However, while the distinction exists, it  is incumbent upon professional writers to  get it right, so as to avoid distracting the discerning reader.

Stationary: On Tuesday we reported on the prospective sale of a disused London Underground station: “Brompton Road station, once situated on the Piccadilly line between South Kensington and Knightsbridge, is on the market for around £100m.”

Almost right, but not quite. The station hasn’t moved. What remains of it is still situated on the Piccadilly line between South Kensington and Knightsbridge, though the platforms are bricked up and the trains don’t stop there.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Maths Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Science Teacher (mater...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for an ...

Maths Teacher

£22000 - £37000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: A West Yorkshire School i...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: The campaigning is over. So now we wait...

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
In this handout provided by NASA from the the Earth-orbiting International Space Station, weather system Arthur travels up the east coast of the United States in the Atlantic Ocean near Florida in space. The robotic arm of the Space Station Remote Manipulator System or Canadarm2 is seen at upper right. According to reports, Arthur has begun moving steadily northward at around 5 kt. and the tropical storm is expected to strike the North Carolina Outer Banks  

Thanks to government investment, commercial space travel is becoming a reality

Richard Branson
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week