THE BLOG
09/02/2014 04:23 pm ET Updated Nov 02, 2014

Why Are Americans Butchering the English Language?

As former colonies of England, after independence the United States of America retained the English language with its standard grammar rules.

What's happened?

Expat Americans along with English speaking foreign tourists are returning from traveling in the USA with horror stories about conversations that made them flinch. Americans are changing the language and many find it just as irritating as hearing the sound of nails on a chalkboard.

What are we talking about? The uneducated? The ones who use "ain't" -- not for effect -- but because they really don't know any better? Or maybe the ones who use the present tense when it should be the past tense as in "well, I reckon he come yonder and stayed for a piece."

No, indeed. The language that makes them wince and curls their toes is not coming from the under-educated but from the opposite end of the spectrum. They hear it on radio and TV from the educated middle class. The most common error is "between you and I," which, to be generous, might be OK since William Shakespeare used it in The Merchant of Venice. ("All debts are clear'd between you and I.")

But that's not where it ends. And it's a slippery slope.

"Thank you for inviting Alice and I to your 4th of July picnic," wrote a PhD scientist in an email. Were there no Alice, it would be "thank you for inviting I."

"People like you and I," said a friend over dinner. Leave out the other person and it's "people like I."

"Will you take a photo of my daughter and I, please?" a tourist asked at the Grand Canyon. Leave the daughter out and it becomes "will you take a photo of I?"

Ouch.

The subjective pronoun "I" is running wild! Educated Americans are using it after prepositions and it's wrong. Categorically incorrect. Obviously, a form of false hyper-correctness, designed to signify linguistic sophistication.

Instead of sounding sophisticated, however, it is bluntly pretentious.

This ungraceful elocution occurs when the speaker is talking about him/herself, hence the subjective pronoun "I." The other subjective pronouns -- she, he, they and we -- are left alone. You never hear "will you take a photo of Jack and she" or -- just as absurd -- "thank you for inviting Barbara and we to your home" or "John gave it to they."

Prepositions such as to, of, like, for, between and with need the objective pronoun: me, him, her, them, us. Every school age American knows this. Why do they abandon the rule once they get past 18? College professors cringe at the lack of writing skills displayed by their students and business leaders lament the poor communicative skills among their employees, but there are books to help. One in particular has a great title: Grammar Book for You and I (Oops, Me) by C. Edward Good. (Capital Ideas, 2002).

In defense of those who insist on using the subjective pronoun "I" after a preposition, there is the argument about the difference between rules and conventions. A grammar rule is immutable. A convention is not. A rule says, for example, that a verb must agree with its subject. We would never write "she say" instead of "she says." That's a rule.

Conventions refer to usage. It means that an error becomes acceptable and de facto correct through repeated usage. One example is the reply when someone knocks on the door. "Who's there?" The answer is: "It's me!" Nobody except pedantic idiots would say: "It is I!" Or as another example, most of us would say: "Look, it's her!" when seeing Angelina Jolie in person. Nobody would say: "Wow! It's she!"

It's probably too late to do anything about "between you and I." Along with split infinitives and the lovely word whom -- fast disappearing from the language as in "who do you love?" -- usage will sanction its authority and give it respectability.

But it's not too late to draw a line in the sand. We must be vigilant and protect our English pronouns from further abuse.

Just between you and me, enough is enough.

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