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Grammar  Check
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September 19, 2000

In this issue we begin a three-part series on the use of "who" or "whoever" and "whom" or "whomever" in writing. Speakers of American English sometimes use "who" or "whom" interchangeably. However, in written English, distinctive forms still are observed.

Use "who" or "whoever" for the subjective case (pronouns used as subjects) in sentences, questions, and clauses:

Who answered the door? ("Who" = subject of the sentence)

Who fired the gun? ("Who" = subject of the question)

Whoever can be calling this late? ("Whoever" = subject of the sentence)

She is the person who I admire most. ("who" = subject of the clause)

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But use "whom" for the objective case (pronouns used as objects) as both direct and indirect objects as well as objects of prepositions:

Whom should we consult? ("Whom" receives the verb's action--"consult")

You wrote whom? ("whom" receives the verb's action--"wrote")

To whom should the package be sent? ("whom" receives the verb's action--"sent"--and is the object of the preposition)

Jane's supervisor will probably hire whomever she recommends. ("whomever" is the direct object of "hire")

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Both subjective and objective forms can be troubling. When in doubt as to which is necessary, try to figure out whether the pronoun is giving or receiving the action of the verb. 

1. Pronouns performing the action use the subjective case (who).

2. Pronouns receiving action use the objective case (whom).

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Use "whose" as the possessive form:

Whose book is this? 



Beware of words that are typically misspelled (often through mispronunciation) and learn to spell them correctly, or check their spellings before using them. Study the list below and decide which word in each pair is correctly spelled. Answers will be provided next week:

arithematic / arithmetic
becuz / because
conselor / counselor
diffrent / different
estcasy / ecstasy
hymm / hymn
lavitory / lavatory
morgage / mortgage
surperlative / superlative
whinsome / winsome
yeild / yield



IN-DEC-O-ROUS: not decorous, unseemly; inappropriate.

The young lady's flirtatious behavior at church was indecorous.



GRAMMARCHECK: In your answer to the question about Tim and Dan's house, you used a comma before "because." Although I consider this usage an error, I often see it in print. However, I have never found a rule that indicates a change in punctuation standards. When does an adverb clause in the middle of a sentence require a comma? 

QUESTION: The funny thing about comma rules is that they sometimes compete with each other. What you describe as an adverb clause may be interpreted by others as a subordinate clause or a nonrestrictive element. If either of the latter is intended, comma use may be indicated. Much depends on the writer's meaning and purpose.

While we understand your view that the comma in our sentence is unneeded, we feel that the comma serves a purpose--separating essential from less important information. However, we would feel comfortable leaving out the comma, too. Commas sometimes may be used at the writer's discretion (i.e., for clarity or emphasis), as long as their use (or lack of) does not violate another rule.

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QUESTION: I have to say, once again, how very much I appreciate your service, especially the ability to answer questions! I have a couple more.

1. How are degrees capitalized (Ph.D., Master of Arts in Education, etc.)? Does it make a difference if they are specific (like in a resume or on a certificate) or whether you say, "He has a Masters of Arts in Education"?

2. Are references to schools capitalized when they're not the names of schools (junior high, senior high, high school)? Are grades capitalized (i.e., does it matter if you're specific at all as in "I teach First Grade")? Is Kindergarten always capitalized?

3. Are classes capitalized if they are not a language like English or Spanish (chemistry or Chemistry) and does it make a difference if you are referring to a specific class (Chemistry 101) or chemistry in general?


GRAMMARCHECK: We appreciate your appreciation! 

1. Educational degrees should be capitalized only in referring to a specific title:





Do not capitalize general degree references:

She's working toward a doctorate.

He holds a master's degree in Spanish. 

2. General references to school levels are not capitalized:

Their oldest son just started high school.

James will enter junior high next year.

I've heard that sixth grade can be tough for some students.

However, capitalize schools' proper names:

My cousin graduated from John F. Kennedy High School.

Derrick recently transferred to the College of Arts and Sciences.

Didn't your daughter attend Kelly Middle School last year?

The word "kindergarten" is not capitalized when used as a general reference:

Shelly's daughter will begin kindergarten this year.

Tara taught a kindergarten class for several years.

3. Course names, when used generally, are not capitalized:

Last year's chemistry class was the most difficult I've had.

Brett failed his sociology course.

But do capitalize proper names of courses:

Don't forget to register for Intro to Psychology next semester.

Sarah tried to avoid taking the Eastern Civilizations course she'd heard about.

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QUESTION: I'm currently proofing a book containing a character named Peter Jones. (The names have been changed to protect the fictional!) 

However, in the story he has a nickname, "Lord" Jones, and that is how he is referred to in the whole book.

So should it be written as "Lord" Jones every time, or just on the first occasion, and then Lord Jones (without quotation marks) thereafter?

Thanks in advance, Chris

GRAMMARCHECK: In this case, fiction is stranger than truth! Authors who create stories often take liberties in bending or ignoring traditional grammar rules. 

However, assuming your author wants to emphasize the word "Lord" as ironic or sarcastic, the quotation marks are appropriate around its initial use. After that, using quotation marks will depend on the author's purpose:

Is "Lord" Jones used rarely, or does it become the character's standard name? 

Is "Lord" Jones intended to remain an ironic nick-name, or will it deserve merit?

Once you know the author's purpose, you can decide whether quote marks will be needed around each use of the character's name. (However, using them each time likely will irritate readers.)

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QUESTION: Which is correct?

Reading, writing, and math equals a good education.


Reading, writing, and math equal a good education.

GRAMMARCHECK: Compound subjects (more than one subject) joined by "and" usually take a plural verb:

Ed and Roger want to start a landscaping business.

Mr. Thompson and his neighbors hope to prevent further development in this area.

However, when compound subjects refer to a single unit, they take a singular verb:

Bologna and cheese is my favorite sandwich.

In your example, if we assume that the three subjects represent one unit (a curriculum), your sentence should use the singular verb:

Reading, writing, and math equals a good education.

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QUESTION: Thanks for the newsletter--it is as useful as you intend it to be. 

My question is this: When writing a person's designation in a press release, should it be written in capitals or lower case? For example: "Widgets are cheap," declared Joe Bloggs, managing director of Cheap Widget International, Inc.

I write reams of releases always using lower case--which is better?

Many thanks, Donovan

GRAMMARCHECK: Capitalize company titles that reflect a specific performance and/or salary level:

Mary Smith, Director of Human Resources

Bob Carroll, Assistant Vice-President of Marketing

However, titles that reflect a general job function usually are not capitalized:

Bill Wyatt, the company's general manager
Sally Reavers, the factory supervisor

Since it's sometimes hard to distinguish between the two, check company literature to find out a person's job title and to see whether it is capitalized by the company. 

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QUESTION: How do you type the title of a play--in quotation marks, underlining, or italicized?

GRAMMARCHECK: Italicize the title of a play. However, in typed or handwritten documents, indicate italic type by underlining.

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