A Tricky Grammar Construction

Regular readers (all three of you) know that I mention “whom” a lot. —Because a lot of people get it wrong, harrumpf.

Today I offer a vote against “whom”!

Review: Use “whom” when you have an object. Think of the stuffy

To whom it may concern

That’s correct. “Whom” is the object of the preposition.

And you use “who” when you have a subject. I remember my mom saying


I won’t go into details about the event, but her grammar was correct. “Who” is the subject.

Now for something tricky. First, the rule:

When you parse (analyse) a sentence, go from the inside out.

Here’s the tricky sentence, from Bloomberg:

No one said no to JPMorgan, or to whomever at Palantir volunteered to help Cambridge Analytica—or to another organization keenly interested in state-of-the-art data science, the Los Angeles Police Department.

(Whom, whomever, same thing.) “Whomever” comes after “to,” so it’s an object, right? No!

The rule, remember,  is to work from the inside out, and “whomever” is actually the subject of the  clause “x at Palantir volunteered…”

The whole noun clause is the object of “to,” and “whoever” is the proper subject of the clause. It’s “whoever volunteered.”

Pat yourself on the back if you got that. This is the kind of construction that separates the men from the boys. Or maybe I should say the professionals from the amateurs.

A Mistake I Don’t See Often

Using an apostrophe in “its” to show possessive is bad, and fairly common in the illiterate set. But at least they generally put the apostrophe inside, um, in The Barn. Like this. First panel. :

Makes me cringe to see that. At least he has the excuse of being a lot of bull (sorry). And it’s photon, not proton, but I digress.

Now when you have the possessive form on a noun that ends in “s,” (such as many plurals) the apostrophe goes after the “s.” You know that, right? Like this:

Both teams’ uniforms were blue.

Okay. So here’s the goof I hardly ever see:

It’s in the last panel, an apostrophe after the “s” in “its”! For shame! —I think maybe the cartoonist wasn’t fully awake. He used “A” instead of “I” in the second panel.

PS—This isn’t even particularly humorous, but it’s on topic:

PPS—and while we’re on this topic, here’s another guy getting it wrong.

Another Example of Linguistic Change

For a long time, the plural of “medium” meaning a means of communication was “media.” So you might ask, “What medium do you as a painter prefer?” And the answer might be, “My favorite media are tempera and watercolors.” And then TV followed on the footsteps of radio and newspapers, giving us three major media for public communication, and we called them “the mass media.”

Lazy creatures that we humans are, pretty soon it became “the media.” But we curmudgeonly types continued to complain that the word had more meanings than just newspapers, radio, and TV.

Well, it looks like we’re losing the battle. Here’s National Public Radio, in writing:

Pulitzer judges whittled their winning group from a vast number of possibilities, and the works they’ve chosen represent a vast array of styles, mediums, and much more.

I guess the plural of “medium” is going to be “mediums.”

Getting “Only” Right

Bruce Schneier is a cybersecurity and cryptography guru. (They say he’s so good he can decode alphabet soup.) I happen to be a regular reader of his Crypto-gram newsletter, and here’s a quote from the April 2018 edition:

It’s routine for US police to unlock iPhones with the fingerprints of dead people. It seems only to work with recently dead people.

Many (maybe most) people put the word “only” at the very beginning of the phrase or clause that it belongs with. The trouble is that adjectives (of which “only” is one) should go right next to the word they refer to. If he had written this incorrectly and said

It only seems to work with recently dead people.

Then “only” would be modifying “seems,” an entirely different meaning.

So watch where you put your onlys.

Musk Hires Pretty Good Writers

At least when I tracked down an example of bad writing in a technical article, I found that the writer at SpaceX got it right, and the writer of the technical article got it wrong!

Here’s what SpaceX says:

The competition will focus on a single criterion—maximum speed.

And here’s (blush) Interesting Engineering:

The call says the competition will focus on a single criteria “maximum speed.”

C’mon, guys. They even gave you the correct form…


“S” not for Plural?

Not much of a lesson today, but slightly autobiographical.

I think, and have thought so for years, that “-s” being the ending on a singular verb is a little incongruous (weird), since it’s also the usual ending on plural nouns. I frequently see people whose first language isn’t English get this wrong. Can’t say as I blame them.

Anyway, here’s the Andertoons comic that reminded me about this.

Proofreader’s Marks

I’ve been wanting to say a word or two about proofreading lately, and here Warped has given me an example of a proofreader’s mark!

That line with the loop on the end means delete. A just plain line through a letter means to make it lowercase. And three lines under something means to capitalize it.

End of proofreading lesson one.


I think Moose and Molly dates back to before I was born, but occasionally they come up with something for me to mention.

Moose and Molly - 04/03/2018

There you have a homonym. Homo=”same,” nym= “name.” To make matters worse, you can have them spelled the same and pronounced differently.

A Word About Quotation Marks

My topic today, class, is “what do you do when you have a quote inside of a quote?” Here’s an example of it being done correctly:

“On Chrome OS, we were like, ‘We control all the pieces. We can do better,’” Will Drewry, a principal software engineer for Google’s devices, and one of the founding fathers of the Chromebook, said in an interview in January.

The big item is that the inside quotation gets single quotes (apostrophes).

The minor item is that when both quotations end at the same time, put a space between the single and double marks. You get to play fast and loose with this second rule. Some fonts manipulate their apostrophes a bit so there’s a natural space after it, but a lot of fonts don’t bother. The goal is to be easy to read, so if your font doesn’t put the space there for you, do it yourself. The space looks a little big, but your meaning is immediately apparent.

What if you have a quotation inside the inside quotation? I haven’t found any examples lately, but the rule is that you alternate. That innermost quotation gets the double quote marks.

PS—Wouldn’t you know, I found a comic that shows how important to get your quote marks correct:

(I feel obliged to point out that the inside quote isn’t exactly a quotation. Those inside marks are used to call attention to what’s inside them. They’re called scare quotes.)

A Comic Directed at Curmudgeons

Okay, I get the message. Good thing it doesn’t apply to me—I never correct anyone’s grammar unasked, except in this blog.

Of course, you’re welcome to ask…