I’m celebrating Halloween today! More accurately, I’m celebrating Hallowe’en. I sometimes use the apostrophe even though it’s no longer standard. It stands for the missing “v” in All Hallows’ Even (“evening”) – one of the earlier names for our October 31 holiday.
In honor of Hallowe’en, I’m going to discuss two features of English that are scary – or just plain crazy.
Here’s a sentence that’s grammatically correct but so weird that I would never use it:
Either you or I am likely to win first prize. CORRECT (but yuk!)
Here’s the rule: in an either/or sentence, the “or” part (or I) determines the verb. I am likely to win first prize is correct. That gives us “Either you or I am likely to win first prize.”
Nope. Grammar be damned – it’s just too awkward for me. I would use this version:
Either you or I are likely to win first prize. INCORRECT (but I like it)
Let’s go on to something else that’s grammatically correct but – to me – unbearably clumsy: “that of.” Take a look at this sentence from “This Is the Moment Rachel Maddow Has Been Waiting For,” an article in the New York Times Magazine:
If today’s dominant political recreational metaphor is that of the three-dimensional chess game, Maddow is hunched over in the corner of the rec room, methodically putting together a jigsaw puzzle. CORRECT (but yuk!)
What – I ask you – would be lost if you deleted that of?
If today’s dominant political recreational metaphor is the three-dimensional chess game….
Have a wicked Hallowe’en!