Can you correct the error in the sentence below? Scroll to the bottom of today’s post for the answer.
Linda helped Joan and I select furniture for our living room.
The big news story this week was the jury verdict against former President Donald J. Trump. E. Jean Carroll sued Trump for defamation – and won a five-million-dollar settlement. The case goes back to 2019, when Carroll claimed that Trump had raped her in a New York City department store.
What does all of this have to do with writing? Apparently very little – until you read a New York Times article about the clothes that Carroll wore in the courtroom. Journalist Vanessa Friedman makes the point that Carroll carefully chose outfits that sent a message about who she was: a serious person who doesn’t seek attention for its own sake.
Here’s how Friedman explains it:
Like all victims of sexual assault who take their cases to trial, her body was at the heart of the case. What she put on that body, how she presented it, mattered.
Words – like clothing – don’t just send a message: they are a message. Jumbled words point to a jumbled brain – even if you’re a genius who was experiencing a momentary lapse. Careless editing points to a careless person – even if you were in a time crunch for good reasons.
I know all about lapses. I make plenty of mistakes in my own writing, and I don’t always catch them. Nobody’s perfect. But I strive mightily to showcase my own competence and professionalism, for a very good reason. I know I have the power to control the message my words are sending. That message matters – and I choose to wield that power every time I sit down to write.
|Picture of E. Jean Carroll courtesy of Julieannesmo|
Today’s quiz is about the “thumb rule” – a quick and easy way to get I/me right 100% of the time. (It works for any pronoun – he/him, she/her, we/us, and they/them.)
Here’s what you do: use your thumb to shorten the sentence. In today’s sentence, cover up Joan and. Here’s what you end up with:
Linda helped I select furniture for our living room.
Does that sound right to you? Nope! Let’s try again:
Linda helped me select furniture for our living room.
That’s right! So you know that me is the correct word.
Linda helped Joan and me select furniture for our living room. CORRECT
You can download an easy-to-use handout about pronoun problems at this link.
What Your English Teacher Didn’t Tell You is available in paperback and Kindle formats from Amazon.com and other online booksellers.
“A useful resource for both students and professionals” – Jena L. Hawk, Ph.D., Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College
“Personable and readable…Jean knows her subject forwards and backwards.” – Adair Lara, author of Hold Me Close, Let Me Go