Grammar Wednesday

The “I love my readers” edition!

California Teacher Guy, stalwart supporter of Grammar Wednesdays here at A Teacher’s Education, sent me this email yesterday morning:

My dear Mrs. Chili:

I wrote this response to someone who commented on my blog:

Ms. V: Yes, I trusted–waffling, wavering and weaving every step of the way! Somewhere in the Bible is says that God is faithful even though we are not. It’s a good thing, otherwise none of us, least of all me, would make it.

So here’s my question: Is the phrase “least of all me” correct? Or should I have written “least of all I”?

Whichever is right, tell me (and all your readers) why, O Glorious Grammar Maven!

Always grateful,
CTG

First of all, thank you for the question – I really do love it when you – any of you – send in Grammar Wednesday fodder. Second, though, I’m not sure I quite qualify as a Glorious Grammar Maven. I appreciate the vote of confidence, but I don’t claim worth enough to have earned the title.

I have scoured my style manuals and grammar guides for the answer to this question, but none was immediately forthcoming, so I’m going to have to wing it:

I’m going to say that it’s “least of all me.” Us is a first person, objective pronoun – it’s used as the object of the preposition in the phrase none of us, which comes directly before the structure you’re questioning – none of who? None of us, not none of we. Me is a first person, singular objective pronoun, which matches the case of the first prepositional phrase – I may be the least of all, but the least of all is me (in the first of those structures, I is the subject of the clause; in the second, least is the subject and me is the object of the verb is – the least of us is who or what? Me).

It’s not immediately obvious that this is true, though – I admit to thinking about it all day and coming up with different answers. If we move the structure around, we say that I am the least of all, and if we took the first bit out – the part about none of us – we would say that I wouldn’t make it. I’m pretty sure, though, that we say me in the structure CTG created because we’re keeping the pronoun cases consistent.

Feel free, linguists, to shred my answer; I am well aware that I may well be full of shit here, because I have nothing written by anyone smarter than I to back my answer up.

Leah of asked this in a comment yesterday:

How do you make a non ‘s’ ending plural word possessive?

I washed the children’s clothes

or

I washed the childrens’ clothes?

He accidentally walked into the women’s locker room

or

He accidentally walked into the womens’ locker room?

You get the idea. It’s been bugging me, but my grammar books really are packed away right now.

Thanks!
Leah, plurals which don’t end in ‘s’ take an apostrophe-s to make them possessive; the first sentences of the examples you gave were correct. Further, you’d say something like “the geese’s honking kept her up all night” or “the oxen’s yoke is in need of repair” or “the people’s votes don’t seem to count for much anymore.

Thanks, you two, for keeping the Grammar Wednesday flame lit! Keep those questions and comments coming!

Happy Wednesday, All!

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10 Comments

Filed under Grammar, Learning, Questions

10 responses to “Grammar Wednesday

  1. Leah

    Thanks! That’s what I thought, but needed to be sure. Oh, and that’s not my blog! Although it is cute. I’m a whole other Leah. I had to stop blogging when life got in the way, but now that my wedding is on Saturday, I should be able to pick it up again. All about my life as a wicked stepmother, I’m thinking. I’ll be sure to let you know when I start it!

  2. OH! Sorry, Leah! SO wrong of me to make assumptions! I’ll fix the entry – DO let me know when you’re blogging again and I’ll be sure give a shout out to you.

    Happy Wedding!!!

    ~Chili

  3. Feel free, linguists, to shred my answer,

    Yeah, I got nothin’. I find it difficult to parse least of all [pron] as anything but a fixed idiom. So I’m not convinced that it derives from the least of all is [pron]. Having said that, I’d never use least of all I, or any nominative pronoun for that matter.

    Your analysis may well be right, it does seem to parse into a sort of copula construction [least of all] (is) [me] a lot better than any kind of preposition phrase construction like [least of [all me]] (ugh, that’s awful).

  4. First, I need to point out a grammar issue. In the phrase “the least of all is I/me”, the pronoun is supposed to be “I” (see rules regarding predicate nominatives).

    Second, regarding CTG’s particular sentence, we might consider that “none of us”, as a phrase, represents the subject of the clause. If it were a pronoun, not a phrase, it would be a subject pronoun (“I”, for example). We might also consider that the phrase “least of all **” in this case is seeking to modify the subject (“all” implies “all of us”, of which “I” am a part) and, as a result, takes the same case.

    Were I proofreading student work with it, I would call CTG’s construction awkward. In written English, I just don’t often see as clear the phrase “least of all” with its complement used to further modify a subject, in the manner CTG gave.

  5. “least of all I” doesn’t sound like normal English to me. It seems to me that the accusative pronouns are the default, because they have a much wider distribution than the nominative pronouns. Someone commented on my blog with these examples:

    He is taller than me.
    Who wants to go? Not me!
    Me, I think it’s a crazy idea.

    In fact, I’d say that the accusative/nominative distinction is being lost in English, to be replaced with marked/unmarked or something. Certainly we find accusative pronouns in subject position:
    Me and my friend went to the movies.
    And nominative pronouns after prepositions:
    between you and I
    The accusative/nominative distinction doesn’t seem like the best description.

  6. John, I agree with you that the distinction between pronoun cases is appears to be blurring, particularly in common conversational English. The same seems to be true in other languages, too (I hear it in French and Portuguese). I wonder if it’s not a reaction of some kind to the complexity of “proper” grammar. I don’t know why it would be occurring now, though.

  7. I think it’s always been happening. It’s happened in French to some extent: “moi” is used after copulas – c’est moi, where traditional English grammar requires “I”. In Hindi and Gaelic, the first person singular subject pronouns (maiN and mi respectively) are derived from the original object pronouns.

  8. You’re right, of course, John. I was wondering why it would be happening IN ENGLISH now. It has always seemed to me that it has taken a lot longer to see the cases blurring in English. Maybe that’s not the case, though.

  9. It’s been happening in English for a while… we find “between you and I” as early as 1596. But I don’t know how further along the trend is now than it was back then, if at all.

  10. And, of course, Middle English collapsed the old accusative and dative cases into one case, so you could argue our loss of case in pronouns has been happening since the 1300s.

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