Friday, January 21, 2011


Okay, you know I'm not much of a prescriptivist when it comes to English style. But the nuts and bolts of grammar? Yes, it is possible to get those wrong.

But please don't really on a grammar checker for your pointers.

Take this sentence:
Mr X. proved himself able to handle a variety of topics at ILR Level 3.
The grammar checker would like me to get rid of himself and replace it with ... he. WTF? Oh, okay. If I do that, it immediately tells me that I should use him instead. Why can't it just say that in the first place? But I digress...

In its "explanation" it says
Use pronouns ending in "self" in conjunction with a noun, as in "Andrew himself" or when the pronoun refers back to the subject, as in "I hit myself." Use "own" in conjunction with a pronoun only when referring back to the subject.
Okay. Fine. (Well, except for the missing comma after "Andrew himself".) All well and good. (Of course, in my sentence "himself" does refer back to the subject.) But then it gives these two examples.
Instead of: They heard herself on the radio.
Consider: They heard her on the radio.

Instead of: John watched her own meal get cold.
Consider: John watched her meal get cold.
Neither of those seems anything that anyone would write (well, possibly in some dialects with a capital H for that first one). And neither is anything like mine. Why doesn't it try and show the difference between
They heard themselves on the radio.
They heard them on the radio.

John watched his own meal get cold.
John watched his meal get cold.
Sure, it'd need a few more words, but that's the kind of advice people need. Though, come to think of it, it didn't ask me if "Mr X. proved him able to handle a variety of topics" was perhaps incorrect. Maybe it doesn't know.

Maybe it just has a simple prompt triggered by the appearance of the -self morpheme?

Pfft. Of course that's all it has. That's why you shouldn't pay it much (if indeed) any mind.

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At 4:19 PM, January 21, 2011 Blogger Barry Leiba had this to say...

It also doesn't suggest the obvious solution (were one needed, which 'tain't) of leaving out the pronoun entirely: "Mr X. proved able to handle a variety of topics...."[1]

I wonder if it'd argue that that's incorrect (it's not).

As we all know, the most common misuse of reflexive pronouns is in combinations, where people aren't sure whether it should be "Bob and I" or "Bob and me", and rather than gambling on the 50% odds of picking one, they go for the 100% incorrect "Bob and myself".

Anyway, yes:
«But please don't [rely] on a grammar checker for your pointers.»

I'd be stronger about it: Unless you're completely, fully, totally grammatically challenged (and many folk are), turn the damned thing off altogether. It's pretty much useless once your sentences get more complex than "See spot run."

[1] On thinking about it more, I think there's a difference in nuance. "He proved able" can be passive, where he just did his work, and, gee, it turned out that he was good at it after all. "He proved himself able" has at least some sense of his actively proving himself, perhaps knowing that he needed to. I think the two can mostly be used interchangeably, but there's just the smallest difference. Maybe.

At 8:11 PM, January 21, 2011 Blogger The Ridger, FCD had this to say...

I think I wrote "proved himself" because it was an assessment.

At 4:28 PM, March 04, 2013 Anonymous Anonymous had this to say...

I will surely not be taking any grammar advice from the person and/or computer which suggests replacing “John watched her own meal get cold” with “John watched her meal get cold.”

The first sentence, however incorrect it may be, tells the reader whom the meal belongs to, while the second sentence only confuses the reader as to which meal is getting cold. John is a HIM, not a HER.

At 12:35 PM, April 22, 2013 Blogger The Ridger, FCD had this to say...

"John watched her meal get cold" is a perfectly clear sentence. John watched someone else's meal get cold.

Mary got up from the table to take the call. John watched her meal get cold. He could have put it in the oven to stay warm, but he didn't want to.

The first sentence is the bad one. Did you get your labels mixed up?


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