Who or Whom? That Is The Question!

I bless the easy availability of internet grammar sites whenever I have to decide whether to use who or whom in writing.  That’s because, despite knowing that if the word to is included in my sentence, whom is the form that should follow, well, that’s the only situation in which I can be confident I’m using the correct form of the word.  It doesn’t matter if I rearrange the sentence and substitute the pronouns her or him, she or he, as an aid in figuring out the problem. I’m still unsure about the correct form of the word.

Certainly I can’t be the only person who, despite a passable ability with writing, is confused by the sheer insanity of word forms such as these in the English language. Sit, set and sat.  Lie and lay.  Those verbs confuse almost everyone.  Irregular verbs are even worse; is it dreamt, or dreamed?  Awakened, waked, awoke, woke, awoken?  Shined or shone? Weaved or wove?  Inevitably, reading these words in novels, I find myself arguing with the author’s selection and punching out from my e-book to a grammar site.  (Ah, yes, and for that I also bless e-books.)  Happily, I often find out that I am, yes, I AM CORRECT.  I break my own arm patting myself on the back.  Much less happily, I find that the grammar in most direct-to-e-book novels is execrable. Worse, even edited books contain an astonishing number of grammatical errors these days – subject/verb disagreements seeming to top the charts.  Are students no longer taught that “might” is the past tense of “may”?!

Even worse than books, though, I find, are the voice-overs of TV commercials. I was delighted when the commercial for a large medical center spoke of “a list of insurance programs with which we’ve worked”.  Dear heaven, it’s a miracle.  The prepositional phrase correctly spoken.

Unfortunately, in its next incarnation, the phrase returned to “insurance companies we’ve worked with.” Despite Winston Churchill’s famous (but probably misattributed) declaration that, “This is the sort of bloody nonsense up with which I will not put”, most prepositions should not fall at the end of the sentence.  That’s the way it was drilled into my recalcitrant student head, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.  Period.  End of discussion.

Except that I both speak it and write it incorrectly most of the time.

Even more painful was a commercial for a cleaning product, in which the announcer declared that it “works so good”.  So good?  So good?!  Arrrggghhh. Well. The correct word is WELL.

And then there are songs. I can’t bear listening to Rod Stewart’s voice, which reminds me of a dying frog with laryngitis.  Even if another singer had performed “Tonight’s the Night”, though, I would never have liked the song.  But even had I enjoyed both Stewart’s voice and the song, I would still be driven to violence by the line, “….just let your inhibitions run wild”.  Uh, if one’s inhibitions are running wild, one is EXTREMELY INHIBITED.  Not doing anything.  Inclinations.  The correct word for that line should be inclinations.

I readily confess that I am incredibly picky about matters of grammar. For instance, I sat through the entire movie Inception arguing to myself that those little objects the characters used—the ones that were supposed to determine if they were in reality rather than a dream– should have been called talismans, not totems.  I knew that this was a matter of semantics only, but it irked me.

But, returning to the question of who and whom, I have developed a standard three-part rule for dealing with this situation.  First, if the word follows to, it is whom.  Second, I should try rearranging the sentence and substituting pronouns; if the pronoun is she or he, the word is who; if the pronoun is her or him, the word to be used is whom.  And, finally, if I still can’t figure out the darned mess, I will use whom.  For, you see, almost no one else will be certain of the correct word form, either.  But because whom is generally used only by those truly conversant with the complex rules of grammar, my readers will be certain that I’m not only correct, but am really smart!

To Review or Not Review

I do a great deal of light reading, preferring “cozy” mysteries – insubstantial stories, usually with a female sleuth or protagonist, often involving pets or animals, and in which the only people who die are generally characters I didn’t really like very well, anyway. It’s escapism, enjoyable escapism, and most of the time I find it much more entertaining than television.

For decades most of my novels were paperbacks bought at resale shops. When e-books were introduced I declared that I absolutely wouldn’t be taken in by the lure of them.  I liked the sensory experience of a book within my hands, the tactile sensations: the powdery touch of the paper, the colors in the cover art, even the papery smell of a “real” book.  But my daughter asked for a Kindle one Christmas, and it intrigued me.  Before long, I’d gotten one of my own.

And it absolutely drove me nuts. Not being to the tech generation born, it took me months to learn the right touch to swipe the pages across the screen without using a stylus. The first time I punched out to the dictionary I couldn’t figure out how the devil to get back to my page.  I lost my place so constantly that for awhile I bookmarked every single page (and quickly learned there was no easy way to remove all the bookmarks as a group, something which I’m still waiting for Amazon to fix.)

But slowly I became a devotee of the e-book format. Having figured out how to get back from the dictionary to my novel, I loved the ease of being able to look up an unknown word.  The ability to move straight from the pages of my novel out to the Net in order to look up a book’s unfamiliar reference (When was the Taj Mahal built?  Who was Hans Van Meergen?) was a gift.

But I began to think the best thing about buying e-books was the ability to either download sample pages and chapters or to read the reviews of those who’d already read a book. Buying paper books by authors with whom I was unfamiliar had always been a bit of gamble.  Glancing through some pages in the center of the book, choosing a book by the title…sometimes it worked well, other times, well, not so much. But samples and reviews  gave me a much clearer idea of how well I might enjoy a book.

E-book samples still sometimes misled me, though. I’d downloaded a number of first chapters, found them intriguing, ordered the book…only to find that, a chapter or two further in, my interest fizzled and died.  The story just hadn’t gone in the direction I’d expected or hoped, or the writer had been too inept to bring a promising idea to fruition.

But the reviews were a different story. I quickly learned to read both the best review, and the worst.  If the worst review mentioned the words “poorly written”, “badly edited”, or anything similar, then it was best to give even the most intriguing-sounding story a pass. Unfortunately, the ease of e-book publishing meant that there were a great many books with those damning review phrases.

In time, I began writing my own reviews. It was harder than I’d believed it would be, too.  I hadn’t anticipated feeling guilty when I wrote a less-than-stellar review.  How did I explain that there were no real faults with a book I just failed to enjoy?  How did I justify my criticism of an author who obviously had a great story idea, but a total inability to write?  What words could I use to express my disapproval of an author who wrote a witty story, but mocked a whole category of people while doing so?  And what on earth  to write when the author had added a begging note to the afterword of their novel, saying that they preferred that readers who had nothing good to say about their book just say nothing at all?!

Eventually I realized that an honest review might be just as important to a potential reader as were the reviews that had guided me. I praised books that I found well-written and plotted.  I was truthful when I reviewed a book that just had failed to catch my fancy, saying simply that, although it wasn’t my cup of Earl Grey, it might be perfect for another customer.  And I pilloried authors who either couldn’t spell or weren’t competent enough to challenge the spell checker, who couldn’t construct a complete sentence to save their own lives, who regarded punctuation as decoration for the page rather than a method of delineating stops and continuances, and whose understanding of grammar had failed sometime around the third grade.

I’m sure there are any numbers of authors out there who are consigning me to the lower levels of Dante’s hell for what I’ve said about the books that they had such fun writing. But there are almost certainly an equal number of writers who are thinking to themselves, “Hey, she liked my book!”