Rules of grammar have long been a minefield for students and writers alike. Times change, the rules change, and – if you are a bit of a pedant like me, the anxiety about getting it right only increases as we get older. So I have found it comforting recently to read ‘guides’ by people like Olive Kamm who talks about grammatical ‘conventions’ rather than rules.
Take, for example, the use of ‘I’ or ‘me.’ Traditional grammarians and established writing style guides, such as Plain Words by Sir Earnest Gowers, state that the phrase: ‘Between you and me’ is correct, and ‘between you and I’ is wrong. Various arguments about nouns and conjoined pronouns, and coordinate phrases are put forward to support this. I won’t bore you with these – I don’t properly understand them myself!
Suffice to say that, whereas my preferred phrase will remain ‘between you and me,’ I should not be sniffy about anybody who uses the other phrase. Particularly as one of the greatest writers ever uses ‘… you and I’ from time to time:
“All debts are cleared between you and I.” (Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice)
And he applies it to other pronouns too:
“Yes, you have seen Cassio and she together.” (Shakespeare, Othello).
If you write, and want to get your work published, you will find that publishers have a house style that you will be expected to comply with. This will often be in line with traditional grammar guides. Moreover, as I am finding as I write this, the spelling and grammar checks in Word and for my blog share my preference (Yay!)
However I shouldn’t get too smug about this. As Kamm has reminded me, I am writing in line with a convention not a rule. It isn’t a mistake or a sign of illiteracy to choose a different convention – and if you do, you can cite the most famous wordsmith in the world to support your decision. (Mind, as history shows, it seems he wasn’t too sure how to spell his own name – but that’s a different story.)
If you have enjoyed reading this blog, you may like to read one of the short stories from my Shakespeare project. Chains of Magic, based on Othello, is suitable for teen and adult readers.