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October 24, 2012 8:10 PM   Subscribe

Which version of this sentence is grammatically correct and why? A: "Try not to be as bad as J. and I in the Masters semis last year." B: "Try not to be as bad as J. and me in the Masters semis last year." Make up you mind now. Arguments for each inside.

Supporter of A claims that there is an implied "were" following the "I", and that "J. and I" are the subject of the clause, implying the use of "I".

Supporter of B claims that "J. and me" are objects (implying the use of "me"), and this becomes clear due to how the sentence sounds if "J. and" were removed.

Yes, language is flexible and evolving, but we just want to settle a prescriptivist argument.
posted by Cogito to Writing & Language (30 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
Would you say "as bad as we were" or "as bad as us were"?

If you say "we" then "J and I" is the same tense. "Us" is the same tense as "J and me".

By the way, I vote for "we" and "J and I".
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:13 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here is the tool I learned for this in middle school:

I was bad in the masters tournament last year.

Me was bad in the masters tournament last year.


The presence of J in the sentence does not make me an object.
posted by bilabial at 8:14 PM on October 24, 2012 [18 favorites]


B is correct. The subject of the sentence is "you" (the sentence being imperative) and "J. and me" (or "me and J.") is the object.
posted by Tanizaki at 8:14 PM on October 24, 2012


"...do as badly as James and I" would be better than both options, I think.

Either way, "I" is the correct pronoun, given that the verb "be" becomes "am," and you'd never say "me am."
posted by ShutterBun at 8:15 PM on October 24, 2012


I was taught in school that A is correct, because of the implied were. Catholic school grammar lessons surely have prescriptivist street cred, no?
posted by medusa at 8:16 PM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


'me' - for the usual reason that if J weren't there, you'd use 'me'.
posted by pompomtom at 8:21 PM on October 24, 2012


B. I was taught to drop the "J and" part and say the sentence to determine if I or me should be used. More importantly, the sentence is poorly constructed and unclear to my eyes and ears. It should be constructed as follows: "Try not to be as bad as J. and I were in last year's Masters semis."
posted by KingEdRa at 8:24 PM on October 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


Came in to say what kingedra said.
posted by windykites at 8:31 PM on October 24, 2012


A is correct. Nothing about this sentence calls for the use of the objective case.
posted by lakeroon at 8:36 PM on October 24, 2012


As is functioning as a conjunction here, not a preposition. Use the nominative case. A is correct if we are being prescriptive.

Or, give it a verb that can take an object to clarify the difference between A and B: "Try not to suck as hard at the Masters as J and I [sucked at the Masters] last year" vs. "Try not to suck as hard at the Masters as [you sucked] J and me last year."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:44 PM on October 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


for the usual reason that if J weren't there, you'd use 'me'.

If J weren't there, I would say "Try not to be as bad as I was in the Masters last year."

Yes, it sounds awkward if you leave out "was," but doing so does not transform the nominative into the objective.

Also, to my knowledge the Masters does not have semis. At least not in the sense of semifinals. Semi-trailers are probably used at some point.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:51 PM on October 24, 2012


Eyebrows McGee has it, as you've already acknowledged. What makes this tricky in the first place is that there is an ellipsis--an omitted part of the sentence:

"Try not to be as bad as J. and I [were] in the Masters semis last year."
posted by bricoleur at 9:15 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I marked Eyebrows McGee's answer as best because it was by far the funniest. I'm curious to see additional arguments either way.
posted by Cogito at 9:25 PM on October 24, 2012


If J weren't there, I would say "Try not to be as bad as I was in the Masters last year."

Yes, it sounds awkward if you leave out "was," but doing so does not transform the nominative into the objective.


Missing words changes meaning. Leaving out was changes the subject of the comparison from my performance to me.

The sentence is: "Try not to be [something] in the Masters." Something is, I think, acting as a predicate for the verb "be". Specifically, it's acting as an adverb for "be". It can be one word, like horrible, or it can be a clause like "sloppily dressed", or it can be a phrase. If it's a phrase, the cases have to match within the phrase. And then within that phrase, you have two parts. "As bad as" and the thing to which you are comparing. Which must be an object. It can either be "me" or "was". One of those two things must be there. It would be more correct to use "I was" since was is a form of to be, which is what the original sentence is about.

You have to make the grammar match the words that are there, not the ones that aren't.
posted by gjc at 9:48 PM on October 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


As said above, guide your intuitions by this test:
Try not to be as bad as I was. [right]
Try not to be as bad as me was. [wrong]

Here, "I" is the subject of a subordinate clause ("I was") that fills in one side of the "as bad as" comparison.

In your example the subordinate clause after "as bad as" is much longer, but the same principle applies: "J. and I" are the subjects of that clause, an implied "were" is the verb, etc.


("As bad as me" is a common error and has some gut plausibility for that reason. It's more common in speech. But if you add the implicit verb at the end ("was"), you immediately know it's an error for formal writing.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:18 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here's a page on how to use comparative clauses.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:23 PM on October 24, 2012


I don't understand what's wrong with "as bad as me" and why you need to say "as bad as I am." That is like saying that it's incorrect to say "no animal is as fast as the cheetah": you need to say "no animal is as fast as the cheetah is."

The 'is' or the 'am' functions as a copula in each construction, not a verb. If you can find a construction that doesn't use a copula, it isn't "implied" in any sense. There's no ellipsis, as the page LobsterMitten links to says. This rule about comparative clauses sounds like a rule invented by prescriptivists because it sounds plausible but that has no basis in real grammar and does not track normal speech at all.

Does anyone defending this rule about comparatives really want to correct Shakespeare when he writes "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun?" (Silly Shakespeare, you ought to have written "are nothing like the sun is.")
posted by painquale at 12:46 AM on October 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


The sentence is: "Try not to be [something] in the Masters." Something is, I think, acting as a predicate for the verb "be". Specifically, it's acting as an adverb for "be".

This is incorrect. The [something] would be an adjective, not an adverb, and 'be' is a copula. A copula is just there to link subject and predicate. It's dispensible. If you can construct a sentence that links subject to predicate without using a copula, then there is no sense in which the copula is implied.
posted by painquale at 12:59 AM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't understand what's wrong with "as bad as me" and why you need to say "as bad as I am." That is like saying that it's incorrect to say "no animal is as fast as the cheetah": you need to say "no animal is as fast as the cheetah is."

The only reason "were" needs to be included with "I" in the example sentence is that it sounds awkward without it. If the "at the Masters semis [sic] last year" phrase weren't there, "Try not to be as bad as J and I" would be just fine.

That is like saying that it's incorrect to say "no animal is as fast as the cheetah": you need to say "no animal is as fast as the cheetah is."

No one here is claiming such a thing, nor is this example an apt analogy, as "No animal is as fast as the cheetah" is not awkward.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 5:20 AM on October 25, 2012


Yes, it sounds awkward if you leave out "was," but doing so does not transform the nominative into the objective.

On the other hand, I don't think many native speakers of English would say "Try not to be as bad as we in the Masters semis last year," which is the analogous construction. We'd say "Try not to be as bad as us in the semis" or "Try not to be as bad as we were in the semis," but never "Try not to be as bad as we."

...and if following that rule leads to obviously ridiculous sentences, it must not be a truly general rule after all.

I'm not sure which I would say in normal, informal speech. In a formal context I would probably expand it to explicitly include the "were."
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:38 AM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


The only reason "were" needs to be included with "I" in the example sentence is that it sounds awkward without it.

I think it sounds fine.

No one here is claiming such a thing, nor is this example an apt analogy, as "No animal is as fast as the cheetah" is not awkward

If people were just saying that they think the example sounds awkward, then you'd be right, and that'd be fine. But that's not what's going on. People here aren't simply saying that the example sounds awkward... they're giving rules about how to use comparatives and how to handle implicit verbs and so on. These rules lead to the cheetah sentence being infelicitous. They're pure prescriptivist inventions: post hoc explanations for why the sentence sounds right one way, used to bully those who think the sentence sounds fine the other way.

I suspect people only think A sounds right because they've been taught an arbitrary prescriptive rule that has changed their felicity judgments. If you're writing formally and you expect that most readers will also have developed these judgments, I guess it makes sense to write A. But I'm not really sure that anyone would notice that B was weird-sounding if it weren't in an AskMe question soliciting grammatical help.
posted by painquale at 5:43 AM on October 25, 2012


They're pure prescriptivist inventions

Cogito explicitly stated that they wanted to settle a prescriptivist argument. Any reasoning that relies on descriptivism is outside the scope of the question asked here.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:14 AM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Try not to be as bad as me.

Try not to be as bad as I was.

Both of these are correct.
posted by Aquaman at 7:58 AM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Cogito explicitly stated that they wanted to settle a prescriptivist argument. Any reasoning that relies on descriptivism is outside the scope of the question asked here.

I don't know what it means to rely on descriptivism, but I don't think I'm going outside the scope of the question. I'm not objecting to the prescriptivist nature of the rule, I'm objecting to the fact that it is falsely appealed to in order to explain and justify felicity judgments. People are saying, "X is correct, and it's because of rule Y." But rule Y leads to crazy felicity judgments. No prescriptivists really follow rule Y; some just think they do. (ROU_Xenophobe's example is particularly nice.)

"Don't use the word 'irregardless'" is a prescriptivist rule. It's one that people actually do follow, and one they should follow (in formal contexts at least). The rules mentioned in this thread are not even prescriptivist rules. Although they are cited, they are not actually followed, and they should not be followed.
posted by painquale at 8:20 AM on October 25, 2012


Painquale - isn't a copula the same as a linking verb? In that case, the linking verb connects the subject (nominative case) with the predicate, which also should be in the nominative case. The author is tying to equate (or in this case, not equate) the implied subject, "you", with the predicate, J. and I. Therefore, "A" is correct.

The reason why "B" isn't correct is that "me" is in the objective case, which implies that something is being done to "J. and me", or they are the recipients of an action.

I don't get why prescriptivist rules should not be followed. "Real grammar" (as you state above) by definition is prescriptive, and has a set of rules that should be followed; spoken language is descriptive and relies on context. In a written statement the language should be clear and each word should have a proper place in the sentence. This is especially true when writing for non-english speakers who often can (and do) find improper usage confusing.

Honestly, in informal speech I'd probably go with "B", but the grammarian in me says that "A" is correct.
posted by photovox at 8:38 AM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


painquale, the people citing the prescriptivist rule here are recommending a common heuristic of silently, mentally adding the verb to see whether the pronoun is working as a subject or object. They're not recommending that the sentence should actually be said/written with the verb.

Your cheetah sentence doesn't illuminate anything since "cheetah" will be the same word whether it's a subject or object.

The Asker wants to know what traditional prescripivist grammar books would say about this case. The answer is, A - you need to use the subject form of the pronoun. Lots of people still are sticklers for this rule.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:42 AM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't get why prescriptivist rules should not be followed. "Real grammar" (as you state above) by definition is prescriptive

I'm not saying that prescriptivist rules shouldn't be followed. For instance, "don't say 'irregardless'" is a good prescriptivist rule. I don't think "prescriptivist" or "descriptivist" are helpful labels to apply to a person, but on alternate weeks I think I would call myself a prescriptivist. I can be pretty snotty about language. However, I don't think the rules discussed in this thread are real rules that a prescriptivist should follow or even really does follow. They are like these rules.

As far as "real grammar" goes, I don't think prescriptivists have very much to say about "real grammar" at all. Prescriptivist rules are rules of style, or of linguistic etiquette. Rules like "don't split infinitives" or "don't use the passive voice" don't appear in formal theories of syntax. In fact, it's nearly guaranteed that if a person freely speaks or writes a sentence in natural language, then what they are saying is syntactical in their idiolect (with certain caveats... there are some tricky points here). If members of a subculture are consistently breaking the rules of your theory of syntax, you need to change your theory, not the subculture.

Prescriptivist rules are to rules of formal grammar as rules of etiquette are to "laws" about anatomy. If someone says that we should we shouldn't put our elbows on the table when we eat, they might be right. There might be genuine conventions of etiquette prohibiting doing so. Now, suppose a person says we shouldn't put our elbows on the table because it violates the way that arms naturally bend and so violates laws of anatomy. That would be saying something crazy! Of course we don't need conventional rules to keep us from violating laws of anatomy. We don't need to legislate against bending bones in impossible angles, because the laws of anatomy will do that on their own!

Appeals to "real grammar" in order to justify prescriptivist linguistic rules are in the same boat. Someone above wrote that nothing about sentence A "calls for the use of the objective case." Why does it have to "call for" the objective case? Why can't it just be in the objective case? In the linguistic wild, there are plenty of natural instances of comparative clauses that are in the objective case. Every time a father says to his son, "Wow! You're almost as big as me!", he's using the objective case. This is perfectly syntactical, and a theory that says otherwise needs to be changed to fit the data. Appeals to "real grammar" won't settle this issue.

painquale, the people citing the prescriptivist rule here are recommending a common heuristic of silently, mentally adding the verb to see whether the pronoun is working as a subject or object. They're not recommending that the sentence should actually be said/written with the verb.

I think some people were recommending that (though not all). But yeah, that was a side target; the real target should have been the claim that A is infelicitous. I don't think the heuristic is appropriate, because there are many cases in which there is no implicit verb at all and which almost everyone would parse without batting an eye. Silently, mentally adding a verb doesn't reveal what is hidden; it changes the sentence entirely.

The Asker wants to know what traditional prescripivist grammar books would say about this case. The answer is, A - you need to use the subject form of the pronoun. Lots of people still are sticklers for this rule.

Well, I think the question was different than that. He didn't ask what grammar books would say, he asked what was grammatically correct. If he has asked "Is it grammatical to use the passive voice?" or "Is it grammatical to use split infinitives?", I don't think the answers should say, "Absolutely not." They should say, "Well, grammar books say you shouldn't, and many people are sticklers, but..." Everyone here was saying "absolutely not," so I was adding the "but...."
posted by painquale at 10:33 AM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


However, I don't think the rules discussed in this thread are real rules that a prescriptivist should follow or even really does follow.

As a technical writer/editor, I disagree; I follow these rules every day. Again, for non-English speakers, prescriptivist rules facilitate understanding and clarity as well as (hopefully) remove ambiguity. Prescriptivist rules exist to offer structure to language; the sentences above would not make sense if the word order were jumbled around, even if the elided verbs were included. Each of those words play a role in the sentence.

Prescriptivist rules are rules of style, or of linguistic etiquette.

Also disagree. Prescriptivist rules govern the mechanics of language, not usage. As a prescriptivist, the usage of "irregardless/regardless" is meaningless; it just has to be used as an adverb. "Do not split infinitives" is an old, outdate adage that I break all of the time as it is a stylistic choice - the words still maintain their grammatical role. Choosing whether to use "me" vs "I" can be solved prescriptively (what role does the pronoun play in the sentence) or descriptively (which one sounds better, do I switch it up for effect, etc). The question asked for a prescriptive answer, which has been supplied in abundance.

He didn't ask what grammar books would say, he asked what was grammatically correct.

Those are one and the same, and the answer will always be "A". Whether or not "B" is acceptable would be debated in a book about style.
posted by photovox at 11:54 AM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Latin has typically been the heart of English prescriptivist grammar, and based on that, the answer is clearly A, because a comparative ("as," "like," or "than") in this usage is considered a conjunction with "J and I" playing the role of predicate nominatives. Others argue that it is part of a preposition, however. Here is a nice article on the subject.
posted by drpynchon at 1:22 PM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


> On the other hand, I don't think many native speakers of English would say "Try not to be as bad as we in the Masters semis last year," which is the analogous construction. We'd say "Try not to be as bad as us in the semis" or "Try not to be as bad as we were in the semis," but never "Try not to be as bad as we."

This is irrelevant. The poster is not asking what you or anyone would say; the question is about prescriptive usage, and as a copyeditor well marinated in prescriptive usage, I can assure you that Eyebrows McGee, LM, and others are correct: A is the only acceptable answer. As a descriptivist and populist by inclination, I of course am perfectly happy to use B in my own speech, but in traditional prescriptive accounts of English, it is incorrect, end of story.
posted by languagehat at 2:52 PM on October 25, 2012


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