Some things will forever be a mystery to me. For instance, why do some recipes call for sweet butter (unsalted) and then tell you to add salt to the batter? I have run across many recipes that make that puzzling request.
If I happen to have unsalted butter, I use it. But if I don’t, I just use regular butter and put a little less salt in the dish than is called for. I, for one, cannot taste the difference. I know there are some cooks out there who are amazed at my cavalier attitude toward this problem.
I don’t understand why some people make the art of barbecuing and smoking meat into almost a cult. I like a blackened hot dog better than most, but I also like my food to taste like it really tastes. So smoking the meat and dripping it in sauces doesn’t really float my boat. I can’t tell you the number of books, smokers, recipes and condiments my husband has gone through to get at some point of perfection in meat that he can taste but I can’t.
But I take umbrage at some things which I am sure others find of little importance.
For instance, I have heard lately on the radio and in television commercials sentences similar to this. “I can run faster than him.”
That sentence and sentences similar to that drive me crazy, while most people don’t see one thing wrong with it.
It should read, “I can run faster than he.” Why you ask? Simply supply the missing or understood words and you will see.
What the sentence is saying is that I can run faster than he can run fast. The speaker just left out the last three words. But it should be obvious, when the whole sentence is written out, that he is the subject of the second clause and, therefore, the pronoun should be in the nominative case.
And I know some of you are saying to yourself, “but that doesn’t sound right.” I tell you what I told my students for over 30 years, “It’s not what sounds right; it’s what is right.
In the following sentence, him is the correct pronoun. “Mary gave me more candy than him.” If you put in the understood words, the sentence would read, “Mary gave more candy than she gave him.” This time the pronoun is the object of the verb in the second clause and should be in the objective case.
You can’t just assume that an objective case pronoun follow the word “than.” You must, in your mind, supply the missing words to find the correct pronoun.
You are now saying to yourself that that piece of knowledge is about as trivial as my concerns about sweet and salted butter.
But you are judged on how you speak far more often than you are judged on your cooking skills.
For years, my freshman and sophomore English classes diagrammed sentences. It’s a dying art, I know. Probably most newly graduated language arts teachers today cannot diagram a sentence.
But I think I speak for the majority of my students when I say that they found it fun. We would labor over long sentences, discuss what word an adverb really modified, draw and erase lines, and then the chosen few would get to diagram the sentences on the blackboard. (That should be a clue as to how long ago this was. Who uses a blackboard anymore?) One time we diagrammed the first sentence of the “Preamble” to the Constitution. That’s one long sentence, over 50 words.
It’s like solving a giant puzzle. It is so satisfying to see that sentence reduced to its bare bones and every word put in its proper place. If you can diagram a sentence correctly, you understand the use of every word in that sentence. You know that sentence backwards and forwards.
Being able to see that sentence in its skeletal condition, as it were, gives the students an additional advantage. If you can see each sentence reduced to its phrases and clauses in correct order, you understand that sentence’s structure, and you can punctuate that sentence perfectly.
I’m sorry that students and teachers are so busy teaching and studying for the test that they don’t have time for something fun like diagramming.
Paula Travis is a retired teacher from the Newton County School System. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.