Can right be wrong? Vicki raised this question in a Writing Tune-Up class today. She worried that if she used correct grammar that other people didn’t recognize as correct, they would think she was wrong. Vicki’s response was to use incorrect grammar–to be accepted.
Vicki decided to be wrong to sound right. Does that make sense?
Yes. As much as I hate to encourage incorrect grammar, it can be the right choice. When correct grammar screams “Pay attention to me!” incorrect grammar is the quiet, correct choice.
Example: If I am addressing a typical group–not a crowd of copy editors or English teachers–I will say things like this:
Who did you vote for?
Is that him?
I know each of those statements contains an error (and my grammar and spelling checker knows it too). These would be correct–technically:
Whom did you vote for?
Is that he?
Although technically correct, those sentences would fail with an audience–even most readers–because their correctness demands attention. The correct grammar becomes the overriding message.
So I agreed with Vicki, but I didn’t encourage her. To my taste, Vicki was setting the bar too low. She was using sentences like “Her and Rob are here” and “Give Kate and I a ride” out of fear that “She and Rob” and “Kate and me” would sound wrong to her audience. Vicki may be right about her audience. But I cannot bring myself to use her as the subject of a sentence and I as an object, and I would never argue for those uses.
We need to communicate with our listening audience and our readers, but we must not underestimate them. Vicki risks using “Her and Rob are” with a group that knows better.
Also, we need to use language that communicates who we are in addition to what we have to say. Blatantly bad grammar presents us badly.
What do you think? Are you willing to let slip “He laid down for a nap” or “Who did you tell?” in the interest of easy communication? Or would that be selling out our rich English language?