Write like me?

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Back on June 6, in his post "Drinking the Strunkian Kool-Aid: victims of page 18", Geoff Pullum wrote:

I am not a style doctor or writing adviser, and (unlike Strunk and White) I don't think everyone should write like me. My interest here is solely in the fact that we need an explanation for the fact that educated Americans today have scarcely any clue what "passive clause" means. [emphasis added]

A few days ago, on July 21, (someone going by the name of) David Walker happened on this post and added a comment:

"I don't think everyone should write like me." Me? Is that correct?

The short answer, of course, is "yes". But if you were interested in short answers, you wouldn't be reading Language Log. So after the jump, you'll find a longer one.

Mr. Walker represents (or gives a fine imitation of) the "nervous cluelessness" that modern grammar teaching generates in its victims. He's uneasy about this case, I conjecture, because two shibboleths intersect: "me vs. I" and "like vs. as".

In fact, neither of these prescriptivist bugbears applies here — but the only thing that Walker recalls (or pretends to recall) from his grammatical instruction is that he should be nervous whenever one of these choices arises, and thus doubly nervous when both choices arise at once.

In the quoted phrase ("… everyone should write like me"), like me is a prepositional phrase functioning as a manner adverbial. That is, like takes a noun-phrase complement, as in "walk like an angel", "ran like nobody's business", "handles like a shopping cart with a wobbly wheel"; and the combination  like + NounPhrase serves as an adjunct telling us how someone or something writes, walks, runs,  handles. etc. When the complement happens to be one of the pronouns that still indicates case, it's naturally in the objective case: here "me".

Thus it has been for several hundred years. Shakespeare wrote in Romeo and Juliet "Doting like me, and like me banished". Thomas Campion's My sweetest Lesbia, let us live and love ("Set foorth to be song to the Lute, Orpherian, and Base Violl") attempted to improve on Catullus Carmen 5 with these lines:

If all would lead their lives in love like mee,
Then bloudie swords and armour should not be,
No drum nor trumpet peaceful sleepes should move,
Unles alar'me came from the campe of love.

Swift, in The Lady's Dressing Room:

He soon would learn to think like me,
And bless his ravisht Sight to see
Such Order from Confusion sprung,
Such gaudy Tulips rais'd from Dung.

Southey, To Lycon:

Be mine, in age's drooping hour, to see
The lisping children climb their grandsire's knee,
And train the future race to live and act like me.

Shelley, Julian and Maddolo:

Even the instinctive worm on which we tread
Turns, though it wound not–then with prostrate head
Sinks in the dust and writhes like me–and dies?
No: wears a living death of agonies!

Dickens, The Old Curiosity Shop: "… he told me about my mother, and how she once looked and spoke just like me when she was a little child".

And so on.  So why does Walker (pretend to?) worry about whether me is "correct"?

The first reason involves a chain of events something like this:

1. Many people say or write things like "you and me were meant to be".
2. Others complain that this is illogical — "you and me" is the subject, so it should be "you and I". (Grammar is not logic, cf. French "vous et moi" not "vous et je"; but never mind.)
3. Chastened, some people say or write things like "between you and I".
4. Others then complain that "you and I" is the complement of between, so it should be "you and me".
5. Result: people like Mr. Walker, who have never been taught to recognize subject or complements or any other grammatical entities, enter a state of nervous cluelessness about how to choose between I and me in any case where doubt might arise, and even in many cases where there should never have been any doubt at all.

The second reason is the strange prescriptivist animus against conjunctive like, e.g. "Some people prune English roses like they do Hybrid Teas". The description below is summarized from the account in MWDEU:

1. Like has been used conjunctively (i.e. to introduce a subordinate clause) since the 14th century, by Chaucer, Shakespeare, Keats, Dickens, Shaw, etc.
2. At some point, this became controversial. Noah Webster's 1790 list of "improper and vulgar expressions" included "He thinks like you do"; Tennyson corrected Prince Albert for using conjunctive like; Henry Alford said conjunctive like was "quite indefensible"; and Strunk & White scorned it as "widely misused by the illiterate", and "taken up by the knowing … who use it as if they were slumming".
3. This attitude requires banning (what previously were) perfectly standard and commonplace uses (Winston Churchill: "We were overrun by them, like the Australians were by rabbits").
4. No fault is thereby found with like <noun-phrase>; but the prescription against the standard and still-common instances of conjunctive like leaves the Walkers of the world in a state of nervous cluelessness about any use of like at all.


Mr. Walker reads "I don't think everyone should write like me", and  thinks (or pretends to think?), "Wait, isn't there something wrong with that?"


  1. Mark P said,

    July 24, 2009 @ 8:34 am

    "widely misused by the illiterate"

    I have found another benefit of a poor memory: I have forgotten everything I read in S&W.

  2. Tim Silverman said,

    July 24, 2009 @ 8:35 am

    I think you may have missed a third reason: the idea that "write like me" should be replaced by "write like I do" (or "write as I do"—that's your second reason entering on top of this one).

    The reasoning being, presumably, that my style of writing can't resemble you, Geoffrey Pullum, the man, but can only resemble your style of writing. The fact that, under the first interpretation, "write like me" becomes semantically unintelligible is apparently of no consequence. (I've seen cases where this reason, why not actually carrying much, if any, grammatical force, does at least make sense, so I'd guess that the shadow of those cases is falling on this one too.)

  3. Iain said,

    July 24, 2009 @ 8:52 am

    "Don't you wish your girlfriend could Write Like Me…"

  4. Dan S said,

    July 24, 2009 @ 8:55 am

    A clear and compelling case. But I wonder: what if Mr Walker parses this "like" as conjunctive, with the second clause's verb elided? Something like
    "Everybody should write like[conj] I (do[implicit])".

    PS: I considered my suggestion, above, to be far-fetched until I tested the utterance
    "everybody should write like me"
    on my resident naive speaker, who disappointed me by grimacing and reporting, "Sounds awkward. I expect 'Everybody should write like I do.'"

    [(myl) Interesting. Note that your "resident naive speaker" is thereby tagged by Noah Webster as "improper and vulgar", by Henry Alford as "quite indefensible", and by Strunk & White as "illiterate" or perhaps "slumming".

    I think you may well be right, though — two centuries of prescriptive fuss have now succeeded in making many native speakers so thoroughly confused that they prefer to correct "like me" (which was not faulted) to "like I do" (which was).]

    PPS: Might we pause to salute those who live with linguists? (Even with amateur linguists?) Even if I note that those subjects-of-opportunity might tend to be more educated than the typical speaker. Hmm, I wonder if we need something like an "experimental linguistics" initiative.

  5. DaveL said,

    July 24, 2009 @ 9:05 am

    What I see and hear more and more, and I'm sure it's a result of "nervous cluelessness," is people using "myself" instead of "me" or "I".

    "Jane and myself went to the party."

    "Bob invited Jane and myself to the party."

    A good example of prescriptivism producing more horrors than it cures.

  6. Matt said,

    July 24, 2009 @ 9:17 am

    I don't think everyone should write like I write.

    [(myl) In Strunk & White's taxonomy, are you (a) illiterate, or (b) slumming?

    Seriously, you've omitted a few needful words. What do you mean?]

  7. kay said,

    July 24, 2009 @ 9:37 am

    And don't forget the old Winston ad, which openly mocked itself as being "ungrammatical." To wit: Winston tastes good like a cigarette should.

    Took me years to figure out what exactly was wrong with the slogan in the first place. (Yeah, go ahead and chastise me for the placement of my adverb, too, while we're at it!)

  8. Chris said,

    July 24, 2009 @ 10:00 am

    Well, don't leave us hanging, Kay, what turned out to be wrong with it? It's not obvious to me, either.

    [(myl) The perceived problem with this slogan was that it used conjunctive like, which prescriptivists like Strunk & White had decided to retroactively banish from polite society. See the opening of the MWDEU entry for further discussion. I'm especially fond of the New Yorker paragraph (written by White?) with a simultaneously arrogant and obsequious reference to Winston Churchill, which MWDEU gracefully punctures by citing a Churchillian conjunctive like.]

  9. Andy Hollandbeck said,

    July 24, 2009 @ 10:28 am

    So, setting aside S&W and theoretical arguments for a moment, are we sayng that both "I don't think everyone should write like me." and "I don't think everyone should write like I do." are grammatically correct? Or at least grammatically acceptable? (I can live with that.)

    [(myl) Certainly there is ample evidence that both forms have been used by respected writers of standard formal English for several hundred years.]

    If so, are we also saying that "I don't think everyone should write like I." with an elided verb is also correct? (Harder for me to live with.)

    [(myl) No. Many if not most conjunctive expressions resist this kind of elision:

    "He believes it because I do" is fine; "*He believes it because I" is weird.

    "They left before I did" and "They left before me" are both fine; "*They left before I" is weird. ]

    Pointing out misinformation and confusion is all well and good, until it creates more confusion.

    [(myl) What creates confusion is teaching people "rules" without giving them the concepts and skills that they need to understand and apply them.

    Secondarily, there are questions about what linguistic standards should be, and whether self-appointed experts should be allowed to decide, on an ill-informed and arrogant whim, that centuries of standard usage should henceforth be judged "vulgar", "illiterate", or otherwise wrong.]

  10. John Baker said,

    July 24, 2009 @ 10:29 am

    MWDEU's discussion mentions that

    Shakespeare also used conjunctive like followed by a nominative pronoun:

    And yet no man like he doth grieve my heart – Romeo and Juliet, 1593

    I am reminded that Thurber somewhere discusses the passage by Felicia Hemans:

    The boy stood on the burning deck
    Whence all but he had fled

    Thurber thought that "he" was an error for "him," which cannot readily be used in this passage because of the immediately following verb "had fled" (for which the subject in reality is "all"). He suggested recasting it as "The boy stood on the burning deck whence all save him had fled."

    The quoted passage from Shakespeare obviously has a similar structure, and MWDEU's comment implies that Shakespeare and Hemans got it right. How do we know that? What's going on here?

  11. John Cowan said,

    July 24, 2009 @ 10:32 am

    Under a non-hidebound analysis of French pronouns, moi is unmarked for case, whereas je is a bound subject agreement prefix.

  12. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 24, 2009 @ 10:42 am

    Have any linguistic anthropologists doing fieldwork among the Nervously Clueless investigated whether similar sentences phrased with "like him" or "like her" elicit the same degree of NC-ness as the "like me" instances? I.e., is there a more generalized confusion about how case should work in this particular syntactic context, or is I versus me a high-profile bugbear which thus creates a level of anxiety that he/him and she/her choices do not?

    For Iain: I would find the substitution of "don't you wish your girlfriend was hot like I am" for "hot like me" a bit odder-sounding than substituting "could write like I do/can" for "write like me," although the "like me" option sounds fine in both situations. So maybe there is something semantic going on here, at least in part, or maybe it's just that comparative-girlfriend-hotness is more likely as a matter of pragmatics to be discussed in a more informal register.

  13. Martin said,

    July 24, 2009 @ 10:51 am

    Seems clear to me that it's just a matter of register.

    don't you wish your girlfriend was hot like me
    don't you wish your girlfriend was hot, like I am
    don't you wish your girlfriend was hot, as I am

    looks odder from top to bottom; but

    we expanded the integral, like Bloggs et al (1998)
    we expanded the integral, like Bloggs et al (1998) did
    we expanded the integral, as Bloggs et al (1998) did

    looks odder from bottom to top.

    [(myl) Nice examples. In the case of the song Don't cha, there are also metrical and poetic reasons to prefer "like me", IMHO.

    Also, the norms of scientific writing may not correspond to our intuitions about them. I happen to have a snapshot of text from BioMedCentral at hand to check, and the very first instance of the word like, in the fourth file scanned, is

    Total kg of ham (HAM) as well as part of this ham (OHAM) showed a significant QTL at 103 cM, but the significant QTL for knuckle ham (KHAM) was situated at the end of SSC2. Duthie et al. [ref.] have detected a QTL for ham weight on SCC2 at 15 cM like Vidal et al. [ref.] but this latter study does not give the position.

    I don't have time just now to write a program to disambiguate among uses of like, but a visual scan of the output of grep suggests the like NounPhrase pattern is indeed fairly common, whatever its relationship to the other possibilities.]

  14. Emily said,

    July 24, 2009 @ 11:18 am

    For "everyone should write like me", I might prefer to write "everyone should write the way I do" to circumvent both pronoun trouble and objections to "like", but I don't actually think everyone should write the way I do.

  15. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 24, 2009 @ 11:26 am

    I'm not sure the Bloggs examples are entirely parallel, register aside. Hot (either in the literal degrees-Fahrenheit sense or the extended female-pulchritude sense) is sometimes scalar and sometimes not. "Hot like me" is presumptively non-scalar — it implies that both would be on the hot side of the hot-or-not dichotomy. "As hot as I am" would be explicitly scalar. "Hot, as I am" is potentially confusing because it suggests, without explicitly using, the "as hot as I am" alternative construction and thus creates some potential processing difficulty in terms of determining whether the scalar or non-scalar meaning is in play. Bloggs-et-al-imitative integral-expansion seems in context non-scalar: you do it the way they did or you don't. More generally, it's not clear to me that "like" and "as" are perfectly synonymous in this context and vary solely in register or perceived formality.

  16. wally said,

    July 24, 2009 @ 11:56 am

    Whats with all the foreshadowing, but no resolution?
    There are a bunch of asides from
    "(someone going by the name of)"
    "(or pretends to think?)"
    but no explanantion.
    Don't leave us hanging.
    Like me, many people are curious.

    [(myl) I have no idea who "David Walker" actually is; and it's possible that his brief comment was ironically imitating someone clueless, rather than exhibiting cluelessness directly. That's all.]

  17. jc said,

    July 24, 2009 @ 12:32 pm

    It was particularly satisfying to click 'like' on this in my googlereader.

  18. Robert Coren said,

    July 24, 2009 @ 12:39 pm

    @kay: My recollection (quite possibly incomplete or inaccurate) of the Winston ad story was that the slogan was originally used without intentional irony, and prescriptivists complained all over the press. This resulted in an ad with the following exchange:

    "Winston tastes good like a cigarette should."

    "…as a cigarette should."

    "What do you want, good grammar or good taste?"

    My reaction to this (at that time I was indoctrinated with the prejudice against conjunctive "like") was to remark that the ad displayed neither.

  19. Jean said,

    July 24, 2009 @ 12:46 pm

    I think everyone should write like I like.

  20. Chris said,

    July 24, 2009 @ 1:23 pm

    @Martin: I think it's significant that the main verb is a form of "be". In particular, the distinction of meaning pointed out by Tim Silverman doesn't occur for conditions of existence.

    Our results are inconclusive, like those of Bloggs et al.

    Our results are inconclusive, like those of Bloggs et al. are.

    Our results are inconclusive, as those of Bloggs et al. are.

    Formality notwithstanding, I think "like" works better in these examples too.

    To me, "like" suggests "to the same degree" and "as" suggests "in the same manner", in examples using "be" (perhaps because of the "as X as Y" formula, as J.W. Brewer points out).

  21. Mark F said,

    July 24, 2009 @ 1:40 pm

    I Googled Churchill's quote and came across this, which displays the kind of resistance to the evidence that I think you see a lot in these things. The article cites Churchill's quote, but claims he used it in informal speech. But he didn't. It apparently was in a letter to a government official during WWII, and the overall style of the letter is fairly formal. The things Churchill was comparing to rabbits, by the way, were committees.

  22. Dan said,

    July 24, 2009 @ 1:52 pm

    Someone needs to write Lies My English Teacher Taught Me.

  23. Ellen said,

    July 24, 2009 @ 1:53 pm

    Seems to me if it were a matter of degree of hotness, then it would be:

    don't you wish your girlfriend was as hot as I am

    For me "don't you wish your girlfriend was hot, as I am", with the single "as" and the comma/pause cannot express a comparison of degree of hotness;

  24. Ellen said,

    July 24, 2009 @ 1:58 pm


    don't you wish your girlfriend was hot as I am

    No, comma/pause, without the double "as" for me doesn't work at all.

  25. Randy Alexander said,

    July 24, 2009 @ 2:03 pm

    […and whether self-appointed experts should be allowed to decide, on an ill-informed and arrogant whim, that centuries of standard usage should henceforth be judged "vulgar", "illiterate", or otherwise wrong.]

    Do I detect a little bitterness?

    [(myl) I prefer to think of it as realism, alas.]

  26. Stephen said,

    July 24, 2009 @ 2:16 pm

    There's evidence on this Salon letters page that some people (farafield and jkd, in particular) believe that He is drunk like I. is "grammatically correct", whereas "you do not write" He is drunk like me. Perhaps David Walker is one of them.

    [(myl) You're right. Wow.]

    I think there's a connection with the commotion over Queen Elizabeth's "The young can sometimes be wiser than us," which I think happened too early to have been mentioned in LL.

  27. Alan Palmer said,

    July 24, 2009 @ 3:03 pm

    "me vs. I" and "like vs. as"

    How long ago did "vs" start being used as an abbreviation for "versus"? I can't remember seeing anything other than "v" used when I was young (about 50 years ago, alas). :(

    [(myl) The OED's earliest citation is:

    1889 Cent. Dict., vs, an abbreviation of versus.

    but presumably it must have been in use before that, in order to be referenced in a dictionary. ]

  28. Emily said,

    July 24, 2009 @ 3:34 pm

    @Alan Palmer: However old "vs." is, it seems that "v." has always been the standard abbreviation for court cases, even though some people seem to write "vs." too. (For what it's worth: A Google search for "Roe v Wade" turns up "about 1,600,000" results, whereas "Roe vs Wade – v"(what you have to do to filter out the "Roe v Wade" results) gets around 195,000.)

  29. dr pepper said,

    July 24, 2009 @ 3:52 pm

    Don't you wish your girlfriend was hot– like i think i am?

  30. Spectre-7 said,

    July 24, 2009 @ 4:06 pm

    A Google search for "Roe v Wade" turns up "about 1,600,000″ results, whereas "Roe vs Wade – v"(what you have to do to filter out the "Roe v Wade" results) gets around 195,000.)

    It used to be that you only needed to encapsulate the desired string in quotes, and Google would search for that precise string… but that no longer seems to be the case, and I have no idea why they changed it.

    I think I'm going to sit here and growl for a little while.

  31. Ellen K. said,

    July 24, 2009 @ 4:14 pm

    Spectre-7, probably Google changed it because of things like that. After all, the purpose of Google is not linguistic research. It's to help people find the websites they want.

  32. Spectre-7 said,

    July 24, 2009 @ 4:42 pm

    Maybe I'm just dense, but in my experience, this newer, fuzzier functionality helps me find more of what I don't want. By the description on their advanced search page, the quotes are supposed to force Google to search for this exact wording or phrase, yet it now returns numerous strings that are sort of like what I typed in. If I wanted something sort of like what I typed in, I would have simply skipped the quotes.

    I think I'll take my grumbling to the porch now, and with any luck, I can yell at some kids to get off my lawn.

  33. peter said,

    July 24, 2009 @ 5:21 pm

    Alan Palmer (July 24, 2009 @ 3:03 pm) asked:

    "How long ago did "vs" start being used as an abbreviation for "versus"? I can't remember seeing anything other than "v" used when I was young"

    There are regional differences here: "vs." is far more common in Australia than "v."

  34. Bill Walderman said,

    July 24, 2009 @ 5:37 pm

    'There's evidence on this Salon letters page that some people (farafield and jkd, in particular) believe that He is drunk like I. is "grammatically correct", whereas "you do not write" He is drunk like me.'

    Yet on August 10, 2006, the same jkd who can't tolerate "He is drunk like me" wrote:

    "Who'm I missing here on this honor roll?"

    If jkd is so punctilious about grammar, clearly s/he should have written "Whom'm I missing here on this honor roll?"

  35. Ellen said,

    July 24, 2009 @ 6:39 pm

    Spectre-7, "exact word or phrase" doesn't have to be exact spelling. In the case we are talking about, both are the same phrase. Are there instances where it's including, not just the same phrase with alternate spelling, but with actual changed words?

  36. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 24, 2009 @ 7:00 pm

    In at least U.S. legal usage, the v. abbreviation affects (and its continuation is thus supported by?) pronunciation, as lawyers often say, e.g. "Brown vee Board of Education." I take it by contrast that genre movie buffs discussing "King Kong vs. Godzilla" pronounce the "vs." as "versus." It may also be the case that in legal prose v. will be unambiguous in context but in other contexts less so.

  37. Will said,

    July 24, 2009 @ 7:55 pm

    From what I understand (or what I learned in court reporting school a few years back) is that you use "v." when referring to a settled case and "vs." when referring to a case that is currently in the court system.

  38. Simon Spero said,

    July 24, 2009 @ 8:23 pm

    Grammar is not logic.

    Richard Montague is turning over in his grave.

    [(myl) J.S. Mill, too. I should have said "Grammar is not bogus logic".]

  39. chris said,

    July 24, 2009 @ 11:30 pm

    The pronunciation of "v." by English-speaking lawyers is a strange business, and it gets even stranger outside the US. Have a look at http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Appendix:Glossary_of_legal_terms#V

  40. Tim said,

    July 25, 2009 @ 12:03 am

    All that discussion, and no-one even suggested that it should be "don't you wish your girlfriend were hot…"? (Joking, of course.)

    Anyway, as far as "like" goes, I distinctly recall, around seventh or eighth grade, being taught that it should always be "like I" in this sort of situation, because it really means "like I [verb]". The main reason I remember it is because, even at the time, it made no sense to me. I couldn't see any reason why one could not use "like me", interpreted as "in the manner of me".

  41. rkillings said,

    July 25, 2009 @ 12:53 am

    "(Grammar is not logic, cf. French "vous et moi" not "vous et je"; but never mind.)"

    But in French it's "vous et moi" + 1st person plural verb, as in "vous et moi sommes" (= "vous et moi, nous sommes").

    I thought this was explained – logically – as use of the so-called disjunctive pronoun plus optional omission of the normal pronoun.

    The French construction that always amuses me is the "nous, on" + 3rd person verb.

  42. AJD said,

    July 25, 2009 @ 10:26 am

    I had a rooommate in college who said (or claimed he said) not only "like I" but also "before I" (and perhaps others) for this very reason.

  43. Ellen said,

    July 25, 2009 @ 10:30 am

    John Cowan made that point about French earlier, and his label of it as "non-hidebound" suggests that possibility that Mark Liberman is referring not to an observant open minded logic, but to a hidebound logic. Which seems to be what prescriptivists are good at.

  44. Jay Lake: [links] Link salad is awake in Seattle said,

    July 25, 2009 @ 11:18 am

    […] Write like me? — Language Log on grammar twitch. […]

  45. bianca steele said,

    July 25, 2009 @ 11:44 am

    You're absolutely right. I think what happened is someone recently must have made a lot of changes and broke this important feature in an important way. Which makes it particularly galling that if they don't fix it soon. It would be different if it had always worked like this, or if the problem had been recognized a lot earlier, been investigated and found to be overly difficult to fix.

  46. bianca steele said,

    July 25, 2009 @ 12:24 pm

    Though Ellen is right too. Since we've adventitiously run across this problem right now, why shouldn't the programmers take the fact that the point was raised as a sign that now is a good time to address it?

  47. Ellen said,

    July 25, 2009 @ 12:51 pm

    Ideally, it would have both types of searches… exact character string, and exact phrase with spelling variations.

  48. bianca steele said,

    July 25, 2009 @ 1:01 pm

    Ellen, yes. And now that you've reminded me, I even think I now have an idea about what might be wrong and how to fix it.

  49. Jody Bruner said,

    July 25, 2009 @ 7:27 pm

    Someone just asked me about a commercial we've been seeing a lot of: "You don't drive like her, so why are you paying the same insurance premiums as her? One of my readers asked me about it–see my response: http://brunerbiz.wordpress.com/2009/07/20/you-dont-drive-like-her/

    [(myl) The crucial passage in Jody's correspondent's email is fascinating:

    My “rule” says that if you extend the sentence to say what is understood, correct use of words will become apparent. So, the sentence becomes “You don’t drive like she drives….” According to my rule, the advertisement should say “you don’t drive like she….” To me that clearly sounds awkward and incorrect. Is my rule wrong?

    A perfect proof by reductio ad absurdum.]

  50. Tom said,

    July 25, 2009 @ 11:52 pm

    When it's "than" rather than "like" — the context in which the Queen caused a flap — there is the option of dodging the choice between "wiser than we" and "wiser than us" by saying "wiser than we are". (Safire called this a copout.) But I swear that as a kid in the 1960s I heard someone take it a strange step further and say (the equivalent of) "wiser than we are wise". I can't quite imagine how he got there. (The actual statement was "He is bigger than you are big." It was the father of another child awkwardly introducing the two of us.)

  51. Valerie Brown said,

    July 26, 2009 @ 1:54 am

    um, what does mr pullum mean by "passive clause"? doesn't he mean "passive voice"? did anyone else notice this? is there something called a "passive clause"?

  52. Ellen said,

    July 26, 2009 @ 9:03 am

    Valerie, I suggest you read the post (there's a link) which that comes from. In it, he talks about passive voice and passive clauses. I suspect his choice of words will make more sense to you in the context of the full post.

  53. Best Blog Posts I Read This Week « Bruner Business Communication said,

    July 26, 2009 @ 2:35 pm

    […] Write Like Me from Language Log. It’s about the same issues—her/she and like/as—that I discuss in You Don’t Drive Like Her. […]

  54. Nicholas Clayton said,

    July 27, 2009 @ 3:43 am

    And there are the anxious uncertain ones who would use "myself" as, they hope, a safe evasion of the choice between I and me. And how ugly it is.

  55. Nicholas Clayton said,

    July 27, 2009 @ 3:44 am

    Apologies to DaveL who made just that point much earlier, I now see.

  56. Tim said,

    July 27, 2009 @ 4:07 am

    It's probably a bit late to add anything to this discussion, but it occurs to me that the saying "holier than thou" is an example of a fixed phrase using the nominative, presumably to imply an elided verb ("holier than thou art").

  57. mollymooly said,

    July 27, 2009 @ 6:27 am

    Churchill's "We were overrun by them, like the Australians were by rabbits" might have been intended to give a different nuance from "We were overrun by them, as the Australians were by rabbits". The latter might merely be an elegant variation of the simple conjunction "We were overrun by them, and the Australians were overrun by rabbits"; whereas the former necessarily has the additional implication that the manner of the two overrunnings was in some sense similar. I don't think Churchill was consciously choosing such a nuancel; but it may be the kind of Useful Distinction the demise of which is regretted by pedants and nobody else.

    Perhaps relatedly, the meaning of Shakespeare's "And yet no man like he doth grieve my heart" is clearly different from that of "And yet no man like him doth grieve my heart". Shifting "like he/him" to the end of the clause, and hopping forward 400 years, the difference seems to have disappeared.

  58. Andy Hollandbeck said,

    July 27, 2009 @ 9:25 am

    RE Google searches: Google has two ways of limiting searches to specific terms. The one everyone is used to is quotation marks, but as noted, Google "helps" you find more information by finding synonyms and alternate spellings. For example, a search for "mao zedong" will also find Web sites that spell it Mao Tse-tung. This is generally thought to be helpful.

    To limit your search to keywords exactly as written, without synonyms, put a plus sign (+) to the left of it. Thus +"kinder care" yields different results than just "kinder care".

  59. ColinJohn said,

    July 27, 2009 @ 12:50 pm

    To support what Peter said on v/vs – I think vs is more common in BrE. It's my default usage, though I think 'v' is catching up.

  60. Ken Brown said,

    July 27, 2009 @ 1:28 pm

    There is something odd about v. versus vs. in football! Or maybe its odd about Google. Some sides seem to get "vs" more commonly than others. Newcastle seem a lot more likely to get "v" versus Sunderland than they do versus Liverpool. It even seems to make a difference which way round the teams are listed.

    Or are these just transient Googlephenomena?

    Google hits:

    "celtic v rangers" 76,000
    "celtic vs rangers" 24,000
    "rangers v celtic" 56,800
    "rangers vs celtic" 21,500

    "liverpool v newcastle" 47,900
    "liverpool vs newcastle" 36,500
    "newcastle v liverpool" 24400
    "newcastle vs liverpool" 8940
    "newcastle united v liverpool" 521
    "newcastle united vs liverpool" 15300

    "newcastle v sunderland" 31,600
    "newcastle vs sunderland" 4,900
    "sunderland v newcastle" 36,800
    "sunderland vs newcastle" 5,550
    "newcastle united v sunderland" 10400
    "newcastle united vs sunderland" 10900

    "leeds v millwall" 9010
    "leeds vs millwall" 6400
    "leeds united v millwall" 4650
    "leeds united vs millwall" 2330
    "millwall v leeds" 8460
    "millwall vs leeds" 2600

  61. Gene L. Gillette said,

    July 27, 2009 @ 2:47 pm

    I’m not sure what is ‘correct English’ but when I studied English in the fifties, I was told ‘English if a changing language.’ If that (be) so, then perhaps from this ‘debate’ the issue may be resolved. Personally, in my fifty years of writing fiction, what ‘works for me’ is what sounds natural (in dialogue) ‘Myself’ works best for me.

    Keep on writing

  62. W. Kiernan said,

    July 27, 2009 @ 9:09 pm

    John Baker: MWDEU's discussion mentions that

    Shakespeare also used conjunctive like followed by a nominative pronoun:

    And yet no man like he doth grieve my heart – Romeo and Juliet, 1593

    I'm almost sure that's so he could rhyme "he" and "grieve." Say it out loud with "him" instead. Also that syllable falls on a stress. "He" is generally stressed, while "him" is unstressed.

  63. Tom said,

    July 28, 2009 @ 6:40 am

    When I was a kid I had the impression that X vs Y in athletics implied Y is the home team. (I don't think that I got this idea from the time a neighbor told me that "vs" was short for "visits". That was clearly folk somethingology on the part of him or his father.) As a result it peeves me ever so slightly when Major League Baseball nowadays writes vs OAK specifically to indicate that Oakland is not the home team (contrasted with @ OAK).

  64. Mark Seidenberg said,

    July 28, 2009 @ 11:19 pm

    I think this thread is unfair to Mr. Walker. His question didn't merit the slagging he's getting here.

    >In fact, neither of these prescriptivist bugbears applies here — but the only thing that >Walker recalls (or pretends to recall) from his grammatical instruction is that he should be >nervous whenever one of these choices arises, and thus doubly nervous when both >choices arise at once.

    There is another possibility, which is that his uncertainty is genuine and doesn't arise from how he was taught grammar, if he was taught grammar, or what he remembers from the experience. People's knowledge of language depends on what they hear. Both forms seem to be in common use ("like me", "like I do"). The existence of competing forms could very well create "discomfort" at a very basic level: how people acquire and retain information. In many computational models of human learning, having two expressions for the same thing creates complexity in terms of ease of acquiring and retaining knowledge. Markman's mutual exclusivity principle (which has been restated in a variety of forms and contexts over the years) suggests that language learners have a bias against multiple names for the same object, something that can again be explained in terms of pressures on learning.

    Of course there is a question as to why the two alternative forms exist in the input, and to what extent what we say and hear has been affected by grammar instruction, or prescriptivist imprecations, or other factors. I would just say that sometimes structures come into a language and are sustained for reasons other than explicit instruction.

    Finally, I don't think that name calling — "nervous cluelessness" — helps the cause.

  65. David MacGregor said,

    August 5, 2009 @ 1:17 pm

    In Spanish the general pattern is to use the nominative form of pronouns with conjunctions. So you would say "Tú y yo somos…", ("you (nom.) and I are") and not "*Ti y mi somos" ("you (dat.*) and me are"), but also "entre tú y yo" (between you (nom.) and I) and not "*entre ti y mi", even though prepositions usually take the dative case ("a mi", not "a yo"). (A further complication is that Spanish speakers tend to repeat the preposition when it's conjoined–they say "a ti y a mi" rather than "a tú y yo"–so it's hard to come up with examples of this phenomenon that don't involve "entre".)

    The larger point I'm trying to make is that, at least in some Indo-European languages, conjunctions tend to control case, and it doesn't matter what role the NP is playing in the sentence. So we have two possible systems, one French (using nominitive pronouns) and one Spanish (using accusative or dative pronouns). In colloquial English it seems that the tendency is towards the French system, but then the prescriptivists come along and convince us that's (half-)wrong, so when we're trying to be careful in our speech we (over-)adapt the Spanish system. Perhaps we're seeing the development of a two-system system, with the Spanish system being marked for formality.

    There's a paper in there somewhere, but I've never had the time to sit down and write it.

    *I'm calling this a dative case, though I don't know if it really is; for what it's worth, Wikipedia calls it the prepositional case. But the point is, it ain't nominative.

  66. Damian said,

    November 23, 2009 @ 7:15 pm

    The way I remember it is "Write like I do". Of course so many people say "Write like me". What is grammar anyway if everyone disregards it?

  67. Aaron Toivo said,

    August 24, 2010 @ 3:06 am

    Despite the aforelinked Salon example, I'm not satisfied that Old Prescriptivism Baggage is the only possible cause of Mr. Walker's doubts, instead of legit language change in at least some varieties of English (such as mine). I too disprefer "like [NP]" in the given example, and I doubt it's due to OPB, because:

    1. Until reading this post I had not known there was ever any prescription about it.

    2. My instincts for how to write it go against what the prescription seems to have been.

    3. These instincts aren't confused, they feel clear and specific: there's something wrong with "write like me".

    4. Not all "like [NP]" is dispreferred, only certain cases of it, and in the other cases sometimes it's "like [CLAUSE]" that feels weird instead:

    ??He writes like me.

    He writes like I do.

    He looks like me.

    ??He looks like I do.

    My syntax-fu isn't quite up to figuring out the rule. But it sure as hell feels like there is one.

  68. John Cowan said,

    August 26, 2010 @ 12:14 pm

    Yes, well, look in this sense is one of those oddball verbs, the name of which I can't remember for two minutes straight, whose subject isn't an agent, and that tends to weird the surrounding constructions.

    Or maybe it's that look like is a fixed collocation.

  69. David Walker said,

    August 26, 2010 @ 5:52 pm

    Well, having missed all of this discussion (and this is truly my real name), I will just say that I thought the "correcter" form would be "I don't think everyone should write like I do". As the second comment mentioned. But, as you suspected, I wasn't sure what was correct.

  70. David Walker said,

    August 27, 2010 @ 10:08 am

    To clarify, I wasn't worried about "like" vs. "as"; it was "me" that bothered me.

    Personally, I don't make the mistake of hypercorrecting "… gave it to Fred and me" to "… Fred and I", since I know that "me" is correct in that case. But the original sentence that started this discussion sounds better, I believe, as "write like I do".

  71. David Walker said,

    August 27, 2010 @ 10:15 am

    Final thought: You claim that "people like Mr. Walker, who have never been taught to recognize subject or complements or any other grammatical entities, …"

    You don't know what I was taught! I was taught grammatical entities, although my teachers mostly stuck to nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs; I don't remember hearing about noun phrases in school, and we certainly never got to nominiative coordinate objects.

    Although the song "don'cha" doesn't bother me much, I never saw the movie "Marley & Me" simply because the title put me off.

  72. rea said,

    May 24, 2012 @ 8:35 am

    "Everyone should write as me" would imply that everyone should be posting blog comments using the name "rea."

  73. Ted said,

    January 15, 2014 @ 10:35 pm

    Coming very late to this particular party, I notice that many of the examples cited in the comments could be rewritten to reduce or avoid confusion of both syntax or meaning. So where Martin has

    don't you wish your girlfriend was hot like me
    don't you wish your girlfriend was hot, like I am
    don't you wish your girlfriend was hot, as I am
    looks odder from top to bottom; but

    we expanded the integral, like Bloggs et al (1998)
    we expanded the integral, like Bloggs et al (1998) did
    we expanded the integral, as Bloggs et al (1998) did
    looks odder from bottom to top.

    I would revise to

    1a. Don't you, like me, wish your girlfriend [were] hot?, or
    1b. Don't you wish, as I do, that your girlfriend [were] hot?, or
    1c. Don't you wish your girlfriend [were] hot, as do I?
    2a. Don't you wish your girlfriend [were], like me, hot?, or
    2b. Don't you wish your girlfriend [were] hot, as I am? or
    3. Don't you wish your girlfriend [were] as hot as I am?

    4a. Like Bloggs et al., we expanded the integral, or
    4b. We, like Bloggs et al., expanded the integral, or
    4c. We expanded the integral, as did Bloggs et al.,
    5a. We expanded the integral as Bloggs et al. did, or
    5b. We expanded the integral like Bloggs et al. did,
    depending on the intended meaning.

    (Here 5a and 5b are ambiguous — they could mean either "Bloggs et al. did this too," like 4a, 4b, and 4c, or "We did it the same way Bloggs et al. did," which may be a possible meaning of 4a but is not a possible meaning of 4b or 4c.)

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