Yardley disses the classics

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The conclusion of Jonathan Yardley's otherwise favorable review of Michael Frayn’s “My Father’s Fortune” in the Washington Post:

What a pity it is, therefore, that from beginning to end “My Father’s Fortune” is marred by Frayn’s apparent inability to distinguish between subject and object, or, as grammarians have it, between the nominative and objective cases. To wit: “John, ten years older than me. . .,” “with as much aplomb as Lane and me,” “she’s thirty years younger than him.” Really, what are they teaching at Cambridge these days? Are editorial pencils no longer used at Faber & Faber, Frayn’s British publisher, or Metropolitan, his American one? This may seem mere nitpicking, but it’s not. These are basic, rudimentary grammatical errors, and the ones I’ve cited are merely three among many. For a writer of Frayn’s reputation and accomplishment, they are inexcusable.

This little tantrum has several typical features:  ignorance of the historical and grammatical facts; failure to imagine that one's own prejudices might be anything but gospel truth;  no slightest thought of fact-checking.

The facts of the matter ought to be a considerable embarrassment to Mr. Yardley. As Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage explains:

A dispute over whether than is a preposition or a conjunction has been going on now for more than two centuries. […]

Lowth 1762 held than to be a conjunctions, and the case of a following pronoun to be determined by its relation to a verb understood. […] Priestley, at least as early as the 1769 edition […], considered than a preposition and thought the objective case proper. He suspected that others' preference for the nominative was based not on English, but on a dubious analogy with Latin.

The MWDEU entry goes on to quote William Shakespeare (Julius Caesar):

A man no mightier than thyself or me
In personal action, yet prodigious grown
And fearful as these strange eruptions are.

And Jonathan Swift ("To Stella"):

And, though by Heaven's severe Decree
She suffers hourly more than me . . .

And Samuel Johnson ("A Dissertation on the Greek Comedy"):

No man had ever more discernment than him, in finding out the ridiculous.

To add to MWDEU's citations, let me point out that the King James bible has several instances of than with objective case, which should settle the matter for some people:

Isiah 57:8 Behind the doors also and the posts hast thou set up thy remembrance: for thou hast discovered thyself to another than me, and art gone up; thou hast enlarged thy bed, and made thee a covenant with them; thou lovedst their bed where thou sawest it.

Prov. 27:3 A stone is heavy, and the sand weighty; but a fool's wrath is heavier than them both.

Sir. 40:24 Brethren and help are against time of trouble: but alms shall deliver more than them both.

Just to make it clear that this usage has not fallen out of favor with elite authors during the intervening four centuries, here's a double example from John Adam's letter of 10/25/1809 to Dr. Rush:

You should remember that Jefferson was but a Boy to me. I was at least ten years older than him in age and more than twenty years older than him in Politicks.

One from Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility:

I am rather of a jealous temper too by nature, and from our different situations in life, from his being so much more in the world than me, and our continual separation, I was enough inclined for suspicion, to have found out the truth in an instant, if there had been the slightest alteration in his behaviour to me when we met, or any lowness of spirits that I could not account for, or if he had talked more of one lady than another, or seemed in any respect less happy at Longstaple than he used to be.

Two from Charles Darwin's Autobiography:

I became also acquainted with several other men older than me, who did not care much about science, but were friends of Henslow. […]

Looking back, I infer that there must have been something in me a little superior to the common run of youths, otherwise the above-mentioned men, so much older than me and higher in academical position, would never have allowed me to associate with them.

One from Ralph Waldo Emerson's lecture on George Fox:

The stern question of Agesilaus when the Persian king was called the Great King, is the devout man's question concerning every man: "How is he greater than me if he is not more just?"

One from Charlotte Bronte's Shirley:

Would you, any more than me, let Robert be borne down by numbers?

One from F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby:

She was just eighteen, two years older than me, and by far the most popular of all the young girls in Louisville.

And a bunch from Ernest Hemingway and Evelyn Waugh, which you can sort through by yourself.

MWDEU's entry for as sketches a similar situation:

If a pronoun follows an as . . . as comparison, is it to be in the nominative case or the objective case? […] Commentators differ.

Since MWDEU offers no examples, let me supply a few, starting with one of Shakespeare's multiple examples of as with the objective case of pronouns. Cleopatra asks about Octavia

Is she as tall as me?

I'll end this too-long list of examples with one from Jane Austen's Emma:

I shall always have a great regard for the Miss Martins, especially Elizabeth, and should be very sorry to give them up, for they are quite as well educated as me. But if he marries a very ignorant, vulgar woman, certainly I had better not visit her, if I can help it.

Note that I'm not claiming that "than I/he/she/they" or "as I/he/she/they" are always wrong. Rather I'm agreeing with Ken Wilson's conclusion in the Columbia Guide to Standard American English:

Than is both a subordinating conjunction, as in She is wiser than I am, and a preposition, as in She is wiser than me. As subject of the clause introduced by the conjunction than, the pronoun must be nominative, and as object of the preposition than, the following pronoun must be in the objective case. Since the following verb am is often dropped or “understood,” we regularly hear than I and than me. Some commentators believe that the conjunction is currently more frequent than the preposition, but both are unquestionably Standard. The eighteenth-century effort to declare the preposition incorrect did succeed in giving trouble, not least because it called the than whom structure into question, but it too is again in good order: He is a fine diplomat, than whom we would be hard-pressed to find a better.

Mr. Yardley asserts, incorrectly,  that than and as with objective-case pronouns are "basic, rudimentary grammatical errors". To compound his mistake, he adds some decorative peevery about standards at Cambridge University and Faber & Faber. In fact, the whole business ought to be an embarrassment to his newspaper and to his reputation.

Some previous coverage of related issues:

"Grammatical uproar at LiveJournal — News at 11", 6/15/2004
"Wallraff subverts English syntax", 11/17/2004
"Evil", 10/28/2006

Update — Visser's An historical syntax of the English language has

Update #2 — Jonathan Yardley edited H.L. Mencken's My Life as Author and Editor, , but he doesn't seem to have paid much attention to his subject's discussion of this grammatical point in The American Language:

And Yardley has written an introduction to one of Graham Greene's books, without registering any complaints about the author's elementary syntax errors. But a quick search demonstrates that Greene uses the [than+ObjectivePronoun] pattern fairly often (though apparently not in the work that Yardley introduced!).

I've implied that someone like Yardley ought to check with some actual grammarians — or do a tiny bit of research on his own — before pontificating about other people's "inexcusable" "basic, rudimentary grammatical errors". But the strangest thing is that in this matter, he seems to be completely deaf to the patterns of the English language. Can anyone tuned in to that language — as written today or over the past few hundred years — really think that Frayn's passage below would be better if edited as Yardley seems to think it should be?

Original: I suppose he's embarrassed. He's still married, after all, and he's more conventional than he seems. Gladys, he makes clear, is divorced. What we don't know yet is that she's thirty years younger than him.

Yardley's version: I suppose he's embarrassed. He's still married, after all, and he's more conventional than he seems. Gladys, he makes clear, is divorced. What we don't know yet is that she's thirty years younger than he.


  1. Joel Shaver said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 12:16 pm

    I agree with your general point, but some of your examples are surely unobjectively objective – particularly the example from Matt. 10:37:

    He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

    If it read 'more than I', that would have a completely different meaning, implying that 'I' love father and mother more than 'he', but as 'father' and 'mother' are definitely objects, 'me' must be as well.

    [(myl) I agree, if you take the clausal source to be "more than [he loveth] me", then the objective pronoun would be motivated. So that example is at best ambiguous and I'll remove it.]

  2. Joel Shaver said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 12:17 pm

    failed play on words and misnegation in one – I meant 'objectively objective'.

  3. Faldone said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 12:41 pm

    In many of your examples even Yardley would agree that they are correct as stated. E.g., Matt 10:37 … he that loveth son or daughter more than (he loveth) me …

    [(myl) Please see my response to Joel Shaver — I've removed the Matthew quotation. Any others?]

  4. Jan Freeman said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 12:42 pm

    Speaking of editors, one wonders why Yardley's editor(s) didn't save him from this idiocy. And one guesses that he's probably one of those stars who eventually cow all their editors into passive acceptance. And who deserve what they get …

  5. Dimitri said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 12:44 pm

    Following up on Joel;s point, isn't the same true for this other example?

    Isiah 57:8 Behind the doors also and the posts hast thou set up thy remembrance: for thou hast discovered thyself to another than me

    The subject is "thou", and "me" is objective, as is "another," to which it is being compared.

    [(myl) This is a case where it's not clear to me that there's even a coherent clausal-ellipsis source. Can you think of one? I'd say that this is a case where "another" takes a prepositional complement, and so the objective case is inevitable. But if Yardley were to grant that possibility, then the rest of his argument dissolves, as far as I can tell.]

  6. Kevin said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 12:46 pm

    I would also argue that the Matthew 10:37 example illustrates why Yardley's rule is actually a pretty good rule. "than me" and "than I" have very different meanings in that context, and it's useful that we preserve our ability to make those distinctions in meaning.

    [(myl) A classic example of APA-itits! See "Avoiding ambiguity: a pattern", 6/1/2008; and "Avoiding potential ambiguity: Does it improve clarity?", 6/2/2008.]

  7. Jonathan said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 12:47 pm

    Good points. But several of your alleged counterexamples would require the accusative even if "than" were only a conjunction, eg:

    "whom better canst thou crush than him who now lies here invoking thee?"

    [(myl) This is a valid point, though I'd still argue for a prepositional analysis here. But I've substituted a difference Melville quotation.]

  8. Jonathan said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 12:48 pm


    thou hast discovered thyself to another than me.

    Latine reddita:

    quem opprimere magis potes quam EUM qui hic jacet invocans te?
    te revelasti alteri quam MIHI.

    [(myl) Interesting. This may have something to do with the King James rendition of this passage — though I think we can agree with Priestly that in general, English than is different from Latin quam, which starts out as an adverb.]

  9. Faldone said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 12:51 pm

    Teach me to leave a window up for a long time before commenting.

  10. Mitzi Barker said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 12:52 pm

    just curious, did you send your comments to Yardley? It'd be good for him to see them too.

  11. Kim Belcher said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 12:57 pm

    Though sympathetic to your aim, I'm not sure I'd take this particular Austen example very seriously, either. The excerpt is from a speech by a character often subtly (or not-so-subtly) characterized as pretending to be more well-educated and sophisticated than she is. Her speeches and still more letters often have "revealing flaws." For example, in several of her letters she makes rhetorical and grammatical mistakes. Thus Austen's use of "than me" here does not necessarily argue that she thought it was correct.

    [(myl) Perhaps, though I doubt that "than me" counts as a "revealing flaw". This speech pattern is typical of 19th-century characters for whom there's no basis that I can see for postulating such authorial undermining. There's Lady Everingham, who says ""You have been more prescient than me" in Disraeli's Coningsby? There's Traddles in Dickens' David Copperfield, who says "She is such a dear girl! A little older than me, but the dearest girl!" And hundreds more.]

  12. Heather Revanna said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 1:14 pm

    I am a speaker of American English, but taught EFL in Poland for a few years using British texts which supported two forms using "than". The first accepted the nominative form only if followed by the verb; e.g. She is taller than I am. The objective form was also accepted: she is taller than me. I don't know whether the texts presented something considered standard in the UK, but the flexibility has always appealed to me.
    It was also curious to me at the time, if really not relevant, that Polish supports two constructions as well.

    Ona jest wyższa ode mnie — she is taller than me.
    Ona jest wyższa niz ja — she is taller than I.

  13. Brett R said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 1:24 pm

    The CGEL has than only as a preposition, but a preposition that can take a variety of complements including comparative clauses.

  14. vanya said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 1:29 pm

    Interesting that comments at the WP for this article are closed. Was the Post afraid that Yardley's position was going to cause a minor tempest?

  15. Pflaumbaum said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 2:03 pm

    I was hoping this topic might come up at some point, so I could ask a couple of questions about the CGEL's fascinating discussion of this issue (pp1114-7, if anyone wants to check it out).

    First query: The main argument in favour of a reduced clause analysis (i.e. than taking a nominative complement) is the clause's potential for expansion. The authors then give a counter-argument: that phrases like as fit as a fiddle and as flat as a pancake sound very strange when expanded to

    (1) as fit as a fiddle is
    (2) as flat as a pancake is

    But isn't this just an artifact of their status as idioms? After all, examples like

    (3) He's as fit as his opponent is
    (4) It's as flat as a piece of paper is

    seem inoffensive (though perhaps more natural if you add just before the first as of each example).

    Second query: One of the arguments for the immediate complement analysis (i.e. than licensing accusative case) is the impossibility of a reduced clause analysis with the reflexive form:

    (5) He married a woman fifteen years younger than himself.
    (6) *He married a woman fifteen years younger than than himself was.

    But they then give the following counter-argument: Maybe the reflexive marks the omission of the verb, as in

    (7) I suggest that you give the first three lectures and myself the remaining two.

    Can anyone explain this counter-argument to me? Is it suggesting that both the verb and the pronoun are omitted, so (5) is a reduced form of

    (8) He married a woman fifteen years younger than he was himself?

    The other complicating factor is that in my dialect at any rate, gapping as in (7) allows the pronoun to default to accusative form:

    (9) (7) %I suggest that you give the first three lectures and me the remaining two.

    Sorry for the long post, I know this is Language Log, not Free Linguistics Tuition Log.

  16. Peter Harvey, linguist said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 2:06 pm

    Between you and … ?…

    A few days ago I found myself at lunch with an Englishman who informed me with horror that he had been to see the film Australia and had seen between you and me subtitled as entre tú y yo. He insisted that it should be entre ti y mí, these being the …

  17. John Walden said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 2:20 pm

    Leaving historical precedent aside, if for no other reason than change happens, would it not be fair to say that in contemporary English "me" is "moi" and "I" is 'Je'? In other words, we now have a fully-fledged disjunctive pronoun. Put simply, unglue "I" from a verb and it becomes "me".

    Wikipedia, for what it's worth, agrees. No, I didn't write it:


    What is perhaps unfortunate about 'Me and John saw the film' is me mentioning myself before him. That's more manners than grammar.

  18. Pflaumbaum said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 2:27 pm

    @ John Walden:

    Thomas Grano unpicked some of the complications of case and order in the various (supposedly) non-standard and (supposedly) prescriptive forms of co-ordinated pronouns in his Stanford thesis:


  19. Boris said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 2:34 pm

    @ John Walden:
    Then why does "John and me saw the film" (or even worse, "me saw the film") sound wrong? Curiously "Who saw the film? John and me" is fine.

    If me sounds wrong immediately preceding a verb, doesn't that imply that it can't really function as a subject, but people don't notice when it's separated from the verb?

  20. GeorgeW said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 2:43 pm

    @John Walton: I read something somewhere sometime in the past about the antiquity of the default accusative in English (Example: 'It is me'). I wonder if this was influenced by French.

  21. Pflaumbaum said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 2:49 pm

    @ Boris

    As CGEL notes, the only place where the nominative is wholly secure is as the whole subject of a finite verb. The pronoun doesn't have to be dislocated from the verb to default to accusative:

    There's him and us left, that's it.
    ?There's he and we left, that's it.

    A: Who is it?
    B: It's them / ?It's they

    Silly me, forgetting my coat
    *Silly I, forgetting my coat

    What I don't understand is why CGEL regards examples like John and me in subject position as 'unquestionably non-standard'. There is a lot of stigmatising of the construction, it's true. But as Grano's stats show, it's very widespread in informal speech. And the fact that children learn it naturally, and have to be bullied out of using it, and most of us lapse into it from time to time when not being careful, suggests that at least it's in open competition with X and [nom.] / [nom] and X.

  22. Ran Ari-Gur said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 2:50 pm

    @Pflaumbaum: (7) "I suggest that you give the first three lectures and myself the remaining two" means "I suggest that you give the first three lectures and that I give the remaining two": "myself" functions as the subject of the omitted verb. Applying this to (5) "He married a woman fifteen years younger than himself" gives exactly the correct meaning: "He married a woman fifteen years younger than he was."

  23. David L said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 3:21 pm

    @Heather Revanna: I only encountered objections to 'older than me' when I moved from Britain to the US many years ago. Frayn's usage is quite innocuous to British ears, I think. The insistence that only 'older than I' is acceptable seems to be a peculiarly American branch of peevology.*

    @Jan Freeman: WaPo copyeditors have becomingly increasingly rule-driven, perhaps as they have become fewer and fewer, so probably they agree with Yardley. Talking of fewer, WaPo is fanatical on that point: I have seen examples such as "he served fewer than 10 years of his sentence."**

    *I await rebuttal from someone who has actual, you know, evidence or something.

    **I'm too lazy to track down a real example, but I've seen this kind of thing, I swear.

  24. Warsaw Will said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 3:37 pm

    Frayn writes for a general public, primarily I imagine British. All of Jonathan Yardley's examples are perfectly normal in standard educated British English. I know Frayn can be very amusing, but I don't think he wants to be a laughing stock, which is what he would be if he wrote the sort of AP nonsense Yardley would like him to. If anyone is showing his ignorance of the English language, it is Yardley, not Frayn.

    [(myl) This is a good point. For example, here's one of the examples that Yardley finds problematic:

    I suppose he's embarrassed. He's still married, after all, and he's more conventional than he seems. Gladys, he makes clear, is divorced. What we don't know yet is that she's thirty years younger than him.

    In that context, "… that she's thirty years younger than he" would be positively weird and distracting. You could avoid the problem by using "… thirty years younger than he is", but why should that be necessary? If it's good enough for Shakespeare, Swift, and Johnson, why should writers today need to avoid this harmless and even congenial idiom?]

  25. Pflaumbaum said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 3:44 pm

    @ Ran Ari-Gur – thanks.

  26. Timothy Martin said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 3:53 pm

    "A stone is heavy, and the sand weighty; but a fool's wrath is heavier than them both."

    I love this example, because "a fool's wrath is heavier than they both" sounds absolutely horrible to anyone.

  27. Mike W said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 4:03 pm


    To my untrained ears, using the accusative form of a singular pronoun sounds fine when it's part of a plural subject, even if it's immediately preceding the verb. Without thinking about it, I prefer "John and him" to "John and he". "John and me" is probably the only exception to this, and only because it's been so stigmatized.

  28. Theophylact said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 4:13 pm

    I was going to bring the Yardley to your attention, but realized that others would be all over it like ugly on ape. Still, for Yardley to attack Frayn, a far superior writer, for supposed grammatical error is yet another example of the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

  29. Pflaumbaum said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 4:21 pm

    @ Timothy Martin –

    That's a great point. She turned out to be braver than we all. Ouch. I wonder why CGEL doesn't raise that issue. Are these examples (them both, us all) fused heads?

    @ Mike W –

    Well yes, me too… er, I mean, I too. And me and John went… is also completely natural to my similarly untrained ears. The Grano thesis I linked to above is excellent on these intricacies of case, person and order, and comprehensible to the layman.

  30. Kathy S said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 5:01 pm

    Forgive me if somebody else has already commented on this one, but the reason for objective "them" here is that it's part of the phrase "worse than them," which is the object of "fed," not a modifier of "Immanuel"!

    How worse than them Immanuel fed
    On hill-top—helped and comforted.

    [(myl) I understood the (rather convoluted) syntax differently, but you're probably right — so I've substituted a quotation from one of Ralph Waldo Emerson's biographical lectures.]

  31. Jonathan Mayhew said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 5:05 pm

    @Peter Harvey. Curiously, certain prepositions take nominative in Spanish: "Entre tú y yo" or "salvo yo" are correct. Most prepositions take the pronouns "ti" and "mí," but not all of them.

  32. Chris Kern said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 5:23 pm

    "me and John" and "John and me" both sound equally natural to me, although I probably use the first one more often, despite being told in school that you should always put "I" or "me" second.

  33. John Walden said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 5:32 pm

    @ Pflaumbaum. I'm afraid that Grano thesis is too much for me. Blame Rioja. Both living here and drinking it.

    @ Boris . "John and me went" sounds wrong precisely because that "me" is glued to the verb: it's not "disjunctive".

    @ Nobody in particular. It does seem to be special pleading on behalf of "I". Why should any preference that you may have for "It is I" not be equally true of "They are we". In answer to, say, the question "Who are the linguists?"

  34. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 5:33 pm

    David L: I have heard it objected to in Britain; admittedly by a Latinist.
    But in fact Latin gives no clear guidance in this matter, since it, too, has two forms: altius est quam ego, 'he is taller than I [am]', and altius est me, naturally translated as 'he is taller than me'. (Me here is ablative. There is no word that translates directly as 'than', but Latin often uses cases to do what English does with prepositions.)

  35. Kim Belcher said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 5:44 pm

    @MYL above:

    I completely agree that it's standard, and would expect to be able to find another example in Austen's prose, but I wouldn't use Lucy Steele as my example. I wasn't arguing that "than me" here is a revelation of Lucy's illiteracy, but there are some: her use of "have went through" in her letter to Elanor in chapter 38 springs to mind. Later in the book, Edward criticizes her writing:

    "I will not ask your opinion of it as a composition," said Edward.—"For worlds would not I have had a letter of hers seen by YOU in former days.—In a sister it is bad enough, but in a wife!—how I have blushed over the pages of her writing!—and I believe I may say that since the first half year of our foolish—business—this is the only letter I ever received from her, of which the substance made me any amends for the defect of the style."

    A Project Gutenberg search of Austen's works doesn't turn up any other instances of "than me," but Austen may well use "than" with objective case elsewhere. My point is simply that Lucy Steele isn't the safest character to take as representing the author's perspective on style.

    [(myl) There appear to be a few. Of course, they're all (?) in dialogue, so similar questions will generally arise.]

  36. Rob P. said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 7:08 pm

    @Vanya – the Post ordinarily closes comments a few days after publication. Political articles regularly get hundreds of comments. This article only got one comment, and that two days after the dateline, so I doubt they closed comments in fear of overwhelming criticism.

  37. The Ridger said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 7:13 pm

    Surely "than" is just like "before" – no one would say "John left before me" though "before I did" shows us what is obviously the "elided" verb

    [(myl) Did you mean "… no one would say 'John left before I'"?]

  38. Joel Shaver said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 8:20 pm

    The 'them/us both/all' issue is interesting and problematic for people who want to look at it from a deep structure perspective. I'm wondering whether 'both' and 'all' are actually the heads.

    ?I am bigger than them.?I am bigger than they.

    I am bigger than them both.*I am bigger than they both.

    *I am bigger than them both are.I am bigger than they both are.

    I am bigger than both of them.*I am bigger than both of they.

    I am bigger than both of them are.*I am bigger than both of they are.

  39. Joel Shaver said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 8:21 pm

    Two strikes for me today. Those br tags didn't work at all!

  40. Alexander said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 8:41 pm

    The use of historical precedents seems almost beside the point, when the synchronic grammar is so clear. Perhaps that has come up in previous posts, but "John is taller than nobody" means that John is among the shortest, but "John is taller than nobody is" does not, and is hard to even understand. Similarly: "John is taller than no more than three people," which does not mean 'John's height exceeds that height which no more than three people have,' as "John is taller than no more than three people are" does.

  41. David said,

    March 30, 2011 @ 9:11 pm

    This is something I wondered about as a kid. The teachers would say, "He is as tall as I" is short for "He is as tall as I am," and therefore requires the "I". But my thought was, isn't "He is as tall as I am short" perfectly good English? That leaves "He is as tall as I" ambiguous and "He is as tall as me" clear.

    But I dutifully said "Taller than I" well into adulthood, until I began to be bothered by the lack of parallelism between "He is taller than I", "He is the same height as me", and "He is shorter than I". "Taller than I" now sounds very unnatural.

  42. Sid Smith said,

    March 31, 2011 @ 2:09 am

    @ Pflaumbaum

    (7) I suggest that you give the first three lectures and myself the remaining two.

    I think 'myself' is a straight swap for I or me. To these BrE ears, it's a misguided politeness: the speaker thinks it's more demure than I or me. For the same reason, some BrE speakers might say, 'I'll give it to yourself.'

    (5) 'He married a woman fifteen years younger than himself.'

    Again this seems a straight swap for he or (for the Brits among us) him. (Since the subject is not marrying himself, the sentence isn't reflexive, tho a misperception about this may explain the use of himself — or it may seem to add useful sonic weight to an important part of the sentence.)
    Naturally, '(8) He married a woman fifteen years younger than he was himself' is okay — because himself is now used appropriately as a reflexive. But I don't believe this proves that (5) is omitting the words 'he was'.

    @ David L
    I agree that, to BrE speakers, 'He's bigger than me' is fine: 'He's bigger than I' actually sounds a little affected. After all, who's to say that there's an unspoken 'am' at the end?

  43. Sid Smith said,

    March 31, 2011 @ 2:25 am

    I'd always say 'Me and Pete went out,' but it's a bit of Lancashire, I think, and seems grammatically wrong. I wouldn't use it in formal writing.

  44. Pflaumbaum said,

    March 31, 2011 @ 3:31 am

    @ Alexander –

    Right. And there are also cases where a traditional/prescriptive nominative can't be justified by expanding the clause, e.g. Everyone other than she signed the petition.

    On the other hand, the possibility of a reduced clause analysis is needed to account for the ambiguity of examples like Sue phoned Angela as often as Liz.

    @ Sid –

    I wonder whether some of these reflexives are a kind of hedge, motivated by nervousness about t the accusative more than politeness. I think that's quite common with co-ordinated pronouns, as in, they made promises to my husband and myself.

    Me and Pete went out isn't, I don't think, specifically Lancashire. Many people down my way (North London, though I'm admittedly from Lancashire stock) use it or did as kids. And according to the data in the paper I linked to, Americans do to. My suspicion is that most native speakers use the accusative in co-ordination as children, having a rule that it is the default form in every situation except as the whole subject of a finite verb; but then their parents and teachers try to eradicate it, especially in the first person.

    They seem to do a much better eradicating job than they do with than/as me, except maybe where it intersects with co-ordination. And even there, first person as/than you and I is much more likely than, for example, as/than they and we.

    @ myself/me –

    I wonder why CGEL doesn't raise that issue. Are these examples (them both, us all) fused heads?

    Of course, it does, on pp.460 and 427 in the section on pronouns. It regards them not as fused heads but a kind of compound pronoun that only exists in the accusative (which I assume is why they considered them inapplicable as evidence in favour of the 'immediate complement' analysis of than/as me.)

  45. djbcjk said,

    March 31, 2011 @ 4:02 am

    All this fuss could be avoided if English admitted the category, disjunctive pronoun, as in French. C'est moi, never *C'est je. The disjunctive use occurs whenever the pronoun is used independently of its verb, as the complement of to be or after pronouns, conjunctions, etc. In French, the form is marked and different to the other pronoun forms; in English it is the same as the 'objective' case.

  46. Sid Smith said,

    March 31, 2011 @ 4:37 am

    @ Pflaumbaum

    Agreed about Lancashire: wasn't suggesting that 'Me and Pete' was exclusively Red Rose.

    Re reflexive: agreed that there are other explanations besides politeness for these 'false' reflexives ('He married a woman younger than himself'), including — as you say — nervousness. I think the main point, therefore, is that it's dangerous to use the 'married' sentence as an exemplar.

    I'm also starting to worry about my assertion that: "Naturally, '(8) He married a woman fifteen years younger than he was himself' is okay — because himself is now used appropriately as a reflexive." A reflexive, I think, refers back to the subject: 'He punched himself.' Isn't that different from '…younger than he was himself'? Again, possibly just a way of adding emphasis: after all, you can delete both 'himself' and 'was'.

  47. army1987 said,

    March 31, 2011 @ 5:38 am

    A few times, than + nom. threw me down a garden path because I tended to interpret the complement of than as the subject of the following verb, in sentences like people older than we are stupid but much longer.

    On the other hand, the possibility of a reduced clause analysis is needed to account for the ambiguity of examples like Sue phoned Angela as often as Liz.
    So what? "Sue phoned Angela after Liz" can mean both "Sue phoned Angela after Liz did" and "Sue phoned Angela after phoning Liz"; and yet no-one would ever say "Sue phoned Angela after I".

  48. LDavidH said,

    March 31, 2011 @ 7:22 am

    And just remember, some centuries ago (don't know how many, but still!) using "you" as a nominative would have sounded absurd and certainly been seen as incorrect – but how many would insist today that the nominative form is really "ye", and therefore "you" should only be used as the object form? Languages change all the time, and even though we might not like it, what comes naturally to most people does eventually become standard. As English is the only language I know of that has managed to shed three of four second person pronuns (thou, thee and ye), why even worry about the disjunctive use of "me", "him" etc?

  49. Rodger C said,

    March 31, 2011 @ 7:28 am

    Every first-year Spanish student learns emphatically that "entre tú y yo" is the only correct construction. As for "salvo yo," this is (at least in origin) an adjective and head in an absolute construction.

  50. GeorgeW said,

    March 31, 2011 @ 7:37 am

    LDavidH; "As English is the only language I know of that has managed to shed three of four second person pronuns (thou, thee and ye), . . ."

    But, retained as sacred language.

  51. Alexander said,

    March 31, 2011 @ 8:26 am


    Let me flesh out SidSmith's worry, and also strengthen your suggestion. Your suggestion is that "Liz phoned Mary more than Sue" has an analysis differing only in sound from the synonymous "Liz phoned Mary more than Liz phoned Sue". However one certainly doesn't want to say exactly the same for "Nobody phoned Mary more than Sue." So one would at least need to state the hypothesis relative to a more abstract representation, namely: " No X [ X phoned Mary more than [ X phoned Sue ] ]". Now "[X phoned]" is the reduced object-relative. And of course, object-relatives exist, ellipsis exists, so there could (and probably) exist elided object-relatives. There's no question of that. The only question is where and when they do occur. And the question for the "prescriptivist" is when s/he will learn enough syntax to actually state defensible versions of the hypotheses they mean to defend, which will generally involve a greater degree of abstractness.

  52. chris said,

    March 31, 2011 @ 8:33 am

    "A stone is heavy, and the sand weighty; but a fool's wrath is heavier than them both."

    I love this example, because "a fool's wrath is heavier than they both" sounds absolutely horrible to anyone.

    It's particularly apt because in this case, in addition to refuting Yardley, it also describes him.

  53. LDavidH said,

    March 31, 2011 @ 8:47 am

    @GeorgeW: Yes, in certain contexts – primarily by people who mainly value the traditions of religion, rather than its content. I am a Baptist currently worshipping in a low Anglican church; nobody I know uses thou, thee or ye (not even in the liturgy), and nobody I know uses the King James version. (It annoys me no end when journalists write "The Holy Bible says…" and then proceed to quote from the KJV, when virtually no practising Christians actually use that translation, and there are so many translations now that use normal English.)

    [(myl) There are some authorities, at least in the U.S., who believe that the KJV is "God's preserved word in English", or is "verbally and plenarily inspired of God", or some similar formulation. See here for a survey. In any case, the KJV has clearly had an important role in the development of formal written English, so there are some purely secular reasons for regarding it as an interesting source of examples.]

  54. Picky said,

    March 31, 2011 @ 9:43 am

    "virtually no practising Christians actually use" the KJV? Oh, I think they do – and many of them Baptists.

  55. Sid Smith said,

    March 31, 2011 @ 10:13 am

    @ Rodger C

    My Italian is fading fast, but I think I remember (!) that when I was standing at an entryphone in Bologna and my companion buzzed and was answered, she said, "Ciao, sono io!" (Ciao, [I] am I.")

    Certainly, 'sono io' turns up lots of Google goodness.

  56. John said,

    March 31, 2011 @ 10:48 am

    Sid Smith: yes, that's what you say in Italian. It took me some getting used to, esp. after French, but Italian uses the nominative in such situations, and the correct person, which is odder still. You also say "Sono John" for "It's John."

    In English "Who is it?" "I am." comes off sounding rather divine.

  57. LDavidH said,

    March 31, 2011 @ 11:21 am

    @Sid Smith and John: In Albanian as well, you say "Who is it?" "I am", and "I am I" for the English "It's me". If you translate that literally, it means you're saying somebody else is me…

    @Picky: Sorry, I was talking about the UK scene. Yes, I believe in the States many conservative Christians continue to use the KJV – but the ones I have met and worked with didn't.

  58. Pflaumbaum said,

    March 31, 2011 @ 12:18 pm

    @ Alexander – thanks for that, I think I get it – though like your prescriptivist, I haven't learned enough syntax yet.

    @ army1987 – So your *before I counter-example shows that expandability is not evidence of reduction in all cases; but I assume the traditionalist would argue that it still is in the case of than and as; and that they must then maintain a functional difference between than, as and before, after, like, taking the former, against CGEL's analysis, as subordinators?

    Incidentally, to my ear She arrived before I isn't much worse than She is older than I – they both sound affected but not ungrammatical. But I guess you're right, because 'before I' at the end of a clause gets virtually nothing in a corpus search.

    @ Sid et al. – Yes it's the same in Romanian too – Sunt eu. I wonder how typologically unusual English is in having the accusative (apart from whom) as the default case in pronouns. The similarity to moi noted by djbcjk above is interesting… does anyone know if there's evidence that the change in English was influenced by French?

    There's a guy I 'know' online who claims that when someone phones him and asks, "Is [his name] there", he replies, "This is he." He claims this 'makes them stop and think'. I agree… in fact I have a theory about what, specifically, they think. It starts with c, ends with t and isn't 'complement'.

  59. Sid Smith said,

    March 31, 2011 @ 12:21 pm

    "In English "Who is it?" "I am." comes off sounding rather divine."


    Yes, "Sono io" ("[I] am I") is perilously close to "I am that I am."

  60. GeorgeW said,

    March 31, 2011 @ 3:16 pm


    Matthew 6:9-10 From the RSV:
    Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, . . .

  61. army1987 said,

    March 31, 2011 @ 6:49 pm

    In modern Italian, accusative lei ‘her’ completely replaced the original nominative ella “she” in all positions, lui ‘him’ replaced egli ‘he’ except in non-disjunctive subject position (in which most of the times pronouns are omitted anyway) in relatively formal writing, a non-standard* use of accusative te ‘you’ even when a subject or complement of the copula is emerging for some speakers (though I don't think I ever use it myself), but I don't think any native speaker in non-jocular usage ever uses me as a subject, ever.

    *Except that we always say io e te ‘you and I’ instead of *io e tu.

  62. Janice Byer said,

    March 31, 2011 @ 6:54 pm

    Jan Freeman rightly intuits Yardley's stature at the Washington Post, where he's an institution after 30 years of book reviewing to critical acclaim. There's no doubt his star has dimmed, however, with not a few commenters, and even a fellow WaPO columnist or two, having suggested online that it's time for the septugenarian to spend more time with his grandchildren.

    But I'd defend the WaPo editors against the suspicion of undue deference by noting that WaPo opinion writers, including literary and art critics, aren't subject anyway to the kind of fact-checking oversight that protects staff news reporters from embarrassing themselves and the paper. Or, so I've learned from a WaPo ombudsman.

  63. Anthea Fleming said,

    March 31, 2011 @ 9:19 pm

    Some years ago there was an excellent Indian or Pakistani cricketer named Miandad. An Australian schoolboy had watched the test match on TV and wanted to talk about it in class. Every time he started with "Miandad .." the teacher interrupted with "No, Dad and I …"
    It took a while to straighten out. His classmates had understood what he wanted to say, but she didn't until cries of 'The cricket, the test match .." cleared it up.

  64. Picky said,

    April 1, 2011 @ 2:16 am

    Javed Miandad was Pakistani, and perhaps his country's greatest batsman.

  65. Peter G. Howland said,

    April 1, 2011 @ 3:14 am

    “Who went to the store?”
    “Me did.”
    “Did anyone go with you?”
    “Her did.”
    “You both went?”
    “Yep. Me and her went to the store.”

    Sorry, folks…I just can’t say this.

    I no longer break out in blotches when I hear it and I’ve learned to keep my corrective trap shut but, disregarding others’ perpetual accusations of divine snootiness, if “She and I can’t go to the store,” we stay home.

    Where me and her might watch a movie on TV.


  66. Pflaumbaum said,

    April 1, 2011 @ 7:05 am

    @ Peter –

    No native speaker says "Me did" or "Her did", I don't think. But drop the "did", and almost everyone says, "Me" and "Her" (do you say "I" and "She"?). Put them in co-ordination, and, according to Grano's corpus study, 43% of the third person pronouns in this position are accusative, and even 18% of the 1st person pronouns, despite the high prescriptive pressure against that usage. I don't quite understand why the CGEL regards it as non-standard, when it gives seemingly much more marginal usages the '%' treatment, and elsewhere doesn't seem to take even widespread prescriptive dislike of an expression into account when deciding if it's standard English or not.

    There are also situations where the difference in register between the nom. and acc. affects the sense. One is where me implies that I'm talking about myself from a distance, almost as a separate entity from me qua speaker. Me and my big mouth is one example. Another is one I saw in an advice column, the teacher asking whether Me and my Environment was acceptable on a school hand-out. In these cases, My big mouth and I and My environment and I sound comical and don't convey the intended meaning.

  67. Rodger C said,

    April 1, 2011 @ 8:18 am

    @Pflaumbaum: I would have thought "Me and my big mouth" to be analogous to Latin "Me miserum!"

  68. Pflaumbaum said,

    April 1, 2011 @ 8:48 am

    @ Roger –

    Do you mean that [and my big mouth] is modifying me? I can't see how that's possible, it can surely only be two co-ordinated NPs? Me miserum seems closer to expressions like poor me, silly me.

    But again, the latter seem to be cases where speakers makes a more detatched comment about themselves. Grano even finds attested examples of these as subjects of finite verbs:

    Me, on the other hand, is a different story.

    Perhaps it's also related to expressions like as far as me is concerned, which Arnold Zwicky talked about on his blog this month (though he has a different hypothesis about it):


    Me miserum is a special use of the accusative; but that doesn't seem a very economical way of describing the situation in English, where there are so many different constructions involving the accusative in subject position.

  69. Rodger C said,

    April 1, 2011 @ 9:52 am

    Well, I suppose that and my big mouth could be taken to mean having the big mouth that I have; it hardly makes any semantic sense otherwise. But I merely meant that they seem to be the same sort of exclamation.

  70. maidhc said,

    April 2, 2011 @ 6:39 pm

    I've always thought that "me and my big mouth" was short for a phrase along the lines of "What else could you expect from me and my big mouth?", so "me" was the object of a preposition. But standalone "me and my X", "him and his X", etc. have become idioms in spoken usage.

  71. Pflaumbaum said,

    April 3, 2011 @ 5:17 am

    Is there anything in particular that makes you suspect ellipsis, though? Other than that it's in accusative case, I mean. Because I don't think that's a compelling reason in itself, given the propensity for English pronouns in co-ordination to default to accusative in any position in informal speech.

  72. John Walden said,

    April 3, 2011 @ 8:41 am

    "Me and my girl"

    "Me and my shadow"

    "Me and my imagination"

    "Me and mine"

    That's a lot of different ellipses. As I said before, and as djbcjk also mentioned, the parallel with 'moi' is clear.

  73. Pflaumbaum said,

    April 7, 2011 @ 5:50 am

    Co-commentator last night from a football (soccer) match:

    Even him, with the benefit of hindsight, probably regrets it.

    The separating adjunct seems to license the accusative even with a finite verb. Grano has several examples like this from the internet.

  74. Jessica said,

    June 10, 2011 @ 12:09 pm

    For what it's worth, I've just finished reading a copy of this book from the Montgomery County, MD library.

    Someone has painstakingly made all the Yardley-sanctioned corrections, neatly, in the book. Infuriating example of smug vandalism.

  75. Brodie said,

    September 29, 2011 @ 2:50 pm

    Re "He married a woman fifteen years younger than he was himself" and Sid Smith's comment that "himself" is "reflexive."
    Yes, it can be—as in his example "He punched himself."
    But in "younger than he was himself," it is "intensive." As it is in "Caesar defeated Pompey himself"—which also happens to be ambiguous, because you can't tell if it's Caesar or Pompey who is being intensified (btw, the reflexive use of "himself" would give you "Caesar defeated himself").
    But it's not ambiguous in Latin, where "himself" would have to agree with Caesar (ipse—nominative) or Pompey (ipsum—accusative).
    Similarly, the different pronouns for intensive "himself" (ipse) and reflexive "himself" (se) remove the ambiguity that bedevils English here. floreat lingua Latina!

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