"All of we"

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At a recent memorial service for Aaron Swartz, Alan Grayson (U.S. Congressman from Florida) gave an eloquent eulogy, which began like this:

Aaron worked in my office as an intern, and had a quality that I found unnerving, which is that he could come up with better things for him to do than I could come up with for him to do.

And time and time again, I would give him something to do, and he'd say, "Is it OK if I also work on this other thing", and this other thing turned out to be much more important than anything I could come up with. And I learned to live with that.

I learned to live with that shortcoming, which I took to be a shortcoming of my own, not one of his.

The other unnerving quality that I found in him was the fact that when he would conjure these assignments, they actually came to fruition — an unusual phenomenon here on Capitol Hill. He'd give himself something to do, I recognized that it was very worthwhile, I let him do it, and it got done!

He was a remarkable human being.

Midway through his remarks, Congressman Grayson used a striking turn of phrase (emphasis added):

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And who lost, out of that? Well, Alan Turing lost. But so did all of we. We lost as well. All of us who would have benefited from that first, and second, and third Nobel Prizes that Alan Turing had in him. And that Aaron Swartz had in him.

At least, reader DF found it striking enough to send me a link.

The standard pattern is

So did they.
So did we.

because they or we is the subject of did, but

So did all of them.
So did all of us.

because them or us is the object of of.

And indeed, Mr. Grayson uses "all of us" just  four words later. If it weren't for that, I'd be inclined to think that he's taking "all of" to be a sort of compound quantifier rather than a construction involving an embedded prepositional phrase.

Perhaps this is related to the processes that lead people towards uncertainty about which pronoun forms to use in coordinate structures.

(Full transcript, video)


  1. Theophylact said,

    February 24, 2013 @ 11:26 am

    From Tom Lehrer's variations on "Clementine":

    But I love she and she loves me.
    Enraptured are the both of we.

    Yes I love she and she loves i
    And will through all eternity!

  2. archaeopteryx said,

    February 24, 2013 @ 11:43 am

    From Astrud Gilberto's "Girl from Ipanema"

    How can he tell her he loves her?
    Yes, he would give his heart gladly,
    But each day when she walks to the sea,
    She looks straight ahead – not at he…

  3. GeorgeW said,

    February 24, 2013 @ 11:48 am

    Case uncertainty could well be the answer. But, it would be a stronger explanation if the two instances were reversed so that object of a preposition or subject of a sentence would be in question. Maybe, his all-of-we sentence started with a relative clause that got lost at the end.

  4. Paul Kay said,

    February 24, 2013 @ 11:50 am

    I find the plural Nobel Prizes also surprising. Grayson is evidently a skilled speaker. I wonder if these small deviations from standard grammaticality are unpremeditated.

  5. Ray Girvan said,

    February 24, 2013 @ 12:05 pm

    I recently saw a similar query about a line by Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series:

    In other words, I acted exactly as Voldemort expects we fools who love to act.

    In that example, it looks OK to me as a highly formal use of nominative, of the same flavour of "It is I". Is Congressman Grayson using it in that way, as a real or imagined formal construction?

  6. Ralph Hickok said,

    February 24, 2013 @ 1:50 pm

    From Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe:
    And every one who'd marry a Ward
    Must come to me for my accord,
    And in my court I sit all day,
    Giving agreeable girls away,
    With one for him—and one for he—
    And one for you—and one for ye—
    And one for thou—and one for thee—
    But never, oh, never a one for me!

  7. Levantine said,

    February 24, 2013 @ 2:42 pm

    Ray Girvan, unlike 'It is I', which is unidiomatic though grammatical, the Harry Potter example is merely pseudo-formal and certainly not grammatical.

  8. KevinM said,

    February 24, 2013 @ 4:29 pm

    @archaeopteryx re: Girl from Ipanema. I wouldn't read anything into that example. Setting aside the transition (not translation) from Portuguese to English, the "he" is just an awkward solution to a problem commonly faced by singers: a lyric written to be sung by a (hetero) person of the opposite sex. The "Girl" lyric's narrator is a lovelorn male, and he's lamenting that "she looks straight ahead, not at me." In the version sung by Astrud, she impliedly empathizes with the male ogler, thus substituting "he" for "me". That's awkward, but perhaps a worse solution is turning it into "The Boy from Ipanema," as Ella Fitzgerald and others did.

  9. Aaron Toivo said,

    February 24, 2013 @ 4:41 pm

    Levantine: The sentence is grammatical, aside from the question of pronoun case, but this is confused by the fact the sentence misleads us into parsing "love to act" as a unit when it isn't. The intended structure seems to be:
    In other words, I acted exactly [as Voldemort expects [we fools who love] to act].

    There would be nothing remotely wrong with this sentence if you just switched the "we" for an "us".

  10. J.W. Brewer said,

    February 24, 2013 @ 4:47 pm

    From the beginning of the video, it looked like the speaker may have had a prepared script which he took out of his pocket and then set down on the lectern, but i'm not sure how tightly he followed it (if he followed it closely he's good at reading without appearing to be glancing down at the text all the time, which i suppose would be a useful skill for a politician working in a low-tech teleprompterless environment). If so, it would be interesting to know what the prepared script said in this passage – unless it had this odd turn of phrase isn't the simplest explanation that it's the sort of production error resulting from being on the verge of uttering the sentence without direct reference to the script but momentarily being indecisive between the alternatives "so did we" and "so did all of us" and thus coming up with an ungrammatical blend of the two?

  11. Levantine said,

    February 24, 2013 @ 4:51 pm

    Aaron Toivo, it's precisely because 'we' has been used instead of 'us' that I called the sentence ungrammatical. Perhaps I'm misunderstanding you, but I don't think your position is any different from mine.

  12. Margaret Dean said,

    February 24, 2013 @ 8:24 pm

    Whereas if he'd said "so did we all," that would have been grammatical.

  13. John Swindle said,

    February 25, 2013 @ 1:29 am

    All we like sheep.

  14. DNEvans said,

    February 25, 2013 @ 4:49 am

    @Margaret Dean & John Swindle: "So did all we."

  15. GeorgeW said,

    February 25, 2013 @ 6:14 am

    @Margaret Dean: "Whereas if he'd said "so did we all," that would have been grammatical."

    Maybe that was his target and he missed.

  16. richardelguru said,

    February 25, 2013 @ 7:22 am

    "We was robbed"—enallage
    "The Birds is coming"—false enallage?

  17. Faldone said,

    February 25, 2013 @ 7:51 am

    Dax Shepard and Kristin Bell were on Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me recently. Their segment was rebroadcast in this weekend's Best Of show and Dax, at one point, said, "… Kristin and I's …" I've heard it at lest three times now and the "… I's …" has me so blown away that I can't remember "Kristin and I's" what.

  18. bob edgar said,

    February 25, 2013 @ 9:21 am

    If one assumes that he was reading (re: J. W. Brewer) then there may be a quite simple explanation. The text "But so did all of we. We lost as well." could well have been written "But so did all of us. We lost as well." and all that has happened is that one word has been lost / doubled while reading.

  19. Ian Loveless said,

    February 25, 2013 @ 12:35 pm

    If you adopted a strategy of only ever using the nominative, let's say in coordinated NPs, you would never have to worry about accusations of infelicity. Even when incorrectly used, the nominative still sounds formal, or pseudo-formal, e.g., "Give it to he and I", whereas incorrect use of the accusative always sounds uneducated, grossly colloquial, or at best dialectal, e.g., "Me and him went to the pub last night".

  20. Levantine said,

    February 25, 2013 @ 5:38 pm

    I disagree with Ian Loveless. To me, 'Give it to he and I' sounds affected and jarring, whereas 'Me and him went to the pub last night' is perfectly good colloquial English. I'd much sooner say (and hear) the latter.

  21. D S Onosson said,

    February 25, 2013 @ 7:31 pm

    I'm with Levantine.

  22. Jerry Friedman said,

    February 25, 2013 @ 11:43 pm

    Levantine: I don't know the definition of "grammatical", but I think some people often or always use subject pronouns before "who". At COCA there are 14 relevant hits for "of he who" and 33 for "of him who".

    "What Augustine understood about the Donatists was that if one accepted their position that the authority of institutional practices depended on the moral quality of he who administered them, then the very point of an institution was voided."

    Tracy B. Strong, "Setting One's Heart on Honesty: The Tensions of Liberalism and Religion", Social Research, Winter 1999.

  23. Levantine said,

    February 26, 2013 @ 12:20 am

    Jerry Friedman, by grammatical, I mean that which standard usage deems to be correct. There are many grey areas, of course, and there are a good number of locutions which, though grammatically incorrect, are entirely idiomatic. I myself always say 'It is me' rather than 'It is I', because the latter sounds unbearably formal to me. I am not a prescriptivist and do not think that nonstandard equals substandard. But on a purely personal level, I really dislike usages that are the result of hypercorrection, because they represent the worst possible combination — prescriptivist in intent, yet without grammar on their side. Writing such phrases as 'of he who' is, to my mind, the result of this sort of misplaced pedantry, and I have much less time for it than I do for usages that are colloquial and ungrammatical, since these are at least idiomatic. That said, I suspect it won't be long before phrases like 'Between you and I' become so ubiquitous as to be in their own way idiomatic. Perhaps we're already there.

  24. Rodger C said,

    February 26, 2013 @ 8:16 am

    @Levantine: But is "of he who" hypercorrection, or simply case attraction?

  25. J.W. Brewer said,

    February 26, 2013 @ 9:43 am

    FWIW, a google ngram comparison of "all of us who" against "all of we who" shows the former to be quite common but latter so rare as to be undetectable. (Although it's not completely unattested if you search in google books directly.) Google ngram also shows "all of him who" (which is just odder semantically in terms of matching up "all" with a singular referent) as existent-but-rare but "all of he who" as undetectably rare. Maybe the "all" has some consequences not found in the more generalized "of he/him who" situation?

  26. Jerry Friedman said,

    February 26, 2013 @ 2:56 pm

    Levantine, I feel that we're already at the point where "to he and I" (or "to him and I") are natural for a lot of people, maybe the majority of Americans, even if it started as a hypercorrection. I certainly agree that it of "of he who" aren't standard, though.

    J. W., that's a good point. There are no hits on "all of us who" at COCA.

  27. Jerry Friedman said,

    February 26, 2013 @ 2:58 pm

    I mean no hits on "all of we who".

  28. Levantine said,

    February 26, 2013 @ 5:59 pm

    Jerry Friedman, I suspect you're right. I'm a big fan of Glee (please don't judge!), and even the students there say 'to him and I' and the like. I realise we're dealing with fictional characters whose dialogue is scripted, but the fact that such locutions can convincingly be put in the mouths of Midwestern American teenagers is revealing. It does bother me, however, that the rise of such usages has led to the widespread misconception that the standard alternatives ('to him and me', etc.) are somehow wrong or informal. The same thing is happening with certain pronunciations. I'm a Brit at an American grad school, and my accent is the only thing that saves me from derision when I sound the Ls in 'guillotine' or pronounce 'junta' with the English J sound. I don't mind that many here now use the rather recently popularised 'educated' pronunciations of these words, but it does annoy me that these same people are likely to judge me for using the long-standing naturalised pronunciations.

  29. etv13 said,

    February 26, 2013 @ 7:32 pm

    @Levantine: I'm a 52-year-old American, and I've never heard anyone sound the L's in guillotine.

  30. Levantine said,

    February 26, 2013 @ 7:56 pm

    etv13, you're right that the L-less pronunciation has been around longer than implied by 'rather recently', so I should have been more careful in how I expressed myself. From what I can tell, it began as a twentieth-century American affection, not recorded in dictionaries before 1961. The usual pronunciation till then (and the only one I've ever heard in the UK) is with the Ls. It's a different matter in French, of course, but that shouldn't affect how we say the word in English. In any case, my objection is not to the pronunciation itself, but to the misplaced belief that it is preferable to the naturalised pronunciation. I know that Americans outside academia often say the word the same way I do, and they are derided for it by those who think they know better, even though American dictionaries usually give the pronunciation with L first. The same kind of unfounded snobbery underlies the pronunciation of processes with a pseudo-formal 'eez' sound for the final syllable. It just bothers me when hypercorrections and other affectations end up stripping established usages of their legitimacy.

  31. The Ridger said,

    February 26, 2013 @ 8:00 pm

    @etv13: The British have used what Levantine calls "naturalised pronunciations". Byron rhymes Don Juan with "new one", for instance, and there's a reason "quixotic" isn't "kee-ot-ic" …

  32. The Ridger said,

    February 26, 2013 @ 8:01 pm

    or "kee-hote-ic", I meant to write.

  33. Levantine said,

    February 26, 2013 @ 8:08 pm

    To add to The Ridger's point, many Brits still pronounce 'Don Quixote' as 'Don Kwiksit', though it's on its way out. I didn't think describing such pronunciations as 'naturalised' was peculiar! I don't mean to imply that the alternatives are somehow aberrant or less legitimate. Perhaps 'anglicised' is what I should have said.

  34. etv13 said,

    February 27, 2013 @ 5:00 am

    Levantine: I think it's problematic to equate "hypercorrection" with "affectation" as you do, and I tend to be a little touchy about British claims of priority in pronunciation and vocabulary choices. There are a whole lot of us Americans, and we're native speakers too, and often our pronunciations and word choices have a longer lineage than modern British ones, for whatever that's worth.

    That said, this 'naturalization' business is kind of interesting. Here in Southern California, what we do to Spanish is a real hodgepodge. "Los" can be pronounced "Loss," as in "Los Angeles," or "Loess," as in "Los Feliz." (I've heard it either way in "Los Alamitos.") I've never heard, or heard of, any Southern Californian pronouncing the "J" in "La Jolla" as English people pronounce it in "junta" — let alone sounding the L's. My San Antonio-born mentor, however, once chided me for pronouncing the "g" in "guacamole." "You sound just like a Californian," he said, "it's "wha-camole."

  35. Levantine said,

    February 27, 2013 @ 5:51 am

    etv13, just to be clear, I am not claiming British priority in pronunciation. On the contrary, I stated quite clearly that such pronunciations as 'guillotine' with an L and 'junta' with an English J were once equally valid on this side of the pond (as witness any American dictionary) even though they are now unfairly denigrated. My point is not that these pronunciations are better, but that they should be allowed to exist without educated Americans looking down their nose at them. My countrymen are guilty of much the same thing when it comes to American pronunciations like the H-less 'herb', and I tell them the same thing: live and let live.

    And yes, 'naturalisation' is a subjective business, and I would have done better to say 'anglicisation'. But again, I was not trying to argue that fully anglicised pronunciations have any more validity than those that are closer to the source language. Where you are, 'junta' with the Spanish J is naturally (!) enough prevalent, but no-one should balk when they hear the other pronunciation, which, though now primarily British, also has a long history in American English. In my experience, the best thing to do when you encounter an unfamiliar usage or pronunciation is to do a little investigation before deeming it to be wrong, and this is something not enough people (Brits as well as Americans) do.

  36. Levantine said,

    February 27, 2013 @ 5:53 am

    Another clarification: despite my spelling of it, I'm using 'anglicise' in its broadest sense to encompass all varieties of English, and not just British.

  37. J.W. Brewer said,

    February 27, 2013 @ 11:21 am

    "And if my thought-dreams could be seen / They'd probably put my head in a guillotine." W/o being able to find confirming audio where I am right now, I'm about 98% sure that Bob Dylan sounds out those L's without sounding all affectedly British. I don't know how unusual it is for etv13 to be a 53-year-old American and never have heard that particular Dylan recording (probably not in the 10 or 20 most played on the radio), but I'm a bit younger than that and I've certainly heard plenty of Americans (including myself, at least some of the time) sound out the L's although I've certainly heard the more Frenchified version as well. Neither strikes me as odd enough to be noteworthy, nor have I noticed any strong regional pattern in who says what.

  38. etv13 said,

    February 28, 2013 @ 3:42 am

    J.W. Brewer: What can I say? I wouldn't change the station when Dylan comes on, but my husband, who hates the sound of his voice, certainly would, and for both of us, he's a little before our time, and also not enough before our time, if that makes any sense. I suspect, as with many boomer/trailing-boomer phenomena, that it makes a big difference whether you have older siblings or not, and we don't.

  39. Joe said,

    March 3, 2013 @ 2:46 pm


    I too am a Glee fan and, like you, I am sometimes bemused by the word choices in the script. At one extreme, there are the "him and I" examples you cite, which, are jarring for one reason, but at the other extreme, the “high-schoolers” including the (apparently) intellectually challenged Brittany, regularly uses the irrealis, most famously in the famous “sex isn’t dating” exchange in Glee: Sectionals (#1.13):

    Mercedes Jones: I thought you and Puck were dating?
    Santana Lopez: Sex is not dating.
    Brittany: Yeah, if it were, Santana and I would be dating.

    Maybe it’s an AME –v- BRE difference: maybe high-schoolers in Edinburgh use the irrealis in their English classes but I don’t hear them using it with their fiends.

  40. Levantine said,

    March 3, 2013 @ 7:21 pm

    Joe, thanks for your observations. I'm guessing you're a fellow Brit. Since moving to the USA, I have been struck by how much more concerned Americans seem to be than we are with the 'rules' of English. The result is twofold: on the one hand, certain standard usages are more consistently upheld here, particularly the subjunctive; and on the other hand, hypercorrections of the type exemplified by 'between you and I' also appear to be more prevalent. I teach undergraduates, and the way they speak and write is actually very similar to what you hear in Glee, at least with regard to the side-by-side use of very proper constructions and ungrammatical hypercorrections. British English tends to be more generally sloppy in my experience, with even educated people routinely saying 'If I was' and the like. I've found myself being much more careful with the subjunctive now that I'm on the other side of the pond.

  41. Joe1959 said,

    March 7, 2013 @ 6:37 am


    Yes I am a Brit. I grew up, and went to university, in England, but have lived in Edinburgh for the last 23 years. I hadn't thought of the 'between you and I' examples as hypercorrection due to a greater (westpondian) obsession with "the rules": an interesting observation.

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