A Primer on Pronouns



After their careers are over, many athletes move to the television or radio studio.  There, they apply their often eccentric version of the English language to the job of explaining an off-tackle dive play or a dunk – as if these things are complicated.


Well, no one expects ex-jocks to have a perfect grasp of their native language.  After all, they spent more time pumping iron than diagramming sentences.  In fact, I doubt if they spent any time diagramming sentences.


But what of their sidekicks – non-jocks who majored in ‘communications’ with the idea of earning a living reading a teleprompter or looking good on the sidelines?  Clearly, we should expect more from them.  After all, isn’t it fair to expect the people who talk for a living to be able to use the language correctly?  And yet the public airways are a pathetic display of grammatical grease fires committed by the people who should know better, but obviously do not.


Pronouns are the biggest problem.  Should it be ‘I’ or ‘me’?  ‘They’ or ‘them’?  ‘We’ or ‘us’?  ‘He or him?’  ‘She or her?’  Generally these television presenters run aground when they are confronted by a sentence involving more than one person.  I actually heard one say, “Me and my wife went to dinner with she and her husband.”




Sports talk radio is even worse than television, if possible.  But at least the radio hosts are speaking extemporaneously.  The ones working from a script have no excuse.


Aside from hitting the off button, what can be done?  There’s no sense trying to explain the rules of the English language.  It’s probably far too late to teach them that the objective case always follows a preposition.  (Huh?)


There is an answer, though — when in doubt about how to phrase a sentence with multiple characters (i.e., people), experiment by dropping one of the characters.  Would the erring presenter have said “Me went to dinner with she and her husband?”  Would he have said “Me went to dinner with she?”  Only in a Tarzan movie.


There is nothing elegant about using ‘she’ when you should say ‘her.’  There is nothing sophisticated about saying ‘I’ when the proper word is ‘me.’  The lovely and talented Chris Evert just this week said that Serena Williams “wants to pass Martina and I” in major titles.  I’m guessing she would not have said “Serena wants to pass I.”


There seems to be an epidemic of “me” as a subject of a sentence – although always combined with another – “Me and Jo-Jo went to the clown convention.”  Here again, drop “Jo-Jo” from the sentence momentarily, and you get a clue about whether to use “I” or “me.”


Since many television presenters write their own copy for a teleprompter, they have the chance to edit their work before inflicting it on the unsuspecting public.   They have the chance to avoid the grammatical air balls that are all too often broadcast into millions of homes.  And the important point is – there are people watching who assume that the way these people are phrasing things is correct.  They copy the grammatical errors.  And so the gradual decline continues.


Then there’s the question of diction – the selection of words.  Here common errors abound.  Take ‘disinterested.’  It does not mean ‘uninterested.’  ‘Disinterested’ sounds more elegant, but it means “impartial,” in the sense that someone has no personal stake in the outcome of something or other.  (It’s generally considered a good thing!)  ‘Uninterested’ is another way of saying ‘not interested.’ And yet there are more than a few well known television presenters who regularly choose the wrong word to describe a bored or unmotivated athlete.


“Primer” is almost invariably mispronounced.  When the word refers to a short set of instructions, it’s pronounced ‘PRIM-er.’  The other pronunciation (‘PRIME-er’) refers to a coat of paint.


The ever popular ‘notoriety’ is always misused.  “Notoriety” is not the same thing as “fame,” or “celebrity.”  It’s not a word you want attached to your name.  The ‘notorious Adolph Hitler’ is correct.   The ‘notorious Mother Theresa’ is not – even though she was certainly famous.


And don’t get me started on ‘alluded to,’ which is routinely used instead of the more accurate ‘said.’


This list goes on, as does the deterioration of the language, thanks in large part to people who talk for a living.