Wednesday (March 4) was national Grammar Day. I am embarrassed that I missed it. Grammar and editing skills have played an important role in my life.Read more
Between you and me, ‘than’ can take it but not him
This silly phrase is actually meant to help you when using the two very different but often similarly misused words “between” and “than.”
No need to know that “between” is a preposition that can sometimes act as an adverb, and “than” is a conjunction that can sometimes act as a preposition. The most common mistakes with these words appear in the words that follow them – and the sometimes invisible words that don’t.
Okay, I probably shouldn’t be talking about invisible, spirit words now that we are a day past Halloween. But I didn’t get many trick-or-treaters at my house last night. So I am hopped up on mini candy bars today and still wondering about a mysterious knocking sound that woke me up early this morning.
So between you and me, I’m feeling a bit shaky…
And that, by the way, is the correct way to use “between.” Specifically, this word should be followed by nouns (“the lamppost”) and/or by pronouns in the objective case (me, us, him, her, them). Pronouns, are, of course, words that substitute for real nouns, but I’ll bet you knew that already. Objective pronouns are a specific category of pronouns that receive the action of a noun or follow a preposition – as in “I ate them all (“them” being a pronoun that refers to candy bars, which I ate).
We sometimes over-correct ourselves when using “between” because we believe it is prahpah English to say “between you and I.” Nope, it’s not. Go ahead and say me, mee, MEEE after the word “between.” It’s the right thing to do.
The same is not true when you use the word “than.” This is a word that disdains objective pronouns and prefers a diet of invisible words. Weird but true. You must use the subjective category of pronouns (I, we, he, she, they) after the word “than,” because it really expects more of you.
Yep, it’s just like your mother. The word “than” really expects to introduce an entire clause – subject + verb. But often we cut it short – just giving it the subject and leaving the verb (and whatever else might follow the verb) unsaid.
An example is “I am sleepier than he.” Really, you (and my mother) should assume I was going to say “I am sleeper than he is.” But I left off the “is.” The “is” is invisible but understood. (I could say something about a former president and the definition of “is” here, but I won’t. I’ll leave it unsaid.)
What really got me going on this was the jarring sentence I read the other day in an otherwise entertaining magical mystery novel. (Trying desperately to keep a theme here.) In the middle of a long descriptive paragraph, the author wrote “She was younger than him.” Nooooooo! Where was the editor? Where was her mother? How could this have happened?
But then I ate a mini candy bar – and felt better. Happy November!