Who vs. Whom

I had a couple of great English teachers in high school, one of whom was Miss Latham. Miss Alfrava Latham. She was a character.  She hand-made her clothes, wore black patent leather shoes with a square silver buckle that looked like something a Pilgrim would wear and loved to read cookbooks. She was also a tough, tough teacher.

Tough, but clear. She always had little tricks for us to remember some of the more difficult rules of grammar. One that I use to this day is one that helps me tackle the who vs. whom problem.

There’s an easy way to remember when you should use either word. Ask yourself if you could hypothetically answer your question with him. Let me give you an example:

Who/Whom should we invite to the study group? Since you could hypothetically answer the question with, “We should invite him,” whom would be the correct word choice.

Who/Whom is invited to the study group? The answer to this question is, “He is going to the study group,” not, “Him is going to the study group,” so the correct word choice is who.

Need an even easier way to remember which is correct? Whom and him end in m. If you can answer the question with him, you know the correct word choice is whom.

If you must know the reason this trick works, it’s because the answer you give to the above-type questions helps you determine whether the pronoun refers to an object. Him is an object pronoun. Think of yourself pointing out the person (him) as though he was an object. If you can’t do that, then who is correct.

I don’t know what’s happened with Miss Latham since my high school days, but I do know that what she taught me stuck with me.

If this post has helped you, give a little look skyward and say a quick, “Thank you,” to Miss Latham.



Bad vs. Badly

I am not one who sits idly by when someone (or someone’s writing) sounds pretentious. I tend to, well, correct. It’s my nature. (Actually, it’s probably not my nature because my grandmother, the 1920s secretary, and my mother, the genius, were always correcting us kids whenever we used incorrect words.)

Aaaaanyway, I don’t like pretention. And to me, few words sound more pretentious than “badly” when it is used, well, badly.

Let me give you an example: I feel badly about that. Really, I do.

No, actually, you feel bad about that, whatever that is.

As a rule, “bad” is an adjective that describes or modifies nouns and pronouns. They show how something was or is, provide additional information such as size, shape, and color. Example: My commute to the stadium was bad.

And “badly” is an adverb that, you guessed it, modifies verbs because most verbs are action verbs. Adverbs can be a single word or a set of words that answer how, why, when, where, to what extent, how often, or how much. For example: When I saw my hair in the mirror this morning, I realized I badly needed a trim.

There is an exception for badly, and this is where people start to sound pretentious. If you have linking verbs like be, is, and was, the form to use is bad, not badly. (See the first example.)

Some linking verbs, like smell and feel, can also be linking or action verbs. Here, you’d also use bad rather than badly.

How would that look?

Karen felt around badly because her hands were covered in grease.

The air smelled bad.

Yea, Yay, and Yeah

Have you ever noticed people saying “yea” when they mean “yeah”? Me, neither. When people speak, they generally use the correct words to express themselves. When people write, however, something breaks down in the brains of some people.

I swear that happens.

I know this, because I’ve even seen close relatives of mine, who I know are well educated, write “yea” (pronounced yay) when they mean “yeah” (pronounced ya-uh). It’s really irritating.

While “yea” and “yeah” are both forms of saying “yes,” the former is used almost always in relation to voting. “Yea” for yes; “nay” for no. It’s kind of formal, when you think about it, especially when you consider this is also another way to say “indeed.”

“Yeah” is decidedly not formal. It’s an informal way of saying “yes,” and if you’re American, you tend to almost always say “yeah,” even in formal occasions. Also irritating.

“Yay,” on the other hand, doesn’t mean “yes” in any way, shape, or form, unless you’re in the habit of exclaiming “Yes!” when something great happens. “Yay” actually exclaims excitement, happiness, or joy. Think of it as a shortened form of “hooray,” and you’ll always get this one correct.

So, how would these look?

Yea, though I walk through the valley in the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. (I couldn’t resist. Sorry.)

Ten yeasthree nays. The yeas have it. The motion is passed.

Yay! The Spartans take the Wolverines in football. (Yes, I am a Spartan.)

Yeah, I sure would like another Diet Vanilla Coke. Thanks.


Blonde vs. Blond

How exactly do you spell “blond”? Is it “blond” or “blonde”? It’s not unusual to see it spelled either way and sometimes even spelled both ways in the same article. Were editors taking a break when those particular pieces crossed their desks?

The quick answer is no.

The reason readers sometimes see both spellings in the same article is because the word actually has a feminine and masculine form. The word came to English from the French language, which has feminine and masculine forms. When it came into English usage as a noun, it kept those forms. When the word is used as an adjective, however, “blond” is correct form.

How would that look?

My hair is fair, so I, being female, am considered a blonde.

My brother, whose fair hair has darkened over the years, is considered a dishwater blond.

Anyone can have blond hair if they have a good hairdresser, but please, don’t just bleach it yourself.


E-mail Greetings and Salutations To You

Dear John. Dear, dear John. If I were to write a Dear John e-mail, I would start it with:

Dear John,

If I were to write a business e-mail to John, I would start it with:

Dear John:

You probably already know that.

What you may not know is that if I were to write a friendly e-mail to John, I would start it with:

Hi, John,

Why the “extra” comma? I know it looks strange, but Hi, John, is actually correct, because dear and hi are not the same kind of word so the punctuation is different.

Dear is an adjective that modifies John. John is dear to me, so I call him dear.

Hi is an interjection, like wow. When you say hi, you are directly addressing John, so the direct address rule comes into play.

In terms of comma rules, Hi, John is no different than, Whoa, John, slow down. “Hi, John,” can end in a period if you want to make it a sentence.

Make sense?

Regardless, Don’t Use “Irregardless”

Irregardless. Oh, how I hate that non-word. I remember when my mother started dating my step-father decades ago. One of the things I found fascinating about the two of them together is that they always talked. They always had something to discuss, not just say to each other. They talked about work. They talked about family. They talked about sports. They talked about politics. (One was Republican, the other was a Democrat)–it got interesting.

At one point, I remember my step-dad was trying to make a point–Mom was winning–and my step-dad said in exasperation, “Irregardless…” I couldn’t hear anything after that. “That’s not a word,” I remember telling him almost immediately. “Put an ir- in front of a word, and it means without. Put -less in back of it, and it means without. You just said, without-without regard. That doesn’t make any sense.” He just looked at me. My mom laughed.

I remember saying that as though I said it was yesterday instead of forty years ago. Okay, I rudely corrected him forty years ago, but the point is, I was correct.

If you take the time to look up irregardless, you’ll find that some language experts think it came about because people were confused as the whether the word they wanted was regardless or irrespective, which kind of makes sense. Others think they were confused by the form many English words have when they start with irre-, like irresistible or irrelevant, and so on, which to me makes more sense. Stick the irre- in front of the base word, like resistible, and it means the opposite. That’s just not the case with regardless. It really isn’t.

Regardless of how the non-word came about or why you feel compelled to utter it, please don’t. It takes people straight out of the context of the conversation. You’re not going to be heard, and if your listener is anything like me, they’re not going to take you seriously. (That’s just my opinon).

Apostrophe Agitation

Apostrophe - You'll Get It Eventually
Apostrophe - You'll Get It Eventually
Photo by Nigel Tadyanehondo on Unsplash

I have a friend I absolutely love. He’s Dutch but has been living in the United States for at least forty years. English is about his fifth language. He hates our apostrophe.

When he’s reading English, apostrophes are a distraction to him, especially when a word ends in s.

“You have so many rules!” he says. Well, we really don’t.

Apostrophes basically:

  • Denote possession
  • Make s-ending words plural
  • Show something’s missing


If a person, place or thing–I’m talking about a regular noun, here–owns something, then the apostrophe s is appropriate:

  • Zippy’s collar is blue.
  • Orlando’s traffic is nightmarish.
  • That shovel’s handle is red.

S-ending Words

If a word is already plural or ends in s, the extra s is not necessary:

  • Friday is usually guys’ night out.
    • Some editors, teachers, professors prefer s’s. Always check the style guide before submitting your assignment.

Missing word parts

When we speak, we naturally squish words together. The letters we aren’t pronouncing are replaced with an apostrophe:

  • Can’t
    • Short for cannot.
  • The ’60s and ’70s had the best and most complex rock.
    • The missing “19” is represented by the apostrophe.

Tricky Bits

Okay, I admit, there are other tricky apostrophes, such as when making compound nouns plural:

  • My father-in-law’s golf clubs are always in the trunk.
  • All attorneys-general work for the Attorney-General of Florida.

And when initials are plural:

  • “I have a ton of CD’s” is as correct as “I have a ton of CDs.” It depends upon the editor’s style.

But overall, those three basic areas are what’s covered by apostrophes.

Read more about apostrophes in The Blue Book of Grammar.