Monday, August 10, 2009

back to grammar school

The following email messages that I received last week from two different students (honors students aka the university's best, keep in mind...) warrant the subject of today's post:

Message #1: "I attached Blair and I's draft syllabus."
Message #2: "I've attached Kenny and I's draft syllabus to this email."

These messages support my theory that perfect SAT scores in no way guarantee correct grammar. (Side note: my students are lauded as the highest scorers on standardized tests at the university.)

My regular readers, I believe that you recognize the mistake in both of these messages.

But for everyone else, please allow me to explain. The pronoun my is the possessive form of I. Adding an apostrophe s to I is never correct. Personal pronouns do not have apostrophes in their possessives. I rarely see this mistake made in writing, but I do occasionally hear it when people speak.

In the above examples, I suspect that the addition of the second person in the sentence confused the students who wrote the messages. If just one person was involved, the students obviously wouldn't have written "I attached I draft syllabus." They would have written "I attached my draft syllabus." Including others in the sentence brings us to the me versus I discussion, which I won't elaborate on here. For a more detailed explanation of this subject, check out Grammar Girl's podcast transcript or Smiling Mama's blog post.

So, what is the correct way to write a sentence that includes two people who are possessive of one object? Let's give it a shot.

The syllabus belongs to both you and Blair. Here is one example of how to communicate that relationship properly using first person voice:
CORRECT: I attached Blair's and my syllabus.

Using third person voice:
CORRECT: Attached is Blair and Jessica's syllabus.
Because Blair and Jessica share one syllabus, they also share one apostrophe s.

If you detest the solution above, or if it sounds too awkward for your taste, then I recommend my old standby: rewrite the sentence or add a second sentence to avoid this situation altogether.
CORRECT: Blair and I completed the first draft of our course syllabus. I attached it to this email message. (or something along those lines...)

Let me conclude this entry with my usual caveat for grammar-related posts: I am no grammar expert and I do not attempt to cover these topics exhaustively. Please feel free to comment with suggestions or corrections.

Happy writing!


VA said...

I am betting you are such a good teacher. You are so patient!
Good luck with your new school year - 9 years is awesome - good for you!

Smiling Mama said...

So do tell...did you copy and paste a chunk of that post into an e-mail to those students? Even beyond apostrophe errors, I believe that somehow the majority of Americans believe that using "me" (or "my" as in these examples) is never correct. I am constantly amazed by the incorrect use of "I" by otherwise smart people and otherwise good writers!

Dr. Blondie said...

I'm ashamed to admit that I haven't corrected my students yet... I couldn't find a tactful way to do it. Rest assured that I DO correct poor grammar when I grade my students' papers (and I even give them brief tutorials in the process), but I still haven't found a good way to do it in casual communication. I don't know why I hesitate... most of them don't shy away from correcting ME as often as they can!:)