Pronoun Mistakes #4: TV Talk

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Careless grammar in run-of-the-mill television shows no longer surprises me, but I’m still startled when pronoun errors crop up in quality productions, spoken by characters assumed to be educated. Here are some gleanings from my recent viewing.

Note: The third example is an approximation of what was said. However, it accurately illustrates the pronoun error made by the character.

Incorrect: That’s why he was so insistent that me and Mrs. McCarthy left him alone so he could come to you.—Father Brown, Series Three of the BBC production Father Brown, “The Invisible Man.”
Correct : That’s why he was so insistent that Mrs. McCarthy and I left him alone so he could come to you

The pronoun error is using me instead of I in the compound subject “Mrs. McCarthy and I.” I is a subject form; me is an object form. (American usage would probably have “insistent that Mrs. McCarthy and I leave him alone.”)

Incorrect: [Mr. So-and-So] whom, I suspect, would never want to be made a fool of. —Miss Marple, Part 2 of The Body in the Library, BBC production Miss Marple.
Correct : [Mr. So-and-So] who, I suspect, would never want to be made a fool of.

The error is using the object form whom for the subject form who. The error often occurs when who is separated from its verb by an expression like “I suspect” or “I believe.” The pronoun who is the subject of the verb “would want”: “who would never want to be made a fool of.”

Incorrect: Me and my colleagues sold a fake antique to an Italian bishop—Thomas Cromwell, Episode 2 of the BBC production Wolf Hall.
Correct : My colleagues and I sold a fake antique to an Italian bishop.

The pronoun me is incorrectly placed in the subject. Me is the object form of I.

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5 thoughts on “Pronoun Mistakes #4: TV Talk”

  1. Is it possible that the author/script writer was attempting to show the level of education of the character? Or perhaps would the pronoun have been acceptable at the time or in the area where it was spoken?

  2. Wow! How did I miss “Me and my colleagues” on Wolf Hall? Poor usage in scripted television dialogue is my greatest grammar gripe. How can an actor not object to lines like this?

  3. Nancy,
    As I note in the post, the words in this example are not exact. The actor does say “Me and [somebody].” I didn’t catch the other word in the subject. He was referring to people Cromwell had colluded with in Italy.

  4. I have to be somewhat ambivalent about grammar standards in dialogue on film or in print. In fiction there are other considerations besides proper grammar, such as realism. Characters have to speak in a real, believable way which, depending on the character, of course, might dictate against the highest standards of grammar. In print, especially, I often get irked by dialogue from characters that is too stiff and unnatural sounding, e.g. “I am sorry. I was not aware that your father was ill”. Rather than, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know your father was ill (or better, ‘sick’)”. The latter would have been much more realistic from the character who delivers it . The former is not natural speech from a “regular” person. I can’t say for the Wolf Hall instance, as I don’t know the show.

    OTOH, I do think it is a valid criticism when actors mispronounce or mangle words and there is no reason not to correct it. I was always annoyed to distraction by the TV series 24 in which the Keifer Sutherland character verbally mangles with “nucular” ad nauseam throughout. There is simply no reason for that. It does nothing for the character but make him sound like an idiot to everyone who notices, while doing nothing for those who don’t. Why directors did not stop and make him deliver those lines properly is inexplicable to me, unless everyone on the set was aural illiterate, too.

    There is another person who is a regularly interviewed “expert” on TV shows regarding the paranormal, alien visitations, etc. who can’t manage the word “extraterrestrial”. Regardless of the seriousness of the subject matter, why producers of the show cannot pause for the minute it would take to have him properly pronounce a term that is central to the entire theme of their show is an “unexplained mystery ” [sic] in itself.

  5. Maeve, I should have caught the “Me and (anybody),” because I find it so annoying. I must have been nodding off.
    Sloppy grammar on scripted shows reinforces the lousy language skills of viewers who are already suffering from poor speech examples at home and in school .
    I agree with venqax’s comments, too.

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