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More Questions from Our Mailbox

Posted by Conni Eversull   Aug 7, 2012, 5:30:00 AM

We've received some interesting questions lately. Here are a few we hope you'll find helpful.

Question: 

Hello, I have a question about indirect objects when used with certain verbs.  I am a native English speaker, and I frequently talk with a friend who is not. I noticed that she often says things like, "Please explain me it."

I pointed out that this sounds incorrect to me and that I would have said, "Please explain it to me." However, as we discussed it, I realized "Please tell me it," sounds perfectly fine to me.

What is the difference between a verb like "explain" and a verb like "tell"? I have tried to research this, and the best I have found is that the verbs "explain", "describe", and "suggest" are somehow exceptions to the general rule. Do you have a better explanation that I can pass on to my friend?  Thank you.

Grammar Expert's Answer:

Both verbs are transitive, in that they have direct objects. How that object is treated depends on the form of the action statement.

In Please explain it to me the direct object is the story, or it. You are not explaining the speaker me. That's how the verb explain works - it applies to a story.

In Please tell me it you are applying the verb to the object me. You could also write it as Please tell me the story. Either way you are applying the verb to a direct object. It's just the nature of the verb and what it means.

You could really mess with your friends mind by saying Please explain me to him. That means that me is the story to be explained!

>Bottom line: the verb explain needs something that is explained, the verb tell needs something that can be told.

Question:

Being an avid reader, I have often wondered why some authors used single inverted commas for quotations and others use double inverted commas.

Grammar Expert's Answer:

We call these marks quotation marks. In American form, in running text, we use double quotation marks "like this." In newspaper headlines, we use single quotation marks, 'like this.'

If we have to have marks within quoted material, we use single marks. He said, "I never used the word 'attack' in my essays!"

Note that in American form, commas and periods (stops) always go inside the closing mark.

In UK form, according to the Oxford Style Book, usage is the opposite of American form. They use single marks and double marks within.

We have never dug any deeper to find out why this is. I doubt we could find an answer!

Question:

In the sentence, "She does not look as good as ____," would I use "I" or "me?" I think I could say "She does not look as good as I do," but "She does not look as good as me" also sounds correct. Can you help?

Grammar Expert's Answer:

Most grammar books today say you can use "me" where "I" classically goes, as in "It's me." But when you have longer sentences, they more often go back to the classic forms, and most might prescribe "I" in your sentence. Why not just nail the question down by adding "I do" onto the end? No one can complain then - it's not stuffy, it's grammatically perfect, and it separates you from the grammar-have-nots.

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