May 31, 2012 | Review Period

Prepositions: I’m Not the Only One They Bother

My grammar-book writer reassures me I am not alone.

I have been re-making my way through Pimsleur Italian Plus (lessons 91-100).

I have to be careful, when doing Pimsleur, not to turn my ankle in the potholes that are accumulating in an intersection I cross frequently at 73rd and Broadway.

Pimsleur Users: Look Both Ways...

Pimsleur Users: Look Both Ways…

...AND Down

…AND Down

Today I began reading Italian Pronouns and Prepositions by Daniela Gobetti. Or rather, I should say rereading, because this is a book I have used twice before in my Italian studies. Neither time did I finish it, which is not a great sign for the book, I suppose. 

Or maybe for my attitude about the subject. The thing is, I don’t mind pronouns—in fact, I kind of like them—but as I believe I have mentioned in the past, I really am not keen on prepositions. Ms. Gobetti offers reassurance on this point.

She writes, “Prepositions are notoriously difficult to learn in every language. They contribute to possible meanings of groups of words: even the incomplete phrase ‘with my brother’ creates altogether different expectations from the phrase ‘by my brother.’ But by themselves, in most cases, prepositions merely link words to convey meaning. Prepositions therefore sound (and are) arbitrary to non-native speakers…”

You said it, sister!

Anyway, I picked up on page 70, where I was last working in this book, and soon came across some material about the Italian pronoun chi, pronounced roughly “key,” which means “who.” In reading one of the sample sentences—which was Chi non hai invitato?, meaning “Whom didn’t you invite?”—it suddenly struck me that wow, Romance languages, at least the ones I am familiar with, have no “whom.” You use the same word for “who” and “whom.”

As someone who teaches English grammar classes to adults, I can tell you that the whole “who”-versus-“whom” thing is a real bear for most Americans. I wish “whom” didn’t exist. It doesn’t particularly bother me personally, because I can tell which I need in a given sentence, but sometimes using “whom” correctly makes you sound like a crazy crotchety language snob.

And it causes a lot of earnest people pain when they can’t figure it out. To me it feels like a worn-out legacy of another grammatical age.

Let’s just scrap it, shall we? Other respectable languages have done it and survived, after all!

Comments (3)

Tim • Posted on Wed, August 01, 2012 - 1:17 am EST

I agree. Let’s scrap it. Who are we going to offend?

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Wed, August 01, 2012 - 12:40 pm EST

Tee hee.

Do two people make a movement?

Tim • Posted on Wed, August 01, 2012 - 9:23 pm EST

I’m afraid it will take a few more to make a movement, at least according to Arlo Guthrie.

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