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fessedly written to promote correctness in speaking and writing, there occurs an instance in which no fewer than twenty-eight other neuter nouns intervene between the pronoun “it” and the particular noun to which it refers. In such a chapter as this one it may be well to substitute for abstract rules governing the use and collocation of pronouns a few concrete exemplifications of the violation of such rules. "Everybody is expected to pay their pew-rent before next Sunday." The plural “their” is wrong; "his or her" in its place would be awkward; but “All are expected, etc.," or, "It is expected that all pew-rents will be paid, etc.," is both clear and correct. "He told his pastor he would soon get a letter" should be recast. "He said to his pastor: 'You will [or, I shall] soon get a letter,'" is free from ambiguity.
Such recasting of obscure indirect narration into the form of direct statement is very often the only feasible method of showing the true reference of English pronouns. No other method can, for instance, so easily reduce to order and coherence so chaotic a jumble as the following: "The pastor wrote the Bishop that the curate he recently sent him was so unduly ascetic that, while he hoped he would not injure his health permanently, he feared he would lessen his efficiency for the work of his ministry, and as he wouldn't listen to him he begged him to write to him advising him to eat more, sleep longer, and take lots of outdoor exercise." By substituting for some of the all too frequent pronouns such nouns or noun-phrases as "the young man," "the ordinary," "the writer,"
"the pious youth,” it may be possible to make this sentence clear, even while preserving the indirect narrative form; but, at best, such substitution would cause awkwardness or stiltedness. The preferable correction is made by recasting the sentence thus: "The pastor wrote to his ordinary: 'My dear Bishop, Father Brown, the curate whom you recently sent me, is very ascetic-unduly so, in my opinion. While his practices of mortification may not permanently injure his health, I fear that they will lessen the efficiency of his work as my assistant. As he does not heed my remonstrances, I should be obliged if you would write him a kindly letter, advising him to eat more, sleep longer, and take plenty of outdoor exercise.'
A common error of careless writers (and their name is legion) is the use of “and which” to connect one clause with a previous one that contains no "which." "He laid down the law with cocksure authoritativeness and dogmatic finality, a habit peculiar to pedagogues, and which is exasperating to all sensible persons." The insertion of "which is" after "habit," or the striking out of "which is" before "exasperating" will remedy the mischief. The confusion that results from failure to give to every pronoun an antecedent to which the mind may, or rather must, refer that pronoun is illustrated by the following ludicrous statement, quoted from the Woman's Home Companion: "Alfonso XIII was the son of Alfonso XII, who died, five months before he was born, at the age of twenty-eight." According to the construction, "he" refers of course to Alfonso XII instead of
Alfonso XIII, and, as a result, the former monarch's death is made to occur before his birth.
Notwithstanding the fact that good usage authorizes the locution "than whom," the word "than" is a conjunction, not a preposition; and therefore a pronoun following "than" is not necessarily in the objective case. "He can preach better than I, but adverse criticism annoys him more than me.” “I'd rather face him than her, for she has a sharper tongue than he." "I" and "me" in the first of these sentences are correct forms, as are "her" and "he" in the second. "I liked his sermon the best of any of them." Both grammar and good usage demand "better than any other" or "best of all," or "better than all others." "That explanation of all others he should have avoided," is nonsense; an explanation simply cannot be one of all others. "Of all explanations that is the one he should have avoided," or, "That explanation, beyond all others, he should have avoided," is correct.
One other reflection regarding the use of pronouns it may be worth while to set down. Tautology, or the repetition of the same word, is a far less grievous offense than is either obscurity or ambiguity. Dr. Campbell, in his "Philosophy of Rhetoric," says on this point: "It is easy to conceive that in numberless instances the pronoun ‘he' will be ambiguous, when two or more males happen to be mentioned in the same clause of a sentence. In such a case we ought always either to give another turn to the expression, or to use the noun itself, and not the pronoun; for when the repetition of a word is necessary it is not offen
sive." The better plan is to alter the structure of the sentence in such a way as to avoid both ambiguity and repetition; but if there must be a sacrifice of euphony or else of clearness, there should be no hesitation in securing perspicuity rather than harmony, sense rather than sound.
Few writers on English composition have failed to call attention to the fact that, as our language has scarcely any of those inflections which in other tongues, Latin and Greek, for instance, show the mutual relations of words, the order and collocation of the elements of an English sentence must be looked after with especial care. In varying phraseology all our modern rhetoricians repeat the rule laid down by Dr. Blair: “A capital rule in the arrangement of sentences is, that the words or members most nearly related should be placed in the sentence as near to each other as possible; so as to make their mutual relations clearly appear.". If, as we have seen, the observance of this rule is necessary in the case of pronouns, it is scarcely less important in that of adverbs, adverbial phrases, and similar modifying elements. The writer who has learned how to place in their exactly proper position such adverbs as only, wholly, at least, at all events, perhaps, indeed, in fact, and too, has mastered half the secret of constructing sentences that are clear.
A pertinent observation concerning the use of some of these adverbs by priests is that the wrong position of the words matters less in spoken than in written sentences. In preaching a sermon our tone and emphasis frequently suffice to show
clearly a reference which is not at all apparent when the words are set down in the same order in writing or in print. "I only mentioned last Sunday in speaking of the sacrament of Penance one of the qualities of contrition," says the preacher; and the emphasis he gives to "one" indicates that it is the word to which "only" is meant to refer. His hearers understand him, and hence, for all practical purposes, his spoken sentence is clear. As printed above, however, it is not clear, at least not immediately so, to the reader. From its position, “only” seems to modify "mentioned,” and we are led to expect some such subsequent clause as "I did not dwell upon," or "I did not insist upon.' Had the preacher said, "In speaking last Sunday on the sacrament of Penance, I mentioned one only of the qualities of contrition," his sentence would have been clear to the eye as well as to the ear. "Of the relative piety or indifference shown by the Catholics of our city you may judge for yourself from the statement that in two parishes only three hundred communicants daily approach the Holy Table." As spoken, that sentence may have been quite clear; as written, it is unmistakably ambiguous. It contains praise or blame according as "only" is made to refer to "two parishes" or to "three hundred communicants." Nor can the faulty construction be justified by saying that the placing of a comma after "only" will remove the ambiguity. Punctuation is useful, but the sense of such a statement as the foregoing should not be left to the mercy of a comma. If the sentence is not recast, "only" should be replaced by "alone."