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More than a couple of times, readers I've met have told me they're petrified of making a grammar mistake in front of me. Some decide they won't talk to me at all because I might detect something incorrect and tell them.

So imagine how I felt a couple of weeks back when my sister Norma Jean corrected me after I said, "She's younger than me."

My sister said, "She's younger than I," with a heavy emphasis on the "I."

Older siblings know you for all of your life. The unwritten rule is that they may tell you when you're wrong. (This is a big downside of being the youngest of six.)

A few days later, just by chance, my friend Bill taught me that what I said was fine. Both sentences are considered standard usage.

But the matter is one of those ongoing grammar disputes with two vehement, unapologetic sides. Other scuffles about which I've written include whether ending a sentence with a preposition is OK and whether using an Oxford comma is necessary. Many readers told me their views in ardent words.

I'll say again that being passionate about grammar is a fine trait.

My friends and I talk about usage, etymology and even punctuation all the time because we love words. But jumping into the face of someone you barely know because of a grammar mistake isn't terribly charming.

Normally, I'll just think to myself, "Ooh, that's a good thing to write about." And I'll silently thank the fantastic copy-editing professor I had at Northwestern University's journalism school.

Here's the breakdown on this disagreement.

Many people believe the proper way is to say:

She's younger than I.

They say the "than" in the sentence is a conjunction, a word connecting two complete sentences. When you add the implied verb at the end, it sounds more logical:

She's younger than I am.

I believe that the "I" ending sounds stilted, and I prefer when things don't sound that way. I'll usually add the verb after the "I."

But people on the opposing side say the "than" in this case is a preposition, so the pronoun at the end doesn't have to mirror the word at the beginning. They say:

She's younger than me.

This is the conversational way of saying it, but it's also correct.

Here's a similar example of "than" being used as a preposition.

Question: The teacher says I'm smarter than whom?

If we follow the rules of the hard-to-understand "whom," the answer is:

The teacher says I'm smarter than him.

At times, a sentence may have some ambiguity. These sentences mean two different things:

Levon says he loves Annie more than me.

Levon says he loves Annie more than I.

The first means Levon loves Annie more than he loves the speaker.

The second means Levon loves Annie more than the speaker loves Annie.

Choosing between these two sentences just means you have to think carefully about what you intend to say. It's similar to deciding whether to say Annie has brown or blue eyes. One is correct, and one isn't.

But in cases with no possible confusion, using "than me" is just as acceptable as "than I." Next time someone calls you on the "than me" thing, tell him you know exactly what you're doing.

Weekly review

For a little while, I'll do a weekly review of topics that readers ask me about again and again.

The verbs "lay" and "lie" are not the same and can't be used interchangeably.

"Lay" shows action, the act of placing something somewhere.

I will lay the keys on the table, so remind me later when I can't find them.

"Lie" simply means to recline.

After writing checks to pay a slew of bills, I had to lie down.

Most people use "lie" correctly, but "lay" is often used wrong.

Wrong: She lays on the floor watching the Roomba do its magic.

Now, just to complicate matters, I have to add that the past tense of lie is lay.

Right: He lay in wait for the doughnuts to come out of the oven.

Sources: Grammar Girl, Motivated Grammar, Merriam-Webster

bkwordmonger@gmail.com

ActiveStyle on 05/21/2018

Print Headline: 'Than' a linker or stand-in

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