Spring 2007

"Hypercorrections happen when people are so concerned with getting the grammar right that they get it wrong."

Word Watch: Hypercorrections

You can hyperextend your knee. You can hyperventilate. You can even be hypersensitive. But hypercorrections? Who knew?

According to Jack Lynch, assistant professor of English at Rutgers University, hypercorrections happen "when people are so concerned with getting the grammar right that they get it wrong." That is, in trying to avoid one usage error, they overcompensate (hypercompensate, anyone?) and make another.

Examples, of course, abound.

– "You and I" vs. "You and Me." As Lynch explains, "We're taught as children ... [that] you don't say 'me and you went to the movies.' It should be 'you and I.' A lot of people, therefore, internalize the rule that 'you and I' is somehow more proper, and they end up using it in places where they shouldn't—such as 'he gave it to you and I' when it should be 'he gave it to you and me.' "

– "Myself" vs. "I" and "Me." Perhaps throwing in the towel with respect to the correct usage of "I" and "me," many people opt to use the pronoun "myself"—even when it's not correct. In response to the question, "Who was at the meeting?", a statement along the lines of, "Myself, Ann, and Bob" is not uncommon. The correct usage, though, is "Ann, Bob, and I." Or consider the statement, "He gave the books to Paul and myself." The correct usage: "He gave the books to Paul and me."

– "Who" vs. "Whom." According to Lynch, "Many people know there's this word 'whom' out there, and they have a sense that it's associated with 'proper' usage. But they end up using it wrong, such as 'whom should I say is calling?' It should, in fact, be 'who should I say is calling?' because 'who' ... functions as a subject."

Those of us who might hypercorrect from time to time (and who doesn't?) can take heart. As Lynch observes, "Today's hypercorrection will probably become another generation's correct usage." So, hypercorrectors could just be ahead of the times.


Sources: Jack Lynch, Guide to Grammar and Style, April 7, 2007.
"Hypercorrection," Voice of America, voanews.com, March 11, 2004.



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