Old Obsessions

Sometimes it’s hard to let go. For a few years after I stopped teaching English, I kept a section of this site dedicated to writing-related topics. Somehow, people from all over the world found what I had written and started emailing me, asking questions about grammar or punctuation or usage. At first I welcomed the attention and spent a lot of time and thought into responses, some of which I would publish on the blog. After a while, though, the steady stream of emails overwhelmed me, piling up in my inbox like National Geographic magazines in an old hoarder’s basement. And whenever I did answer one on the blog, I found myself having to field a flood of comments from people asking a slightly altered version of the same question. It was all a bit too much, so I shut the whole thing down.

Old Phone
It has been over ten years since my last post in the Writing section (other than the one to officially call it quits), but I still get a grammar question every once in a while from someone who wandered into the English Rules ghost town. Most recently, someone asked for the correct form of the following sentence:

What should I do when me or my direct report goes on vacation or extended leave?

She didn’t really need my help after all, because she correctly suggested that it should be written as follows:

What should I do when my direct report or I go on vacation or extended leave?

When I find myself writing something like the first version of this sentence, the first thing I do is try to be courteous and place others before myself. So, I immediately change “me or my direct report” to “my direct report or me.” Then I apply a simple test by temporarily dropping the others from the sentence to see if it sounds right, like so:

What should I do when me goes on vacation or extended leave?

Now it’s obvious that “me” is incorrect, and a quick check on “when I go…” confirms it as the correct choice. Changing “me” to “I” requires a correspond change of verb form to “go,” which leaves us with the correct version of the sentence:

What should I do when my direct report or I go on vacation or extended leave?

If I recall correctly, the general rule of thumb to get a compound subject joined by “or” to agree with the predicate is to match the noun that is closer to the verb (“I go…”).

As it turns out, I answered a similar question back in 2005, but it’s fun to wade back into past obsessions from time to time.

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Take a Stanza — The Windhover

When I first read this poem back in college, I loved it so much that I committed it to memory. It’s funny to think I had time to do things like that back then. And I’m glad I did, because … Continue reading 

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A few years ago while spelunking in my mother’s basement, looking for long-forgotten family treasure, I came across a stack of photocopied newspaper articles from the 1980s fastened together by a rusty paperclip. The articles, both fascinating and horrifying, reported … Continue reading 

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Augmented Audio: Living with In-Ear Technology

As I headed out to the gym the other day, with my progressive-lens glasses, high-tech crutches, and stormtrooper stabilizing boot, it occurred to me that I looked a little like a cyborg—which got me thinking about my friend Sara Hendren … Continue reading 

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Little Red Riding Hoods

Last week I went with some friends to an improv show. For one of the segments, the improv group had to act out a fairy tale suggested by a member of the audience—Little Red Riding Hood—in increasingly shorter time spans. … Continue reading 

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Grand River, Then and Now

Two years ago Grand Rapids, Michigan, experienced its worst flooding in over 100 years. The Grand River, which runs alongside the downtown business district, swelled to dangerous levels, flooding nearby offices, submerging some homes up to their roof lines, and … Continue reading 

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One win, one loss

Last year around this time I wrote about two new year’s resolutions that I was going to try to keep: to read at least six books and to write at least six blog entries.

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If you’ve ever had a twitching eyelid, you know how annoying it can be. If it continues to flutter for many days or weeks, you know it can get downright frustrating. Imagine what it would be like to have your … Continue reading 

Posted in miscellany | 3 Comments


This word — resolute — doesn’t show up as much in my reading as its verb and noun counterparts, resolve and resolution. It seems a little too formal for most writing occasions. Yet there’s something about it that I like. … Continue reading 

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One day several years ago when I was suffering from depression and anxiety, I came home from work to find a small piece of plywood with a simple painting on it, done in the style of a local artist. Across … Continue reading 

Posted in friends and neighbors | 6 Comments