A fresh example of a nominative object of a preposition, noticed by Wilson Gray in the NYT opinion blogs (“The Two Julias” by Candice Shy Hooper on the 14th):

Jule must have wondered at a world in which any other slave in the South but she could find freedom in General Grant’s camp.

Wilson tried to attribute this error to a computer glitch, finding it hard to credit in otherwise literate prose. But of course it’s an error of nervous cluelessness (as Mark Liberman and Geoff Pullum have labeled it on Language Log), a type of hypercorrection that depends on a confusion between grammatical categories — in this case, preposition but (which takes an accusative object) and conjunction but (which combines with a clause, with nominative subject).

The classic problematic cases are as, like, and than, where any number of usageists have maintained that they are *only* conjunctions, so that when they combine with an NP the construction *must be* elliptical; then only a nominative NP (representing the subject of a clause) can follow: I sat at the same table as he; a girl like I; others would do a better job than I. These could, in principle, be interpreted as elliptical, though the results fly in the face of the bulk of educated usage.

At the other end of the scale, there are uses that have no theoretical justification in ellipsis, but must represent contamination of ordinary pronoun case principles by the problematic ones:

My car has 45,000 miles i wanna know if anyone beside I had this situation? (link)

There was a girl in my class that everyone including I didn’t like. (link) [posting on this one here]

And now we get but added to this set, facilitated by the double function of but, as preposition (No one but him understood the proof) and conjunction (No one understood the proof, but he did).

One Response to “NomPrepObj”

  1. John Baker Says:

    Hypercorrection, or an inability to overcome the influence of the immediately following verb? James Thurber once wrote about the famous opening lines of Casabianca, which has a similar structure: “The boy stood on the burning deck Whence all but he had fled.” The poem has been widely reprinted in schoolbooks, but no one prior to Thurber seems to have remarked upon its questionable usage. Or, at least, so I gathered from Thurber.

    The problem is that “Whence all but him had fled” sounds odd, no doubt in part because “but” is more often a conjunction than a preposition. Thurber’s solution was to change the conjunction and rewrite it as “The boy stood on the burning deck Whence all save him had fled.”

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: