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Coca-Cola must correct this error

Sun, 27 Apr 2014 Source: Pacas, Idris

The advertising media play a very crucial role by informing potential consumers of a given product or innovations added to an existing product. In doing so, businesses appear to focus exclusively on conveying the message whatever the means. And in most cases, basic grammatical rules are ignored rendering some of the ad ridiculous. The latter is the case of Coca-Cola. The said ad of Coca-Cola reads like this: Who will you share a Coke with?

I guess you might have seen the aforementioned ad displayed at several points in Accra, but I spotted it on the footbridge at New Achimota Market. Visibly, I developed goosebumps instantly. But the goosebumps soon disappeared when I alighted from the car to reread the ad several times. The ‘error’ in the sentence is with the first word: it is supposed to be ‘whom’. And the sentence would then read like this: Whom will you share a Coke with?

To analyze the suspected grammatical problem, I implore readers to drop their challenging minds, imbibe my arguments and thereafter digest the two and then pass comments or mail me. Remember that English has strict rules that must be followed to speak or to write it impeccably. In grammar, however, there is no Atugiba whose ruling is final. All that grammarians do is to advise and keeping your mind open is the best way out.

The question is ‘Why is the word ‘who’ wrong at the position?’ To answer the question, first we determine the part of speech to which the word belongs: it is a pronoun. The relevant present or previous knowledge (RPK) required here is the grammatical case—whether the pronoun is a subject of verb or it is the object of a verb/preposition.

In sentences, however, nouns are not declined to reflect case but pronouns must. To decline a pronoun or an adjective is write it in a different form to show its grammatical role in the sentence. Thus, in Sentences 1 below, Kofi, the subject, remains the same in Sentence 2 where Kofi is the object. In Sentence 3, Kofi is replaced with a pronoun. Notice what the pronoun turned into in Sentence 4 where Kofi is the object of a verb.

1. Kofi beats Ama. 3. He beats Ama.

2. Ama beats Kofi. 4. Ama beats him.

Insert the subject pronoun, he, in Sentence 4 and read it. You’ll experience an online ‘eclipse-quake’. The bottomline then is we have subject pronouns and object pronouns.

Maybe , the simplest example would read like this: ‘Between you and me, it is a secret’.

Notice that the object pronoun ‘me’ cannot be replaced with the subject pronoun, I. the reason is that ‘you’ and ‘me’ are both objects of the preposition ‘between’. Remember that the pro/noun after a preposition is the object of the preposition. A reminder is that ‘who’ is the subject pronoun but ‘whom’ is the object pronoun.

Fully equipped with the required RPK, we’ll now deal with the problem. I’ll use arguments from three grammar authorities—Oxford English Dictionary (OED), Prof Michael Strumpf, and Strunk and White. OED (7th Ed) argues that ‘whom’ is more formal than ‘who’. This proposition implies that in less format context, ‘who’ can be used for ‘whom’. In his book, the Complete Grammar, Michael Strumpf argued vehemently that any usage that replaces ‘whom’ with ‘who’ is an indefensible grammatical error. Stunk and White in their most influential grammar book ‘Elements of Style’ argued thus. (Notice that the letter ‘h’ is silent in vehement, vehicle and annihilate. A silent letter is one which is not pronounced, e.g. the ‘b’ in doubt and debt.)

In addition, Strunk and White stated clearly that we should not use any expression or word simply because it is in the dictionary. In the dictionary, the lexicographers are simply expressing their own opinions of the language. For this reason, different dictionaries often give different definitions to the same words. A good example is the word tare (wrongly pronounced by most science teachers. Look it up. To tare a balance is to zero it after placing a weighing dish or any container on it). Strunk and White made it clear that every verb in a sentence must have a subject whether implied or clearly stated.

Combining all these, we begin to digest the Coca-Cola ad. The ad contains a question which can be reworded. (Compare: What is your name? & Your name is what?).

Rewording the Coca-Cola ad, we get this sentence: you will share a Coke with who?

The problem then becomes obvious: that ‘who’ is grammatically the object of the preposition ‘with’. And being the object, the subject form ‘who’ must be declined into ‘whom’ to fit its grammatical role. Therefore, the corrected ad would be this: Whom will you share a Coke with?

To appreciate this correctness the more, you need to reunite the preposition with its object. In other words, never strand a preposition. A stranded preposition is one which is separated from its object. When you strand prepositions, the untrained mind (learner) finds it difficult to see the link between the preposition and its object. Example: Who is this letter addressed to?

The sentence above is likely to be considered correct by many because they will misjudge ‘who’ as the subject of the verb ‘is addressed’. The correct subject is the word ‘letter’. This error will occur because the preposition ‘to’ is stranded from its object. Rearranging the sentence can help: This letter is addressed to who? The problem magnifies again because the word ‘who’ sounds unnatural at that position. Better still, reuniting the proposition and its object, we get this: To who is this letter addressed?

Because the sentence above also sounds unnatural, we decline the subjective pronoun accordingly: To whom is this letter addressed? Compare: This letter is addressed to whom?

Naturally, questions begin with interrogative pronouns and hence the need to send ‘who’ to the beginning. The above sentence may be reworded like this: Whom is this letter addressed to?

If you really appreciate this analysis, thank a teacher. And if you’re a teacher, consider yourself a practising teacher.

But are advertisers interested in our grammar? A beautiful example comes from the ‘like’ and ‘as’ problem which occurred as far back as 1954. Winston cigarettes introduced the slogan "Winston tastes good—like a cigarette should." The slogan was criticized for using ‘like’ as a conjunction. The critics argued that ‘as’, a conjunction, is the more appropriate option in which the case the ad would read: "Winston tastes good — as a cigarette should."

The cigarette smokers reacted swiftly by demanding from the grammarians whether they (the smokers) are interested in good taste or in good grammar. Obviously, smokers want good tasting cigarette and tobacco companies want smokers to get good taste, buy more cigarette and they (the companies) will get more money. Similarly, Coca-Cola might only be interested in our buying and sharing of Coke with family and friends to give it more profits. However, we (teachers) will appreciate it if they (the advertisers) don’t multiply our classroom efforts by zero.

Long live teachers! Long live Kwame Nkrumah’s Ghana

Idris Pacas: 020 91 01 53 3

Columnist: Pacas, Idris