Submitted by katherine  •  June 14, 2004

He is lost, unlike me, who knows exactly where I’m going.

This is obviously wrong, but I can’t figure out how to fix it without rewording the whole thing. Can anyone help?

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How about, "Unlike me, he is lost, because I know exactly where I'm going, and he doesn't."?

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Try this on:

"He is lost, but I know exactly where I'm going."

Not enough emphasis on the difference? What about this:

"He is lost. I, however, know exactly where I'm going."

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Pronoun reference. The reader will find it difficult to figure out who the "who" in that sentence is referring to. We don't know who knows exactly where I'm going, him or "me".

R Helms' suggestion is also incorrect, because the "he doesn't" part at the end is a sentence fragment. A clearer sentence is "Unlike me, he is lost because I know exactly where I'm going, and he does not know where he is going."

However, the best versions are those that split this into two sentences, like those given by speedwell. Kudos!

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Lisa, thanks for the kudos. Appreciate it.

I'd like to add that the reason is not perfectly obvious why the "who" is ambiguous. You would never construct a sentence, "He is lost who knows exactly where I'm going."

But you might have a case like, "He is wise who knows exactly what I'm doing." (In other words, "If a man knows what I'm doing, he is wise.") If you then insert the "unlike me" so that you have "He is wise, unlike me, who knows exactly what I'm doing," the ambiguity is much more apparent.

I have to disagree with you on something else, though. "He doesn't" in the given example is not a sentence fragment for two simple reasons:

1) It is part of an existing sentence. Sentence fragments are made to look like sentences by the fact that they stand on their own with a period at the end. Sentence fragments look like this: This sort of thing. In a minute. Very good. Silly me.

2) Even if it did stand on its own, it would be a complete (though minimal) sentence, with a proper noun subject (He) and verb predicate (doesn't).

The sentence by R. Helms is perfectly functional, though not very attractive. Makes my head spin. There's nothing grammatically wrong with it, though.

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I said, "...with a proper noun subject (He) and verb predicate (doesn't)." What I meant was that the noun subject was a proper (suitable) one, not that "He" was a proper noun. Sloppy of me, sorry.

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Yeah, my first effort is not the prettiest sentence, although it does make grammatical sense. Thanks for pointing that out, btw.

I was going on the "I can't figure out how to fix it without rewording the whole thing" from the original sentence, but you're right, it did require more extensive surgery than I provided.

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Hmm. Well, I am a drastic surgeon where I think it preserves sense while increasing clarity. If you wanted to do the minimum violence possible to the sentence, you might just as well say:

"He is lost, unlike me; I know exactly where I'm going."

This still amounts to two complete sentences joined by a semicolon. But it's the least I can do to it to make it work.

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Fair point.

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One problem is that it is unclear what the final clause is connected to. You can parse the sentence in one of two ways:

"He is lost (unlike me) who knows exactly where I am going."

"He is lost (unlike me, who knows exactly where I am going)."

To determine best how your sentence can be improved, it often helps to narrow down the problem. Consider this sentence:

"Consider me, who knows where I'm going."

. . . and work from there.

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"He is lost, unlike myself; I know exactly where I'm going."

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Myself is not lost.

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Why not just "Unlike me, who knows exactly where I'm going, he's lost."...hope that helps! :)

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How about this?

I know where I'm going, but he doesn't.

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That sounds better, but it leaves an ambiguity:

(more obvious) "I know where I'm going, but he doesn't (know where I'm going)."

(less obvious) "I know where I'm going, but he doesn't (know where he's going)."

The latter seems like the more likely choice, but it requires the less obvious parsing.

Such an ambiguity is unforgivable, except in poetry.

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The problem here is that, in English, when people say (subject) who (verb), they tend to want to put the verb in the third person, even if the subject is in the second or third person.

Thus, 'He is lost, unlike me, who *knows* exactly where I'm going.' is wrong, because you have put 'know' into the third person.

It is correct, though, to say 'He is lost, unlike me, who know exactly where I'm going.' As you evidently feel, though, this is rather awkward phrasing, albeit grammatically correct.

I who am - <-- keep this in mind and you won't make many mistakes.
There is some contention over certain phrases using who (verb), but 'I who is' is wrong whichever country you come from.

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