BigDog's Grammar

Pronouns

We've talked about pronouns with regard to reference and agreement: pronoun-antecedent. Here we need to cover a few odds and ends, and some of this stuff may really sound odd to you. But these are a few things you should know.

Subjects and objects

First let's look at case--that is, the difference between the subject and object forms of the pronouns. We know what subjects are, and objects are those words that come at the end of prepositional phrases (among other things). You probably already know the differences, but just in case, here's a list of the forms:

Subject

Object

I

me

you

you

he

him

she

her

it

it

we

us

they

them

The only thing you need to know is that these forms can't be switched around. If the word is a subject, it must be a subject form; if it's an object . . . well, you get the idea. Consider the following:

Some of you are probably thinking, "What's wrong with these?" In spoken English, you'll hear things like this every day. But in written English, you need to make sure your forms aren't mixed up. The correct versions are "Peggy and I" and "She and I," since the words are the subject of the sentence. Nothing in the object list can be a subject--ever! You wouldn't say, "Me barked" or "me fought"--unless you were trying out for a Tarzan movie.

The same goes for objects of prepositions. You can't use a subject form in a prepositional phrase.

"For I"? "After she"? These can't be right, since both are in the subject list; but, they're used as objects of the preposition. The correct versions are "for me" and "after her." You shouldn't have as much trouble with these because you don't hear them misused quite as often in this way. But watch out for "just between you and I." That phrase gets a lot of use--even though "I" can't be an object. It's "just between you and me"!

With "to be" verbs

Now we get to the stuff that will sound odd to you. Remember when we talked about "to be" verb forms? (If you need a quick review, click here for a refresher.) Any time a pronoun comes after one of these verbs, the subject form is required.

I told you this would sound funny--but it's correct! So, all these years you've been saying, "It's me" and "It's them," and you've been wrong. Right or wrong, I can't bring myself to say, "It is I." "It's me" sounds more natural. The best thing to do when you write yourself into a construction like this is to rethink and rewrite in a different way. (If anyone tells you otherwise, just say "it was I" who told you.)

With "than" or "as"

Another common pronoun mistake happens in sentences where you use "than" or "as" to compare people or things:

You want to use "me," "her," and "them," don't you? You could, but that wouldn't be right. The subject form of the pronoun always comes after "than" or "as." Why? There's an understood verb in the construction.

You can see why the object form won't work: "me am," "her is," and "them are" are just plain wrong! Even though you probably hear these kinds of sentences used incorrectly, when you're writing you can get them right if you remember that understood verb.

Relative pronouns: who, whom, whose, that, and which

In addition to renaming another word (like all pronouns), relative pronouns often introduce added details in your sentences. They can also be used to ask questions. Look at the following:

  1. Big Dog is the one who is a true grammar hound.
  2. Peggy is the dog whom everyone loves to pet.
  3. Whose ball is that?
  4. She is the one that I like.
  5. I want to know which dog trampled the flowers.

These won't cause you too much trouble most of the time. Just remember: when you write about people, use "who," "whom," and "whose." When you write about things, use "which." "That" can be used in either case.

You may, however, have trouble with who and whom. Who is a subject form, and whom is an object. Like the subject and object forms we talked about earlier, you can't switch these around. Let's take a closer look at two of the sentences you just read:

  1. Big Dog is the one who is a true grammar hound.
  2. Peggy is the dog whom everyone loves to pet.

In number 1, "who" is the subject of the relative clause; in number two, "whom" is the object. "Fine," you're thinking, "but how do I know when to use 'who' or 'whom?'" You've got a 50/50 chance of getting it right, but you can better the odds if you'll do the following when you find a sentence like one of those above:

  1. Mark the spot where "who" or "whom" should go.
  2. Look at the group of words to the right of that mark.
  3. Big Dog is the one _____is a true grammar hound.
    Peggy is the dog _____ everyone loves to pet.
  4. Since "who" or "whom" introduces a relative clause, there should be a subject and a verb in that group of words. (Remember clauses?)
  5. _____is a true grammar hound.
    _____everyone loves to pet.
  6. If there is no subject, "who" is the right choice. It is the subject form and becomes the subject of the clause.
  7. . . . who is a true grammar hound.
  8. If there is a subject, "whom" is the right choice. It is the object form.
  9. . . . whom everyone loves to pet.

Now that's not so hard, is it?

Reflexives

Reflexive pronouns are intensifiers that refer back to the doer of the action (the subject). You know the words: myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves.

We often say things like, I'll do it myself, "She'll fix it herself," etc. There's really no problem--except when you use a reflexive in place of a subject or object form. Never write (or say) something like, "Send it either to my secretary or myself." Keep that in mind, and you should be okay.

Pronouns are little words, but they're often troublesome. That's why we've spent so much time on them. But enough, already!

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