© 2006, 2000 Margaret L. Benner All rights reserved.
Before you can begin to study pronoun case, you must first know what a pronoun is and what the personal pronouns are.
A pronoun is a word that substitutes for a noun.
If we reverse the original sentence, it reads:
The nouns’ positions have been reversed, but the forms stay the same.
Note what happens, however, if we substitute pronouns for the nouns.
The original pronouns used for the first example (Joe loves Martha. and He loves her.) CANNOT be used for Martha loves Joe.
Correct pronoun case requires different forms of personal pronouns for different jobs in sentences.
The personal pronouns have 3 cases:
SUBJECTIVE OBJECTIVE POSSESSIVE
Corresponding forms are given below.
You should study these pronouns and know which ones belong to which case.
Usually, using correct pronoun case is perfectly natural.
Now that you understand that pronoun case means using correct personal pronoun forms, the rest of the unit will focus on some “tricky” pronoun case situations and show you some helpful hints for correct pronoun case in these situations.
Personal Pronouns as Subjects
It is rather simple to use the correct subject pronoun under simple subject circumstances.
Sometimes, however, a sentence may have a compound subject.
A compound subject occurs when there are two or more subjects joined by and, but, or or.
In such an instance, you may wish to substitute a pronoun for one or more of the noun subjects. BE CERTAIN TO USE SUBJECTIVE PRONOUNS ONLY!
Do not fall into the trap of using objective case pronouns when subject pronouns are needed.
Even though you sometimes hear differently, a subjective pronoun is needed to substitute for a subject noun.
HELPFUL HINT: If you are at all confused about which case to use, try this: cover the rest of the subject EXCEPT for that part you want to change to a pronoun. Then see which pronoun case sounds correct.
Thus, she is the correct pronoun to use in place of Mary.
PERSONAL PRONOUNS WITH NOUN SUBJECTS
You must also remember to use subjective case pronouns when a pronoun is used along with a noun subject.
It is incorrect in this instance to use us, the objective pronoun.
Again, as with compound subjects, you can simply cover up the rest of the subject to see which pronoun sounds correct.
Notice how utterly incorrect the following sounds.
ONE FINAL NOTE about pronouns used as subjects: Do NOT use the “self” pronouns (myself, yourself, herself, etc.) as subjects.
To avoid making this mistake, again block out the rest of the subject and see how the pronoun sounds by itself.
In this instance, the correct pronoun to use is I.
The “self” pronouns, called reflexive / intensive pronouns, can be used ONLY to reflect back to the subject or to intensify the subject. In other words, they must follow a subject that means to the same as they do.
Personal Pronouns as Subjective Complements
Finally, you must use a subjective case pronoun when the pronoun functions as a subjective complement.
What is a subjective complement?
A subjective complement answers the question who or what after a form of the verb to be. A subjective complement completes the subject.
Or, in other words, a subjective complement means the same as the subject but follows the verb.
Doctor means the same as the subject here – it completes the subject.
Because the subjective complement is the same as the subject, you should use a subject pronoun.
Imagine that you have been asked to pick a suspect out of a police line-up. Recognizing the man who robbed you, you point to him and say,
To see if this sentence has a subjective complement, ask yourself, “The third man is who or what?” The answer is robber.
Therefore, “robber” is the subjective complement.
You may, however, want to use a personal pronoun in place of “robber.”
Use a subjective case pronoun.
Do NOT say
Subjective Case Pronouns – Brief Review
The subject pronouns are I, we, you, he, she, it, they.
Link to Exercise 1
The next 3 sections will consider when to use the objective case pronouns.
Personal Pronouns as Direct Objects
Like the subjective complement, the direct object answers “whom” or “what” after the verb. Unlike the subjective complement, however, the direct object follows an action verb (not a verb of being) and receives the action. A direct object does NOT complete the subject or equal the subject.
Rule: Determine the direct object by asking whom or what after the action verb in a sentence.
Perhaps you may wish to substitute a pronoun for the direct object, Martha.
Simply choose the appropriate (sex and number) object pronoun.
Sometimes a sentence may have a compound direct object (2 objects joined by and, but, or or).
You may wish to change one of the noun direct objects to a pronoun.
To do this, follow the same procedure you did with the compound subject situation:
Block out the part of the compound object you do NOT wish to change and choose the pronoun that sounds correct for the remaining direct object.
Thus, her is the correct pronoun to use in place of Jane.
As with subject situations, remember to use an objective case pronoun when a pronoun is used along with a noun direct object.
It is incorrect in this instance to use we, the subjective pronoun.
Here again, as with compound direct objects, if you are at all confused, simply blank out the noun part of the direct object and see which pronoun sounds correct.
Therefore, the correct sentence is
Finally, do not use a reflexive / intensive pronoun as direct object (myself, yourself, herself, himself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves) UNLESS there is a personal pronoun or noun preceding it that it can intensify or refer back to.
Remember: Use a reflexive / intensive pronoun only when you see a noun or pronoun coming before it that it will refer back to (for example, me myself; Jack himself; them themselves).
Link to Exercise 2
Personal Pronouns Used As Indirect Objects
A sentence with a direct object may also have an indirect object.
An indirect object is a noun or pronoun that answers the question to whom or to what OR for whom or for what after an action verb. It always sits between the verb and the direct object.
NOTE: The word to or for is understood with an indirect object - not stated.
Question: Mary gave a present
Therefore, Joe is the indirect object in this sentence.
Question: Joe gave a party for whom?
Therefore, Mary is the indirect object in this sentence.
Determine the indirect object by asking to whom/what or for whom/what after the action verb in a sentence.
RULE: A sentence with an indirect object will ALWAYS have a direct object as well.
To substitute a pronoun for the indirect object, Mary, in the 2nd example, simply choose the appropriate objective pronoun.
However, sometimes a sentence may have a compound indirect object (two or more indirect objects joined by and, but, or or).
To change one of the indirect object nouns to a pronoun, use the same guidelines you used for compound subjects and compound direct objects: block out the part of the indirect object you do NOT wish to change and choose the pronoun that sounds correct for the remaining indirect object.
Thus, him is the correct pronoun to use in place of Harold.
You must also remember to use an objective case pronoun when a pronoun is used along with a noun indirect object.
If you are confused about which pronoun to choose, block out the rest of the indirect object to see which pronoun sounds correct.
Thus, the correct sentence is
Link to Exercise 3
Personal Pronouns as Objects of Prepositions
A sentence containing a preposition will automatically contain an object for that preposition.
An object of a preposition is a noun or pronoun following a preposition that answers whom or what after the preposition.
Look over this list of the most frequently used prepositions.
Make yourself familiar with them!
RULE: Prepositions ALWAYS begin prepositional phrases.
Each prepositional phrase contains a noun object of the preposition (o.p.).
Look at this prepositional phrase.
To determine the o.p., ask whom or what after the preposition.
Usually, it is not difficult to choose the correct objective pronoun.
Sometimes, however, a preposition may have more than one object: a compound object (two objects of a preposition joined by and, but, or or).
In this example, both nouns – woman and man – are objects of the preposition near. Joined by and, they are compound objects of the preposition.
To change one prepositional object to a pronoun, follow the same procedure you did with other compound elements in this unit:
1. Block out the noun o.p. you do not wish to change to a pronoun.
2. Choose the pronoun that sounds correct for the remaining o.p. --- the one you wish to change to a pronoun.
To change both objects (man and woman), simply follow the same procedure with that man.
**NOTE CAREFULLY: When followed by compound pronoun objects, the preposition between offers special problems.
Sometimes you will hear between INCORRECTLY followed by one or more subjective pronouns.
The pronoun I is incorrect here. Why?
I is incorrect because it is a subject pronoun being used in an object situation: object of the preposition between.
Do not let between fool you. Always use objective case pronouns as objects of between – or any other preposition.
Me is an objective case pronoun; therefore, it is the correct one to use as the object of the preposition between.
Here are more examples using between.
Although at first the correct choice may not “sound” right, always choose the objective form pronoun to act as an object of a preposition (o.p.) after the preposition between.
As with subjects, direct objects, and indirect objects, sometimes a pronoun may be used next to a noun object of a preposition (but not as compound).
If you are confused about which pronoun to choose next to an object of the preposition, block out the rest of the object of the preposition and see which pronoun sounds correct.
NOTE: Finally, the "self" pronouns can be used as objects of prepositions ONLY when they clearly refer back to a noun or pronoun preceding them.
In this sentence, himself refers back to baby and is, therefore, correct.
Link to Exercise 4
Now that you have learned about the major subject / object positions in sentences and the correct pronoun case to use in each, you are ready to consider a few more instances which require special attention.
Correct Use of Who and Whom
Choosing between who or whom is often confusing.
Here are some “tricks” to help you know whether to use who or whom.
Like he, they, etc., who is a subject pronoun (subjective case).
Therefore, who should be used whenever it will do the job of subject or subject complement in a sentence.
Try using a subject pronoun like he in place of who.
If the substituting sounds all right, then use the subjective form who.
Whom, on the other hand, is an object pronoun (objective case). Therefore, it should be used whenever it will do the job of direct object, indirect object, or object of preposition.
Try using an object pronoun like him in place of whom.
Helpful Hint: Try substituting he for who and him for whom when you are determining which word is the correct one to use.
Sometimes, however, sentences can be more complicated than the examples given so far:
Which is correct – who or whom?
In such an instance, you must see the sentence as two distinct parts and determine how who / whom is functioning in its own distinct section of the sentence.
“________ took the flowers.”
Since who / whom took the flowers needs a subject, then the subject pronoun – who – is the correct one to use.
The sentence reads correctly as
Here is another example of a sentence with two distinct parts. Choose who or whom depending on how it is functioning in its own distinct section.
The clause who / whom I want to win already has a subject: I.
A closer look inside the clause shows that it really means I want who / whom to win.
Thus, who / whom will function as a direct object answering the question whom or what after the verb want.
Therefore, the choice should be the object form. Test your choice with the objective case pronoun him.
Thus, the sentence reads correctly as
1. If you can substitute he, use who . . . the subject pronoun.
2. If you can substitute him, use whom . . . the object pronoun.
3. Determine the correct choice by deciding how the pronoun (who / whom) is being used in its own clause.
Link to Exercise 5
Often we compare one thing, quality, or person to another by using either than or as . . . as to form the comparison. When we are using nouns in the comparison, there is no need to worry about choosing a “correct” noun.
The difficulty arises when a pronoun is substituted for the noun coming after the comparison. You must choose between subjective and objective forms.
Here is a helpful hint to aid you in choosing correct pronoun form.
To choose the correct pronoun for Martha, simply carry out the sentence to its logical conclusion.
In both instances, the correct pronoun can be determined by “completing” the idea of the sentence. In the examples above, a subject pronoun (she) is the correct one.
However, at other times, an object pronoun will be correct.
As shown in these four examples using comparisons, choose the pronoun that fits the intended meaning of the sentence.
Link to Exercise 6
Pronouns with verbals
Finally, you must choose the correct pronoun case when you use pronouns with verbals.
A verbal is a verb form doing the job of a noun or adjective.
There are two kinds of verbals used with pronouns – gerunds and participles.
#1 GERUND – Gerunds end in –ing and act like nouns.
When nouns or pronouns precede gerunds in sentences, USE THE POSSESSIVE CASE.
Sometimes sentences can be more complicated.
It would be WRONG to use the subjective or objective pronoun form.
RULE: When a personal pronoun precedes a gerund, use POSSESSIVE case.
Sometimes, however, an –ing verbal will not require a possessive pronoun. Not all –ing verbals are gerunds.
In this example, the direct object is them. Eating is functioning as an adjective, not a noun. Therefore, eating is not a gerund.
An –ing verbal that acts like an adjective (i.e., it modifies a noun or pronoun) is called a participle.
Link to Exercise 7
Link to the Post Test