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Making a case for pronouns

Nouns are a constant in everyday speech, among the first words we learn: dog, cat, ball, baby.

Then we add pronouns, without which we could hardly speak: he, she, it, they, etc.

Nominative and objective cases are both important, but noun forms do not change with the case; rather, it is denoted by the noun’s place in the sentence. Pronouns do have distinct forms, and we can learn them by saying a doer (nominative) fits, ___ hit the ball ( he, she, I, they) and a receiver (objective) fits, The ball hit ___ (him, her, me, them).

Because of its form change, it is the pronoun that needs our concentration. The doer, “He and I speculated on the market.” If in doubt, try the pronoun in question by itself; you’d not likely say, “Him speculated …”

A pronoun equal to its subject, following a linking verb (is, are, was, were, am, be, being, been) is also nominative: "It was they who invited us;" "Though foggy, I’m pretty sure it was he out there."

Phrases like, "It’s me," or "That was him" are colloquial, but often acceptable. A careful speaker or writer, however, will use the nominative case in these constructions.

The object of a verb or preposition should be a pronoun that is a receiver of action: "A group of us boys rode horses;" "I asked Jerry and her to come." You wouldn’t say, “A group of we” or “I asked she.”

Some people hesitate in the use of "who." Who and whoever are the nominative case, subjects or their equal: "Who is speaking on the phone?" "The winner is whoever comes first."

The objective case (whom, whomever) receives action: "I know the one whom he has chosen." "The child will play with whomever he feels safe."

The case of the pronoun must not be affected by words that come between it and its antecedent. "Karen asked Dave who he thought would be elected" (omit “he thought”). "I winked at the girl whom no one knew we had invited" (omit “no one knew”).

The elliptical clause of comparison, preceded by “than” or “as,” requires the case that would follow: "You are taller than I (am)," or "I do not love him as much as she (does)."

Finally, it is I who hopes the readers, or at least most of them, will find this lesson helpful because it is they whom I strive to please.

— Sandi Ekberg taught high school English in Medford for 30 years, with a special interest in vocabulary, grammar and usage. If you have grammar questions you would like answered, email her at ifixgrammar@charter.net