Really Easy Grammer – No. 37: Pronouns Used to Sound Right

Does the correct choice of her/she bar you from being a good writer? Well, we’re going to break the her/she bar and give you a sound method of using these and other pronouns accurately. Of all the little words in the language, none causes as many problems as the simple pronoun. The next paragraph is what you need to remember if you want to know the rules of usage you have to follow for correct use of pronouns. However, you can skip right over it if you’re of a mind, and you’ll still find out how to use the right word where.

Still reading? OK, here’s the basics: pronouns have two forms: subjective and objective. The subjective pronoun is the person or thing that’s doing whatever is being done. The objective pronoun is the one you use when you’re showing who or what is receiving the action or being done to. With me so far? Good. Let’s use she and her as the examples (but it can as easily be they and them or I and me). She is called the subjective form because it’s used as the subject of a verb. In “She dropped the book,” she is the form to use because it’s the subject of the verb droppedShe is the one who dropped it. In “She jumped a foot,” the subjective pronoun she is used because she did the jumping. The objective form of the pronoun is her. It’s used when the thing you writing about is the object of a verb or a preposition–the thing being done to. In “The frog jumped on her,” her is the object of the preposition onHer is what got jumped on.

Had enough?

Let’s try it my way. We’ll use good sense. In this case, the good sense we’re going to use is hearing. Instead of worrying about grammar rules, you go with what sounds right. The simple test is to read the sentence out loud and switch between the two pronouns. Say “Her dropped the book” and then say “She dropped the book.” Which one sounds right? “Her dropped the book” isn’t the form we see in good writing, and it’s not the form we hear most people use. So, it’s the wrong pronoun. “She dropped the book” just sounds right. And it is. What about “The frog jumped on she?” Doesn’t sound right, and it’s not right. Just listen to “Bob saw I, but me didn’t see he” or “John gave a wedgy to he” and “We kept the light on for she.” They just don’t sound right.

So, why all the pronoun trouble, as Daffy Duck would say? Mostly because of two other ways they’re used. (Here’s some more rules, but hang for a minute.) When you use a verb where there’s no action (called a being verb) such as is or are, there isn’t an object because nothing is being done to anything. Whatever’s on one side of the verb is identical to what’s on the other side. So, to be grammatically correct, we write “He is he” and “I yam what I yam.” The subjective form is used on both sides of the verb. But wait! I said “we write.” Most of the time, when we’re talking, we don’t stick to the rules. If someone asks you “Who’s there?” you probably wouldn’t say “It’s I” even though that’s technically correct, because “It’s me” and “It’s her” are perfectly acceptable in casual, spoken English. But, we’re talking about written language, so we’ll stick to the “correct” usage. But wait, you say, it’s not using pronouns in those situations that usually gives me trouble. And that’s true of most people. The most frequent misuse of pronouns involves using them in multiples or in combination with nouns. When it’s “He went next” or “Ruth looked after her”, there’s seldom a problem. They just sound right. But when there are combinations like She and IAlice and me, or Charlie, Dave, and him, it gets a little harder to tell.

Fortunately, the same, simple test applies to check whether it’s “Sue and I went to the game” or “Sue and me went to the game.” In this case, all you need to do is drop Sue (Sorry, Sue). If you wouldn’t say “Me went to the game,” then you know it should be because it sounds right. The same test works when it’s a choice between “They gave the reward to Chuck, Owen, and me”or “They gave the reward to Chuck, Owen, and I.” Without Chuck and Owen in the picture, you wouldn’t say “They gave the reward to I,” so, you know it’s me because it sounds right. (And you don’t have to share the reward with Chuck and Owen) Same with Bob, Larry, and he/him. The rules say that if they’re the subjects of the verb, it’s he. If they’re objects, it’s him. Our test is that it just has to sound right. You can apply this test with they/them and we/us because if it’s wrong, it will sound wrong. The urge some writers have to make their texts more high tone by writing sentences like “The Academy recognized he and I for our outstanding work” shows they don’t have a sound knowledge of how to use pronouns. When you apply the simple sound test, the error becomes obvious. Just remember, in all cases, I always liked her, but Me never liked she. cheff

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