It blew and it rained, thundered, lightened, and hailed
Interjections, verbs, pronouns, till language quite failed
William Allen Butler1
Let's hope that when Miss Flora poured out her rage on her despairing fiancé that she used the correct pronouns. Sometimes when we speak English--especially in moments of extreme emotion, as in Miss Flora's case when she had a ball to attend and only a hundred gowns from which to choose--we tend to forget some of the basic rules for pronoun usage, such as use singular pronouns with singular nouns or use subject pronouns for the subject of a sentence or make sure that every pronoun has a referent or antecedent. Unlike with Miss Flora who had too many ball gowns from which to choose and no rules to follow in making a choice, we have only a few choices and good rules to follow.
To begin our few simple rules, we'll look at what we call the simple pronouns and the three cases into which the pronouns fall:
|3rd person||he, she, it, who, whoever||they|
|3rd person||him, her, it, whom, whomever||them|
|1st person||my, mine||ours|
|2nd person||your, yours||your, yours|
|3rd person||his, her, hers, its, whose||their, theirs|
|3rd person||himself, herself, itself||themselves|
Explanation: The cases are used depending upon the pronoun's role in the sentence:
The subjective case is used as the subject of a verb or as a subjective complement.
Subject of a verb: The soldiers and they were interrogated over who gave the information to the press.
Subjective complement: The enemy were they that had not voted in the last election.
Explanation: A subjective complement occurs when the noun following the linking verb, such as be, become, or seem, renames or describes the subject. Thus, they is the same group as the enemy.
The objective case is used as the direct object or the indirect object of the verb or the object of a preposition.
Direct object: The producer and director fired the actors and him for not being at the theater on time.
Indirect object: My mother gave my sister, brother, and me proper discipline when we were growing up.
Object of the preposition: The arrows rained down on the villagers for whom the punishment was intended.
1. Use the correct pronoun case following and in a compound or serial construction. Do not automatically assume that the correct pronoun is the subject pronoun, particularly when you are using the first person singular pronoun. A good method of determining which pronoun to use is to omit the other part or parts of the compound or series and use the pronoun alone.
Ex. A: Catherine saw that the professor knew Susan and me from our escapades at the football game.
Explanation: The first person pronoun is the direct object of the verb knew. If you eliminated Susan and from the sentence, using I clearly would sound wrong.
Ex. B: Between you and me, there is no difference between breaking and entering and manipulating pension funds to increase CEO salaries.
Explanation: The first person pronoun is the object of the preposition between and, thus, needs to be in the objective case. If you eliminated you and from the sentence, using I clearly would sound wrong.
2. Use the correct pronoun case following comparisons using than or as. If the comparison ends with a pronoun, you may need to complete the comparison to determine which pronoun case to use.
Ex. A: No one has more money than he.
Explanation: Completing the comparison would produce he does, thus indicating that the pronoun is the subject of a verb and requires a subjective case.
Ex. B: He did not do well in raising his sons to be kings because Charles I spent more time on his mistress than them.
Explanation: Completing the comparison would produce than he spent on them. Since them is the object of the preposition on, the objective case is required.
Ex. C: The new President was as tired as I.
Explanation: Completing the comparison would produce I was, thus indicating that the pronoun is the subject of a verb and requires a subjective case.
3. Use the correct form of who or whom (whoever, whomever). The correct case is determined by their function in their own clause since who or whom (whoever, whomever) are often used in dependent clauses.
Ex. A: The prize went to whoever had the most garbage at the completion of the Earth Day cleanup.
Explanation: Whoever is not the object of the preposition to, but it is the subject of the verb had in the noun clause to whoever had the most garbage at the completion of the Earth Day cleanup. Therefore the subject case is required.
Ex. B: To whom it may concern: Please shut off the lights when leaving the room!
Explanation: Whom is the direct object of the verb may concern; thus, the objective form is required.
1Butler, William Allen. "Nothing To Wear." Harper's Weekly 7 Feb. 1857: 84. Strangers To Us All: Lawyers and Poetry. 2001. James R. Elkins. 26 Apr. 2005 <http://www.assumption.edu/whw/workshop/NothingToWear.html>.
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