Pronouns

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Pronouns

Personal | Relative | Agreement | Reference

Personal Pronouns
A pronoun is a word that substitutes for a noun. Personal pronouns change case (form) according to their grammatical function in a sentence:

  • subjects appear in the subjective case
  • objects appear in the objective case
  • pronouns showing ownership appear in the possessive case
  Subjective Objective Possessive (Case)
Singular I me my
you you your
he/she/it him/her/it his/her/its
 
Plural
we us our
you you your
they them their

Use the form of the pronoun that matches its function in the sentence. Ordinarily you can "hear" the correct pronoun, but complications arise when the pronoun is contained in a compound word group.

WHICH IS CORRECT? Joel ran away from home because his stepfather and he/him had quarreled.

His stepfather and he is the subject of the verb had quarreled. If you strip away the extra words, the correct pronoun becomes clear: he had quarreled (not him had quar reled).

WHICH IS CORRECT? If we/us two have the entire evening to study, our grades should improve.

We is the subject of the verb have. If you strip away the extra word, you can hear the correct pronoun: we have (not us have).

WHICH IS CORRECT? Janice was angry when she realized the clerk was insulting her mother and she/her.

Her mother and her is the direct object of the verb was insulting. Strip away the words her mother and to hear the correct pronoun: . . . the clerk was insulting her (not was insulting she).


WHICH IS CORRECT? Geoffrey went with my family and I/me to King's Dominion.

My family and me is the direct object of the preposition with. Strip away my family to hear the correct pronoun: Geoffrey went with me (not Geoffrey went with I).

WHICH IS CORRECT? My mother is writing a story about he/him and I/me.

Him and me is the object of the preposition about. Use the pronouns one at a time to hear the correct pronoun: My mother is writing a story about me (not about I).

WHICH IS CORRECT? Meg is older than I/me.

If you add the silent verb, you will hear the correct pronoun: Meg is older than I [am] (not Meg is older than me [am]).

 


Relative Pronouns
Relative pronouns also change according to their grammatical function in a sentence:

  • subjects appear in the subjective case,
  • objects appear in the objective case; and
  • pronouns showing ownership appear in the possessive case.
Subjective Objective Possive (Case)
who whom whose
whoever whomever  
which, that, what which, that, what

In writing, it is important to distinguish between who (subjective) and whom (objective). One way to remember that whom is the object form is to remember that it ends with an m, as do oth er objective case pronouns: him and them.

SAMPLE EXERCISES: If you are having trouble "hearing" the correct case, rephrase the who/whom clause as a question (or if the sentence is already a question, rephrase it as a sentence), using a personal pronoun for the missing information. You will hear which case is correct.

WHICH IS CORRECT? Paul is a student who/whom studies hard.

Who is the subject of the verb studies. Test: Who studies hard? He studies hard (not him studies hard).

WHICH IS CORRECT? Who/whom left the front door open?

Who is the subject of the verb left. Test: Who (he/she/they) left the front door open (not him/her/them left the front door open).

WHICH IS CORRECT? The new neighbor was not who/whom she expected.

Whom is the direct object of the verb expected. Test: She expected whom? She expected him/her/them.

WHICH IS CORRECT? Who/whom should we invite to the party?

Whom is the direct object of the verb invite. Test: We should invite him/her/them to the party.

WHICH IS CORRECT? To who/whom did they give the award?

Whom is the object of the preposition to. Test: They gave the award to him/her/them.

WHICH IS CORRECT? Whoever/whomever leads them to victory will be the hero.

Whoever is the subject of the verb leads. Test: Who leads them to victory? He/she/they leads them to victory.

 


AGREEMENT AND REFERENCE

Pronoun Agreement
Pronouns must agree with their antecedents (the noun to which pronouns refer). Singular pronouns are used with singular antecedents, and plural pronouns are used with plural antecedents.

Professor Jones finished his lecture. (Singular antecedent, singular pronoun)

The students wrote feverishly on their essays. (Plural antecedent, plural pronoun)

COMPLICATION--Compound Antecedents: Compound antecedents are nouns joined by conjunctions. Use plural pronouns with compound antecedents joined by and.

Anna and Justin wrote feverishly on their essays. (Plural antecedent, plural pronoun)

The faculty and the students gave their opening remarks. (Plural antecedent, plural pronoun)

With compound antecedents joined by or, nor, either...or, neither...nor), use pronouns that agree with the nearest antecedent.

Either Michael or Jason should receive an award for his speech. (Singular compound antecedent nearest, singular pronoun)

Neither Justin nor his classmates could finish their mid-terms in time. (Plural compound antecedent nearest, plural pronoun)

COMPLICATION--Indefinite Pronouns: Sometimes antecedents may themselves be pronouns. Use singular pronouns to refer to these singular indefinite pronouns--pronouns that refer to nonspecific people or things.

"One" words: one anyone everyone no one someone
"Body" words: anybody everybody nobody somebody  
"Thing" words: everything something      
Others: any each either neither none

NO: When someone has been drinking, they are likely to drive recklessly. (Singular antecedent, plural pronoun)

YES: When someone has been drinking, he or she is likely to drive recklessly. (Singular antecedent, singular pronouns)

YES: When drivers have been drinking, they are likely to drive recklessly. (Plural antecedent, plural pronoun)

COMPLICATION--Generic and Collective Nouns: A generic noun is a noun that refers to the typical member of a group. Use a singular pronoun with generic noun antecedents. A collective noun refers to a group that functions as a unit. Use a singular pr onoun with collective nouns (unless the group is functioning as individuals).

NO: Every student must study daily if they want to excel. (Singular generic noun antecedent, plural pronoun)

YES: Every student must study daily if he or she wants to excel. (Singular generic noun antecedent, singular pronouns)

YES: Students must study daily if they want to excel. (Plural non-generic antecedent, plural pronoun)

NO: The Academic Excellence Committee granted their permission to bestow the award. (Singular collective noun antecedent, plural pronoun)

YES: The Academic Excellence Committee granted its permission to bestow the award. (Singular collective noun antecedent, plural pronoun)

YES: The Academic Excellence Committee's members granted their permission to bestow the award. (Plural non-collective antecedent, plural pronoun)


Pronoun Reference
Pronouns substitute for nouns, but some sentences contain more than one noun. The noun that a pronoun refers to must always be clear.

  • Avoid ambiguous pronoun reference.
    NO: When Suzanne set the pitcher on the glass tabletop, it broke. (What broke?)

    NO: Jason told Thomas that he had won the lottery. (Who won?)

    YES: The pitcher broke when Suzanne set it on the glass tabletop.

    YES: Jason told Thomas, "I have won the lottery."

    Sometimes pronouns don't clearly refer to an antecedent when the antecedent is far removed from the referring pronoun. In the following passage, the pronoun reference is unclear.

    NO: Jason began the day by picking up his father, Richard, and taking him to breakfast. After they breakfasted, Jason drove Richard to his friend's house where they picked Winston up for the shopping expedition they planned together. After they shopped for several hours, he bought a new pair of shoes. (Who is he?)

    YES: Jason began the day by picking up his father, Richard, and taking him to breakfast. After they breakfasted, Jason drove Richard to his friend's house where they picked Winston up for the shopping expedition they planne d together. After they shopped for several hours, Jason bought a new pair of shoes.

  • Use a clarifying noun after vague pronouns (this, that, which, it).
    NO: Citizens in more and more cities are beginning to recycle. However, plastics are often not accepted for recycling. This creates a problem for citizens who do not wish to clutter landfills with plastic. ( What is this exactly?)

    YES: Citizens in more and more cities are beginning to recycle. However, plastics are often not accepted for recycling. This lack of acceptance creates a problem for citizens who do not wish to clutter landfills with plastic.

  • Make sure pronouns refer to explicitly stated antecedents.

    NO: After braiding Emily's hair, Chris pinned them back firmly. (Them refers to Emily's braids, but these braids are not explicitly mentioned.)

    YES: After completing Emily's braids, Chris pinned them back firmly.

    NO: Electrical bills often contains information on how to conserve power. They recommend that heat be lowered at night. (They refers to the power company which is not explicitly men tioned.)

    YES: Electrical bills often contains information on how to conserve power. The power company recommends that heat be lowered at night.

    NO: In the article it points out that conservation-conscious citizens purchase more goods made with recycled materials.

    YES: The article points out that conservation-conscious citizens purchase more good made with recycled materials.