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Two More Reasons Pronouns Plague Us

For several weeks now, we’ve been counting the ways that pronouns give us nightmares. Today we’ll look at two more culprits: infinitives and verbs that end in -ing (known technically as participles and gerunds).

To form an infinitive, precede a verb with the word to. The infinitive of look is to look. Constructions like to be looking, to have looked, and to have been looking are also infinitives.

Note what happens if we paraphrase I believe he is honest, using an infinitive: I believe him to be honest. The presence of the infinitive (to be) turns he (the subject of is) into him (the object of believe).

If we change the statement to a question, should we use who or whom? The rule of thumb we discussed when this series began in September is who = he (subject) and whom = him (object). So it would be correct to say Who do you believe is honest? (Who is honest, do you believe?)

But with an infinitive, Whom do you believe to be honest? would be correct. (Do you believe him to be honest?)

The situation is similar with verbs ending in -ing. There are times when an -ing verb in a sentence lets you say the same thing with either a subject pronoun or an object pronoun. For instance, you could say We recall she was driving home or We recall her driving home.

Again, converting those statements to who-or-whom questions poses a challenge. Who do you recall was driving home? would be correct. (Who was driving home, do you recall?) And Whom do you recall driving home? would also be correct. (Do you recall her driving home?)

Such fine distinctions further illustrate why certain everyday pronouns are endlessly confounding.

To be continued…

Pop Quiz

Find the grammatically correct pronouns.

1. I discovered they/them and Al sleeping in the barn.

2. I discovered they/them and Al were sleeping in the barn.

3. Mary trusted we/us and the team would return her car.

4. Mary trusted we/us and the team to return her car.

5. Who/whom do you predict to win the match?

6. Who/whom do you predict will win the match?

Pop Quiz Answers

1. I discovered them and Al sleeping in the barn.

2. I discovered they and Al were sleeping in the barn.

3. Mary trusted we and the team would return her car.

4. Mary trusted us and the team to return her car.

5. Whom do you predict to win the match?

6. Who do you predict will win the match?

Posted on Tuesday, November 5, 2013, at 1:48 pm


4 Comments

4 Responses to “Two More Reasons Pronouns Plague Us”

  1. Ginnie S. says:

    I have a question about the pop quiz answers. Shouldn’t it be Al and them….and Al and they? I always say the name first instead of the pronoun first. To me that sounds kind of like me and John or I and John. What do you think?

  2. Robin H. says:

    I think the reason you say, “I recall her driving home,” is not that it’s an object, but a possessive. You would say, “I recall his driving home.”

    • Jane says:

      It’s true that the her in the sentence could be a possessive adjective, but it could easily be an object pronoun, a briefer way of saying, “We recall her as she was driving home,” or something similar. Try replacing “recall” with “saw”: “We saw her driving home,” which could also be written “We saw she was driving home.”

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