Picking Proper Pronouns: Part II

Posted on Tuesday, September 10, 2019, at 11:00 pm

Last week we began our review of using pronouns that help guide rather than trip our written eloquence. We started with pronouns as clause subjects, for objects, before assertive or attributive expressions, and after than or as. 

Today we’ll look at pronouns before a gerund, for an infinitive, and for complements of forms of the verb be.

Pronoun before a gerund
When a pronoun appears before a gerund, we will most often use the possessive case unless we wish to emphasize the pronoun more than the gerund.

Emphasis Gerund: They disapproved of his evading the issue in that way. [They disapproved of the act of evading the issue more than they disapproved of the person.]
Emphasis Pronoun: They disapproved of him evading the issue in that way. [They disapproved of the person evading the issue more than they disapproved of the act.]

This is a subtle but noteworthy distinction that may appear more often in writing than in speech. With speech, we’ll find the speaker might use one form or the other depending on choice in the moment.

Pronoun for an infinitive
Use the objective case for the subject, object, or complement of an infinitive phrase.

Mariah requested him to assist her.

Him is the subject and her is the object of the infinitive to assist. The phrase him to assist her is the direct object of the verb requested. 

This is a different construction from Mariah requested that he assist her. The dependent clause that he assist her does not include an infinitive; rather, it applies the subjunctive.

Pronoun for the complement of be
If our construction is a subject, a conjugated form of be (e.g., is, was, were), and a subject complement, we use the subjective case.

Incorrect: It was them who made the decorations.
Correct: It was they who made the decorations. [They is the subject complement of it after the linking verb was.]

As we can see, using the right pronouns strengthens smart, persuasive writing—and that, in the end, is a great reward of our art.

 

Pop Quiz

Using what you’ve learned in this article, choose the correct pronoun in each sentence.

1. We agree with [them/their] passing the proposal. (Emphasis on the act rather than the acting agent)

2. I’m fully against [him/his] wanting to borrow more money from us. (Emphasis on the acting agent rather than the act)

3. The delivery service hired [he/him] to support [them/they].

4. The winner of the grand prize is [she/her].

 

Pop Quiz Answers

1. We agree with [them/their] passing the proposal. (The possessive pronoun their emphasizes the act of passing the proposal.]

2. I’m fully against [him/his] wanting to borrow more money from us. (The objective pronoun him emphasizes being against the person wanting to borrow money more than the act of borrowing it.)

3. The delivery service hired [he/him] to support [them/they]. (Infinitive phrases use the objective case for subjects, objects, and complements. In this infinitive phrase, him is the subject and them is the object of the infinitive to support. The full phrase him to support them is the direct object of the sentence.)

4. The winner of the grand prize is [she/her]. (She is the subject complement of winner following the linking verb is.)

Leave a Comment

Picking Proper Pronouns: Part I

Posted on Tuesday, September 3, 2019, at 11:00 pm

Many of us have been there before: We're writing or speaking with confidence in our content. For a secret second, we might even feel, well, educated. Then, unbeknownst to us, improper pronouns leak in and sabotage the impression we were making. Worse yet, we may not know how or why our eloquence tripped. Using the …

Read More

Fewer vs. Less

Posted on Tuesday, August 27, 2019, at 11:00 pm

Fewer refers to things that are countable. Examples: We had fewer people at the fundraiser than we had hoped. Fewer tornadoes occurred this year than last year. Generally, less refers to things that are not countable. Examples: Sue has less concern for her dog's safety now that the backyard fence is completed. Less talking would …

Read More

Practicing Parallelism

Posted on Tuesday, August 20, 2019, at 11:00 pm

Parallelism is the use of consistent grammatical structures in a series of two or more items to assist ease of reading and understanding. We touched briefly on this topic in Parallel Construction and Effective Writing. We’ll revisit it here with additional detail. Let’s start by considering the following sentences: In October, we plan to build …

Read More

Singular They Part III

Posted on Tuesday, August 13, 2019, at 11:00 pm

Thank you to the many readers who commented thoughtfully on both How Did They Get in Here? (July 3, 2019) and How Can They Be Singular? (July 31, 2019). Today we'll wind up our discussion of the singular they, including modern arguments for its use. When we ran this series in 2015, we received little …

Read More

1 2 3 90