Picking Proper Pronouns: Part I



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 wrong pronoun is a common pitfall in English. To keep people focused on our messages instead of our solecisms, we’ll review correct pronoun usage based on placement in a sentence.

We’ll look at it in two parts. In this first part, we’ll start with pronouns as clause subjects, for objects, before assertive or attributive expressions, and after than or as.

Pronoun as the clause subject
A pronoun that is a subject in a clause remains in the subjective case, even if the pronoun seems to be in the objective.

Incorrect: I will speak with whomever is willing to listen.
Correct: I will speak with whoever is willing to listen. [Whoever is the subject of the clause whoever is willing to listen, which in full is the object of the preposition with.]
(For more discussion of these two pronouns, see Whoever vs. Whomever Revisited.)

Pronoun for objects
Use whom in all instances in which it appears as an object. 

Incorrect: The man who we met is a doctor.
Correct: The man whom we met is a doctor. [Whom is the direct object in the clause we met whom.]
(For more discussion of these two pronouns, see Who vs. Whom.)

Pronoun before assertive or attributive expressions
When expressions such as I think, she says, you believe, or they know fall between a pronoun and a verb, check for the presence of a clause that would require the subjective case.

Incorrect: Shelly is a leader whom we believe will lead us back to profitability.
Correct: Shelly is a leader who we believe will lead us back to profitability. [Who is the subject of the relative clause who will lead us back …, which modifies the noun leader. We believe is an inserted assertive expression.]

Pronoun after than or as
In comparisons introduced by words such as than or as, the case of a pronoun following the comparative word is determined by whether the pronoun completes an omitted, understood clause.

Incorrect: Raheem is much taller than him.
Correct: Raheem is much taller than he. [The missing part in the sentence is is tall: Raheem is much taller than he (is tall); he is tall is its own clause with he as the subject.]

Incorrect: Cinderella is as beautiful as her.
Correct: Cinderella is as beautiful as she. [The missing part in the sentence is is beautiful: Cinderella is as beautiful as she (is beautiful); she is beautiful is its own clause with she as the subject.] 

We’re well on our way to a greater understanding of pronouns that help rather than hinder our writing. Stay tuned for Part II of Picking Proper Pronouns next week.

 

Pop Quiz

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

1. These tickets are for [whoever/whomever] wants them.

2. I’ve been thinking a lot about [whom/who] I believe would be the best first baseman.

3. They think Ricardo could be as fast as [he/him].

4. The swimmer [who/whom] we saw is a highly decorated Olympic athlete.

 

Pop Quiz Answers

1. These tickets are for [whoever/whomever] wants them. (Whoever is the subject of the clause whoever wants them.)

2. I’ve been thinking a lot about [whom/who] I believe would be the best first baseman. (Who is the subject of the clause who would be the best first baseman; I believe is an inserted attributive expression.)

3. They think Ricardo could be as fast as [he/him]. (He is the subject of a comparative dependent clause that is understood and omitted: They think Ricardo could be as fast as he is fast.)

4. The swimmer [who/whom] we saw is a highly decorated Olympic athlete. (Whom is the direct object in the relative clause we saw whom.)

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

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2 Comments on Picking Proper Pronouns: Part I

2 responses to “Picking Proper Pronouns: Part I”

  1. Barry Ulrich says:

    Hopefully, one of your pronoun parts will address the misuse of the spoken pronoun (Pres. Obama was guilty, as well).

    Sally went to the store with Rob and I. (Ouch!)
    Rob and me are going to the store. (Ouch, ouch!)

    And there are many others…….

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