Picking Proper Pronouns: Part II



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.)

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

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4 Comments on Picking Proper Pronouns: Part II

4 responses to “Picking Proper Pronouns: Part II”

  1. Marlane Lord says:

    Incorrect: It was them who made the decorations.
    Correct: It was they who made the decorations.

    Regarding the above, I was taught to avoid starting a sentence this way (“It was”). Also, I was taught to use the best economy of words, as below:

    They made the decorations.

    Feedback? Thank you.

  2. Charlotte M. says:

    A writer and editor in and around other careers, I appreciate your continuance of this valuable newsletter.

    And, at almost 73, I appreciate the opportunity to refresh the grammar that I wish I could remember, or to learn something new.

    This edition contains a confusing reason why a sentence is correct.

    Mariah requested him to assist her.

    I get that. This sentence sounds right to my ears, and I would write it this way. Apparently my grammatical reason is wrong, though. You state:

    Him is the subject and her is the object of the infinitive to assist.

    “Him” is the subject?

    Why is it not “Mariah requested (of) him (Bob, John, Marty) to assist her?”

    The phrase him to assist her is the direct object of the verb requested.

    I can see that as the direct object “him to assist” answers the question “what.” But I’m still confused. Maybe it shouldn’t matter as long as I would have spoken and written it correctly. The problem is that it does matter. I want to learn and better understand.

    Perhaps you would be so kind as to help me see the error of my way(s).

    • We understand why this particular question of grammar would make you think further, particularly if you have a keen interest in understanding the “why.”

      This is a distinctive item within grammar because of its components. The phrase “him to assist her” is the direct object of the sentence. That phrase also has its own parts, and they do not diagram as most other sentence components would.

      This is because we have an objective noun, “him,” completed by an infinitive phrase “to assist her.” Observed and treated alone, this phrase has a subject (“him”) and an action (“to assist her”). Because the subject is first cast as an object in the greater sentence, it remains an object within the phrase.

      In the article, we point out that the sentence could also be expressed as “Mariah requested that he assist her,” which applies the more standard lexicon by using a subject noun, a verb, and a direct-object pronoun. Those components are in a dependent clause signaled by “that.” The clause also applies the subjunctive, which is why the verb uses the plural “assist” instead of the singular “assists.”

      We hope you find this explanation helpful.

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