Between you and me, the pronouns in the title above give this editor a major headache for one simple reason: they are misused much too often.
Because colloquial speech has set the pattern, it’s more and more common to find incorrect pronouns in writers’ works as well. It’s probably not a good idea to correct someone when they’re talking, but I hope this column will help writers reduce their editors’ need for the aspirin tablets.
Here’s a sampler of popular pronoun usage, all gleaned from actual conversations:
- Her and I are going to the beach today.
- They can’t rely on Genie and I to do all that!
- Joe and myself have too much to do today to wash the car.
- Him and I have enough material to put on our own show.
- Me and her need to meet for lunch tomorrow.
- Sheila and me used to write together all the time.
- You and me won the contest!
You get the idea. Not one of those is correct! Let’s try these instead:
- She and I are going to the beach today.
- They can’t rely on Genie and me to do all that!
- Joe and I have too much to do today to wash the car.
- He and I have enough material to put on our own show.
- She and I need to meet for lunch tomorrow.
- Sheila and I used to write together all the time.
- You and I won the contest!
One thing to remember is this: each of the first set of examples mixes up first, second or third person personal pronouns in the same sentence, and that’s a no-no.
Leonard Rosen, grammar maven and author of The Everyday English Handbook (pg. 81), explains it much better than I (can). “A subjective case pronoun can be used as the subject of a sentence. When using pronouns in a compound sentence, be sure that the pronouns are expressed in the subjective case:
“You should be more careful.
“Freddy and she stopped by for a visit.
“A subjective case pronoun can be the subject complement of a sentence, following the linking verb to be (expressed in the forms is, are, was, and were).
“Barbara can paint more efficiently than he (can paint).
“Benny remembered Eric better than I (remembered Eric).
“Benny remembered Eric better than (he remembered) me.“
“(Note the difference in meaning between the last two sentences. In the final sentence, an objective case pronoun, ‘me,’ is used, since it is the object of the unstated verb, ‘remembered.’)
“When a pronoun is part of an appositive phrase that renames the subject of a sentence, use the subjective case:
“The committee — Jeanette, Linda and I — took the afternoon off and went to lunch.
“(The appositive renames the subject ‘committee.’ Therefore, a subjective case pronoun, ‘I,’ must be used in the appositive.)
“When a pronoun functions as a subject in the second part of a comparison, use the subjective case. (The words in parentheses are implied by the comparison.)
“Steven is as fearless as she (is fearless).
“(The pronouns she and I take the place of proper nouns, such as Susan or Adrienne, which rename the subjects of the sentences, ‘this’ and ‘it.’)
“This is she.
“It is I.
“He is a good friend.
“We went to the concert.”
Got all that? I don’t know about you, but my head is swimming with all these grammatical terms! To be honest, I can’t remember what an appositive phrase is without looking it up, but I know when it’s right or wrong. I do know it can be hard to differentiate between and among these and other finer points of grammar, but it is worth it in the long run.
I think the confusion comes when we think “I’m meeting her at the beach” or for lunch. But if we take just a moment to rework the sense of the sentence, what we want to convey, who all is involved, and to remember our basic lessons from 7th grade grammar class, then it gets easier. Sort of.
It’s all a matter of agreement. Think of how you would write – or say – these or similar sentences if another person weren’t involved. Would you say, for instance, “Myself has too much to do today”? or “Her is going to the beach”? or “Me is meeting someone for lunch”? Not hardly!
So pay attention to your pronouns, those of you and your friends. When all else fails, ask yourself where and how ‘you’ and ‘they’ fit in your sentences, spoken or written. Your readers – and your editors – will thank you for taking the time to do so.
©ERR 4/10 (This column first appeared in the KeyPub.net ezine)