A Brief Case for Pronouns

Pronoun case refers to the form a pronoun takes according to its function in a sentence. To review, a pronoun takes the place of a noun, such as I, you, he she, and it. Personal pronouns have three cases: subjective, objective, and possessive. A subjective pronoun means the pronoun acts as a subject of a clause – either an independent or dependent clause. A possessive pronoun shows possession of something. An objective pronoun refers to a pronoun which acts as the object of the preposition, or is the recipient of action.

Subjective Pronouns:

I/we                 you                 he/she/it                     they                who/whoever

Possessive Pronouns:

my/our                        your                his/hers/its                 their                whose            mine/ours                  yours              his/hers/its                 theirs             

Objective Pronouns:

me/us             you                 him/her/it                   them               whom/whomever

In most instances, pronoun case is quite simple. Sometimes, however, it can be a bit confusing if we can’t easily identify its function in a sentence. Let’s take a look at some examples below of the three different pronoun cases and how you would use each.

Use subjective case when it is the subject of a clause:

They could either keep playing or forfeit the game.
He didn’t clock in at work this morning.
Whoever said that was mistaken.

Use possessive case when it shows possession. Note that there are two forms of possessive pronouns: noun forms and adjective forms.

Noun form:

The fault is his.
Whose car is that red corvette?

Adjective form:

The girls bought their tickets the moments they went on sale.
The sound of her cries woke the mother.

The use of objective case gets a little more complicated, as there are different types of objects. Use objective case when the pronoun functions as a direct or indirect object. You will also use objective if the pronoun is a subject of an infinitive, an appositive renaming an object, or the object of a preposition (see explanations of these terms below).

If the pronoun is an object of verb:

The director surprised us with roses. (“Us” is the direct object of “surprised”)
The doctor gave me a clean bill of health. (“Me” is the indirect object of “gave”)

If the pronoun is a subject of an infinitive:

The players convinced him to continue coaching. (The pronoun him is preceded by a verb, and followed by the infinitive, to continue)

If the pronoun is an appositive renaming an object: (an appositive is a noun or noun phrase that adds identifying info to a preceding noun)

The football team elected two captains, Josh and me.

If the pronoun is an object of a preposition:

Can you give the bill to her?
Several of his colleagues invited him to golf.


I or Me?

Whether to use I or me is a common cause for confusion. To simplify, remove the noun to see what makes sense:

Tina and me worked until midnight.
Omit Tina and:     Me worked until midnight. 

Obviously, you wouldn’t say “Me worked. . .” so the pronoun case would be “I”:

Tina and I worked until midnight.

Quite often, we think we’re using the correct case by using the more formal sounding “I” when “me” is actually correct:

Incorrect: John gave the flowers to Alice and I.  

Remove “Alice” in the above example to check if “I” is correct: John gave the flowers to I.  

That doesn’t sound right, does it?

Correct: John gave the flowers to Alice and me.

Choosing the correct pronoun case with comparisons can be problematic, but by adding back in the omitted words, you will easily know which pronoun is correct.

She is smarter than I (am smart). You wouldn’t say “- than me am smart.”
He is as short as I (am short). You wouldn’t say “- as me am short.”
That works for you as much as (it works for) me. You wouldn’t say “- it works for I.”

Final Thoughts

All of this may sound quite complicated, but if you can identify the parts of a sentence, including subjects, verbs, objects, independent and dependent clauses, and prepositions, you’ll easily be able to choose the correct pronoun case.

More practice 

1.  My sister enjoys taking me to museums. ____ and I go often.

2.  She knows more about art than ____.

3.  Her friend Hector is a painter. Hector always shows his paintings to her and ____.

 4.  My sister wants to go to art school. Hector and ____ think that’s a great idea.

 5.  She is more likely to listen to him than ____.
[Answers: 1= She; 2= I; 3= me; 4= I; 5= Me]
Some information and examples from Bedford St. Martin’s Handbook and Purdue Owl.

Next week: More on Pronoun Case = Who & Whom.


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