Those Pesky Pronouns Aren’t So Hard

It’s never too late to celebrate National Grammar Day, which just so happened to be yesterday. Like most writers, I strive to use the right word in the right place, a habit encouraged by my mother since I was very young. Her gentle but insistent grammatical corrections—Never say “has went” or “where’s it at?” or “it don’t”—stuck. I’m grateful.

Space limitations keep me from including in this column words that sound alike but are spelled differently, except TO say that the rules aren’t hard TO learn. If YOU’RE misspelling simple words, THERE is a good chance YOU’RE in TOO much of a hurry. Don’t make YOUR friends wince at YOUR spelling when they see it on THEIR screens. Before you send a text or post anything on social media, take TWO seconds to proofread for errors. THEY’RE likely to jump right out at you.

I’ll write more about such things in April, when we celebrate National Spelling Day. And I’ll wait until National Punctuation Day in late September to write about the difference between plural words and possessive words except to say this: apostrophes matter. Really, they do.

One of my biggest grammar gripes is the misuse of personal pronouns. Here’s a quick review. Subjective pronouns are used as the subject in a sentence. The singular subjective pronouns are: I, you, he/she/it and who. The plural subjective pronouns are: we, you (or y’all, which—in my book—is perfectly acceptable), they and who. Objective pronouns are used when something is being done to (or given to, etc.) someone. Singular objective pronouns are: me, you, him/her/it and whom. Plural objective pronouns are: us, you (or y’all), them and whom.

That part is easy. Most native English speakers use the right pronoun with a singular subject or object without even thinking about it. (“Who” and “whom” are a little tricky because the use of “whom” has, in recent times, come to be viewed as putting on airs. Many people who know better, including me, sometimes use “who” as both a subjective and objective pronoun.)

Almost everyone knows it’s proper grammar to say “I went to the fair.” “You should have seen all the rides.” “She screamed on the roller coaster.”  “The roller coaster scared me.”  “It might have made you cry.” “It made her throw up.”  Easy peasy, right?

Here’s where things sometimes fall apart. Add an additional person, Tom for instance, to any of those sentences. Should you say “Tom and me went to the fair”? Absolutely not. The only thing worse would be to say “Me and Tom went to the fair” because the speaker should always list him or herself last. If you wouldn’t say “Me went to the fair,” which of course you wouldn’t, don’t say it that way if you add Tom. Let’s keep going: “You and Tom should have seen all the rides.” “She and Tom—NOT Her and Tom–screamed on the roller coaster.”

Let’s move on to the objective case. Is it correct to say “The roller coaster scared Tom and I”? No, no, no. Just because you hear such sentences all the time, especially during sports broadcasts, doesn’t make it right. It’s pronoun misuse. Say it this way: “The roller coaster scared Tom and me.” “It made Tom and her throw up.”

All you have to do to figure out whether to use “I” or “me,” “he” or “him,” “we” or “us” and “they” or “them” is to take the other person (or persons) out of the sentence. Whatever singular pronoun you would use is the correct pronoun. Simple, as long as you don’t second guess yourself.

Alas, I’ve run out of room to write about reflexive and possessive pronouns and also “has went,” “where’s it at?” and “he don’t.” I suppose I’ll have to save those rants for National Grammar Day 2023.

(March 5, 2022)