Case of Pronouns - The Rule

In formal settings, you must follow the rules governing the case of pronouns.

If your sentence calls for the subjective case, you must use I, you, he, she, it, we, you, they (see the subjective-case columns in the two tables above).

If your sentence calls for the objective case, you must use me, you, him, her, it, us, you, them (see the objective-case columns in the two tables above).

The trick, then, in speech and in writing, is to recognize instantly the grammatical function of the noun being replaced by the pronoun and then to plug in the correct pronoun without batting an eye.

Here are four pitfalls to watch for:

Pronoun Following the Verb To Be

1. A noun following the verb to be (or other linking verb) is a subject complement or predicate noun, which requires the subjective case of a pronoun taking the place of the noun:

Wrong: Knock, knock. Who’s there? It is me.
Right: Knock, knock. Who’s there? It is I.

Wrong: Who do you think did it? It could have been her.
Right: Who do you think did it? It could have been she.

Now that’s the way you ought to write. But when you’re having a cold one with friends at your favorite watering hole, you won’t impress Bubba the Bartender very much by saying:

It was I who ordered the Perrier with lime.

You’ll go much further in life, at least at Bubba’s, by violating the rule of pronoun case and saying:

It was me who ordered the Corona.

For advancement up the social ladder at Bubba’s, I’d suggest changing your drinking fare along with your pronouns. You may keep the lime.

Click page 2 below.Pronoun Following the Word than

2. A noun following the word than usually acts as the subject of an ensuing clause and therefore prompts the need for the subjective case of a pronoun taking the place of the noun.

Wrong: He is much taller than me.
Right: He is much taller than I.

I know, I know, Bubba would refuse to serve you. But we’re talking about writing correctly and speaking correctly when correct speech is called for (at places other than Bubba’s). In the above sentence, the word than serves as a subordinating conjunction introducing a dependent clause. The verb in the clause is understood, so you can refer to the clause as an elliptical clause.

The entire clause would read:

Right: He is much taller than I (am).

Sometimes, however, the objective case should follow than. The case will be determined by the function of the pronoun in the elliptical clause. Consider these two sentences, which mean entirely different things:

Right: She gave him more sympathy than I.
Right: She gave him more sympathy than me.

Both sentences are correct, but here’s what they mean:

Right: She gave him more sympathy than I (gave him).
Right: She gave him more sympathy than (she gave) me.

Case, as you can see, determines meaning itself. Actually, to be accurate, I should say: Meaning itself determines case. To say what you mean, you must use the correct case of pronouns.

Click page 3 below. Pronoun Following a Transitive Verb

3. A noun following a transitive verb is a direct object, which requires the objective case of a pronoun taking the place of the noun.

Wrong: Join Bernie and I tonight at 9:00.
Right: Join Bernie and me tonight at 9:00.

I actually heard the above blunder on CNN. The verb join is a transitive verb. It requires an object. If a pronoun satisfies the function of direct object, it must appear in the objective case. Thus: me.

Here’s another doozie:

Wrong: Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.
Right: Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.

This blunder embarrassed a U.S. Congressman. On December 18, 1998, Democrat Robert Menendez of New Jersey shouted in a House debate:

Let he who is without sin in this chamber cast the first vote!
The Washington Post, Dec. 19, 1998, p. C1.

Two years earlier, this same error started a brouhaha in some letters to the editor of The Washington Post. A letter on September 7, 1996, from Ms. Scold went like this:

In your Sept. 1 newspaper, you quote Dick Morris’s wife as saying, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” Some people may consider her grammatical sin (it’s “Let he who is without sin . . . ”) greater than his alleged sin.

It only took a week for a reply. On September 14, 1996, Mr. Right let her (not “she”) have it:

Whose is the greater sin, [Ms.Scold’s] mutilation of English grammar or yours for letting her (or “letting she,” as [Scold] would argue) get away with it? “Let” takes the objective personal pronoun: me, him, her, us, them. “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (John 8:7) is a venerable example of the rule.

Ms. Scold needs to visit Grammar.com. Mr. Right doesn’t. He could probably write all our content.

The verb let is transitive and requires an object. Thus you might Let Dave in the door, or, if you prefer the pronoun, Let him in the door. The Congressman and Ms. Scold insisted on let he because they were tricked by the verb cast, thinking that it’s a verb forming a clause and thus prompting the need for a subject (subjective case he). But cast is not conjugated. Instead, it’s an infinitive. After all, we often create infinitives without the accompanying to. Thus: See Spot run, Help me pack, Watch him jump, or, Let him cast the first stone.

One would not say Help I pack. Neither would one say Let he cast the first stone.

 

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