MLP: Pick pronouns properly, please!

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Mrs. Language Person, that pathetic word nerd, has been known to make mistakes; but never, never with pronouns. In fact, when she hears, “Me and him are going...” or “It was fun for her and I,” your MLP gets that spine-shattering feeling like the screech of nails on a chalkboard (would that chalkboards still existed, sniff sniff).

So (if you’re shuddering, Mr. Jim Person, note this use of “so” correctly substitutes for “therefore”) today we review: Pronouns as subjects, direct objects, and indirect objects. Him and he. She and her. Them and they. I and me. And the ever-butchered who and whom.

The concept is so simple that MLP wonders why this little trick is so (hush, MJP!) difficult to remember. How does one know which to use? Simple Simon says, “Mentally separate into two sentences.” (Rude, but effective.) If one wishes to convey that Jim and Priscilla use correct grammar, try it both ways:

“He uses correct grammar” and “She uses correct grammar” sound much better than “him uses” and “her uses.” Therefore, when combining the two pronouns the choice is obvious: “She and he use correct grammar.” Bravo, Jim and Priscilla.

To put it linguistically, she, he, I, and they serve as subjects of the sentence; they are subjective pronouns. Me would never go to the store, nor would them go. I go to the store; so do they and he (go to the store). In other words, if the pronoun is the subject of the sentence, the correct choices are subject pronouns. Perfectly logical. Once the sentence is separately completed for each pronoun, the choice becomes clear even when a series of pronouns is used.

Who went to the opera? He, they, and I. It was magnificent.

Now consider when subjects are renamed or reordered: It doesn’t change a thing. How’s this for a triple-subject whammy: “Is it he who edits this column?” Again, separate and find out. “It is (Mike) (who edits this column).” “He” (is, or he edits) and “who” (is, or is who edits) all fit perfectly as substitutable subjects for “it” in the sentence, therefore they (snuck in another subject pronoun!) are all correct choices.

Please, Dear Reader, tell your MLP you would never say it’s him who edits the column! It is he.

Now to objective pronouns, poor battered things. MLP speaks of me, her, him, them, and whom.

With pronouns functioning as objects of a verb or preposition, grammarians offer a similar trick that may require mental insertion of an omitted word, such as “of” or “for.” More on that in a moment.

MLP annoys readers; she drives them crazy. She couldn’t drive “they” crazy, could she? They may be driven crazy, but “she” (subject taking action) drives “them” (object of drive) bonkers. Call it a pronoun role reversal. To whom may you turn for answers? Mr. Professor Person, that’s (to) whom.

MPP is who answers questions (two substitutable subjects, hence the subject pronoun “who”), but he is also to whom you may turn, when whom is the object of to (invisible or not).

Yes, MLP knows; that’s hardly an easy example. Simple Simon, go stuff yourself.

The next example is apropos of upcoming local elections. “Who did you vote for?” simply doesn’t cut the mustard. “For whom did you vote?” is much better. Don’t answer that, but you get the idea; if the pronoun is preceded by “to,” “for,” or any other preposition, it’s “whom.” Ditto for her, them, him, and me, a.k.a. object pronouns.

With indirect objects, the preposition tends to hide. Mentally fish them out to make the choice clear. “Mr. Kay Person sent her a kind letter.” See the understood “to,” following sent? The letter was sent (to) her. “Her” is the object of “to,” or “sent to.” MKP would never send a letter to she.

Less obvious are “than” and “as,” but the same mental completion trick works, generally by adding the hidden verb. “He is smarter than she (is).” “MLP isn’t as good a writer as (are) they.”

Thus admonished, MLP again retreats to the rock under which she languishes, lamenting linguistic loss.

•••

Mrs. Language Person and Sholeh Patrick are cranky columnists for the Hagadone News Network. Contact them at Sholeh@cdapress.com.

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