Friday, December 08, 2023

MLP: Picking on pronouns

| March 28, 2023 1:00 AM

Mrs. Language Person, that maniacally obsessed word nerd, has been known to make mistakes; but, thanks to beloved Mrs. Rhineheimer of ninth grade English class, 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 (not that chalkboards exist anymore, sniff sniff).

So away we go: Pronouns as subjects, direct objects and indirect objects. Him and he. She and her. Them and they. I and me. Who and whom.

The concept is so simple that MLP wonders if we just don't remember the little trick. How does one know which to use? Simple Simon says, "Mentally separate into two sentences." For example with subject pronouns, "(She/her) and (He/him) use correct grammar" would become, "She uses correct grammar," and "He uses … "

Would you say that him uses it? Of course not. So why say "Her and Him use?" Neither does me go to the store. I go to the store; so do they and I (go to the store). In other words, if the pronoun is the subject of the sentence, the correct choices are subject pronouns — I, she, he, they and who. Once the sentence is completed in the mind, separately for each pronoun, the choice becomes obvious.

Now consider the example of renaming. Please note, Dear English speakers: It doesn't change a thing. To misquote the Bard, a subject by any other name remains its sweet ol’ self.

How's this for a triple-hammy: "Is it she who edits this column?" Again, separate those poor misused pronouns for an answer. "It is (who edits this column)," "She is who edits (or she edits) this column" and "Who is" would all fit perfectly as the three substitutable subjects in the sentence; therefore they (oops — snuck in another subject pronoun!) are all correct choices.

So much for subjects. For pronouns as objects of a verb or preposition (direct or indirect) — me, her, him, them and whom — a similar trick may be used, although it may require mental insertion of an omitted word, such as "of" or "for." More on that in a moment.

If MLP annoys her readers, she drives them crazy. She couldn't drive “they” crazy, could she? They may be driven crazy, but "she" (subject) drives "them" (object) bonkers. Call it a pronoun role reversal for direct objects of the verb, "drive."

To whom may I turn for answers to grammar questions? Mrs. Hagler, that's who (but she's also to whom I must turn, when whom is the object of to).

Sorry; couldn't resist that one. One could argue "that's who," because "who" renames Mrs. Hagler as subject of the sentence, but the second example is "to whom," because whom is the object of "may turn"). However, had I answered, "It is Mrs. Hagler to whom I must turn," well, you see the difference is that magic word "to."

Yes, I know it’s a horribly worded example. Simple Simon, go stuff yourself.

Next, another common cringer: The sadly abused “who” as an object of the dangling “for.” Shudder.

While it’s a depressingly underused privilege and right, "Who did you vote for?" just doesn't cut the mustard. "For whom did you vote?" is much better.

No, don't answer that, but you get the idea: If you can precede it with "to," "for" or another preposition, it's whom. Like her, them, him and me, whom is an object (objective) pronoun.

With indirect objects, the preposition isn't necessarily visible. If the stubborn little things are in hiding (why is English so frustrating? What is the point of rules if we simply skip words? Aaargh!), mentally finish the understood phrase. "Nigel sent her an angry letter." See the understood "to," following sent, i.e., to her? The letter went to her. "Her" is the object of "to," or "sent to."

A little tougher are "than" and "as," but the same imaginary 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."

Isn’t that the understatement of the day?

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Mrs. Language Person and Sholeh Patrick are columnists for the Hagadone News Network. Email

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