Pronoun Review #3: Object Forms

By Maeve Maddox

The following appears in a by-lined article in a state newspaper:

[A basketball referee] filed a harassment report…claiming [two men] followed he and another official to their cars after the game, yelling obscenities.

In this sentence, the masculine pronoun is the object of a transitive verb, followed. The direct object answers the question “What?” or “Whom?” after the verb. When a pronoun functions as a direct object, the object form is required:

The men followed the referee. (direct object of followed)
The men followed him. (direct object of followed)
Two men followed him and another official to their cars. (direct object of followed)

Not all of the English personal pronouns retain distinct subject and object forms.

The pronoun you, for example, has only one form, which may be used as either subject or object:

You forgot to lock the car. (subject of the verb forgot)
I didn’t recognize you in that tuxedo. (object of the verb recognize)
Let’s keep this between you and me. (object of the preposition between)

The pronoun it also has only one form for subject and object:

I can’t find my purse. It is in the kitchen. (subject of the verb is)
Where’s the spider? I can’t see it. (object of the verb can see)
Quick, step on it. (object of the preposition on)

The five remaining personal pronouns—I, he, she, we, and they—do have object forms: me, him, her, us, and them.

Two common errors with I and me is their reversal in compound subjects and objects:

Incorrect: Mike and me are planning a cruise.
Correct : Mike and I are planning a cruise. (compound subject of the verb are planning.)

Incorrect: The Smiths have invited Harold and I to dinner.
Correct : The Smiths have invited Harold and me to dinner. (compound object of the verb invited.)

Incorrect: Keep this news between you and I.
Correct : Keep this news between you and me. (compound object of the preposition between.)

The following examples are gleaned from formal news articles:

Incorrect: Norwood had claimed that two men in ski masks had followed she and Murray into the store.
Correct : Norwood had claimed that two men in ski masks had followed her and Murray into the store. (compound object of followed.)

Incorrect: They were complete strangers who stopped to help she and her baby.
Correct : They were complete strangers who stopped to help her and her baby. (compound object of to help)

Incorrect: [The girl], who spent a great deal of time at St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis, recalls the incredible nurses and doctors that helped she and her family through the entire process.
Correct : [The girl], who spent a great deal of time at St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis, recalls the incredible nurses and doctors that helped her and her family through the entire process. (compound object of helped)

Some day, perhaps all pronoun object forms will disappear in English. Until that time, native English speakers who write for a living can reasonably be expected to master the uses of I and me, he and him, and she and her.

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