Answers to Questions About Personal Pronouns
Here are three queries from readers about proper use of personal pronouns, followed by my responses.
1. Why does the following sentence use my instead of me?: “My mother hates to spend money, that’s one thing; so if she can make a joke out of my not wanting to, then I’m in the clear because she can save money.”
The phrase “not wanting to” describes a lack of a desire — so wanting describes a thing, making the word a gerund — a verb form that functions as a noun — not a verb. Because the sentence assigns “not wanting to” to a person, it requires a possessive personal pronoun (my).
Wanting, of course, can also be a verb, but the point of this sentence is the attitude, not the person: “My not wanting to” emphasizes the attitude, while “me not wanting to” focuses on the person.
A similar example is the difference between “Can you imagine my wanting to wear that?” versus “Can you imagine me wanting to wear that?” where it is the person’s proposed inclination, not the person herself, that is the point of the sentence.
2. Is there a quick-and-dirty method for deciding which pronoun applies in a sentence like “We need to discuss you/your going to the prom”?
Good question. I haven’t read of any test to determine which form of the pronoun is proper, but here’s one I just thought of (though I assume I’m not the first to do so): You must be able to provide, in a syntactically and grammatically correct form, more detail about what is being discussed — replace wanting, in this case, with a phrase. For example:
We need to discuss you request to go to the prom. (incorrect)
We need to discuss your request to go to the prom. (correct)
Therefore, your is the appropriate pronoun. (And that is true for the same reason that my, not me, is correct in the previous example.)
3. Which of the following versions of this awkward statement is correct?:
“Glance at mine and Michael’s calendar to see if we have time for lunch.”
“Glance at Michael’s and my calendar to see if we have time for lunch.”
“Glance at our calendars to see if we have time for lunch.”
“Michael and I have calendars. Glance at our calendars to see if we have time for lunch.”
“Michael and I have calendars; glance at them to see if we have time for lunch.”
The first choice is erroneous because removing “and Michael’s” results in “Glance at mine calendar to see if we have time for lunch.” Also, it’s considered good form to name another person before using a personal pronoun.
Therefore, the best choice is the revision “Glance at Michael’s and my calendar to see if we have time for lunch” if you and Michael share a calendar. If you each have your own calendar, write or say, “Glance at Michael’s and my calendars to see if we have time for lunch” — but only if “Glance at our calendar(s) to see if we have time for lunch” is unsatisfactory because your identities must be specified. The last two versions suggest overcorrection of Pythonesque proportions.
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