Today’s lesson: Make figuring out appropriate pronoun use a little easier by replacing them with simplified words or phrases that are easier to gauge.
Mistakes Using Pronouns
One issue I see too often is pronoun misuse, the most common being confusion between the subject pronoun “I” and the object pronoun “me.” Nearly as common is misuse of the reflexive “myself.”
First off, a subject pronoun works when describing an active noun: someone or something that is doing something:
I am doing something.
She is doing something.
They are doing something.
An object pronoun, rather direct or indirect, is having something done to it. (Pardon the passive voice.)
That was done to me.
That was done to her.
That was done to them.
A reflexive pronoun is something someone does to oneself.
I hurt myself.
She hurt herself.
They hurt themselves.
Now, consider the following incorrect pronoun choices:
Me and my friend went to the park.
They gave the gifts to my friend and I.
They always give trouble to people like myself.
The following replacement examples to show how all three are incorrect:
She went to the park. Since “she” is a subject pronoun, the correct first-person pronoun is “I”: “My friend and I went to the park.”
They gave the gifts to her. Since “her” is an object pronoun, the correct usage here would be the object pronoun “me”: “They gave the gifts to my friend and me.”
They always give trouble to people like them. Since “them” is an object pronoun, the correct choice is the object pronoun “me”: “They always give trouble to people like me.”
Now, consider the following:
It was I who corrected the mistake.
It had been he who had broken the rule.
He's always been spiteful toward they who shall remain nameless.
With the replacement advice I've given so far, you might assume the three sentences above are incorrect. You would, however, be wrong in this case. While it is correct to write “It was me”; “It had been him”; and “He's always been spiteful toward them,” when looking at constructions such as these, you'll need to consider the phrase rather than the individual word. Let's simplify each.
I corrected the mistake.
He had broken the rule.
They shall remain nameless.
In the above examples, you have to look at the words’ functions and the roles they play in their attached clauses in order to get the pronoun correct.
Now, let's take a quick look at the differences between the relative pronouns “who” and “whom.”
“Who” is a subject pronoun, while “whom” is an object pronoun. When the pronoun is the object of a preposition, the choice is pretty easy; we all know “to whom it may concern” and similar constructions; however, the choice between these two is not always so easy.
In order to choose correctly, use the same tactics you'd use with any other pronoun. If it is doing something, use the subject pronoun; if something is being done to it, use the object pronoun. If in doubt, replace and compare:
Who went to the park? She/he/they/I went to the park.
Whom did she love? She loved her/him/them/me.
Whether referring to first, second, or third person, the types of pronouns--subject, object, or reflexive--used in sentence will always remain the same. Therefore, by replacing pronouns you know are correct with those you are unsure about, you can know your choices will always be grammatically correct.
While you might have readers who also do not know the rules, there is always a chance that editors, agents, or reviewers reading your work do. If you take the time to know and understand these rules, your writing will be sharper and you will be able to present it to the world with confidence and skill.
Until next time, my pretties! (Insert evil cackle.)