Once you’ve found a pronoun, check to see whether it’s acting as the SUBJECT or the OBJECT of the sentence or clause.
This aspect of pronoun formation is called case (objective/subjective/possessive).
Just like the nouns they replace, pronouns can be the subject or object of the main verb. Pronouns that are the subject take the subjective case:
He walked to the store.
She decided to take a taxi.
They liked the food.
In each case, the subject is the person/pronoun doing the action. Since it is the subject, the pronoun takes the subjective case: he, she, they, etc.
Pronouns that are the object take the objective case:
Mary ate it.
Christian agreed that we should elect him. Mr. Weinberg asked about them.
Above, the pronouns in bold are all acting as objects of the main verb. Objects of the main verb take the objective case: it, him, them, etc.
Personal Pronouns: Subject and Object Forms
The first step in working with pronouns is to identify any pronoun(s) in the sentence.
See if you can locate the pronouns in the following sentence:
How could she blame you and he for the accident?
Answer: There are three pronouns in this sentence: she, you, and he.
The next two steps can be done in any order. You need to identify the antecedent of each pronoun and determine whether it is acting as subject or object of the main verb. In the sentence above, three different pronouns are used to refer to three different people: she (the person doing the blaming, a female), and you and he (the two people she blames; one is male, and the other’s gender is unspecified).
You can use this information to determine the role of each pronoun in the sentence. The person doing the action (she, or the blamer) is the subject of the sentence, whereas the people receiving the action (you and he, or the people being blamed) are the objects:
Now that we have identified the pronouns and their roles in the sentence, the final step is to determine whether the pronouns are in the correct form. The first two pronouns in this sentence are correct: she is the subjective form of the her/she pronoun, and you takes the same form for the objective and subjective cases, so it is also correct. However, he is not in the correct form: it is acting as the object of the sentence, but it is in the subjective form. We need the objective form of the pronoun, him.
Both pronouns acting as objects must be in the objective case: you and him.
Hint: If you are having trouble remembering whether he or him is the objective form, turn the sentence into a question: “Whom did she blame?” The answer will give you the correct pronoun: “She blamed him.”
Incorrect: How could she blame you and he for the accident?
Correct: How could she blame you and him for the accident?
Let’s look at another example:
Incorrect: Her was better suited for the job.
Correct: She was better suited for the job.
Here, the pronoun is the subject of the sentence. Because the pronoun stands in for some woman, it must be feminine and in the subjective case: She.
Remember: Personal pronouns in the subject and object form must agree with their antecedents in number and gender.
Pronouns and Compound Subjects: Me or I?
One special case that often causes confusion is a compound noun involving a noun and the personal pronoun (me / I). Consider the following sentence:
John and me drank a bottle of wine.
Which is the correct pronoun in this case: me or I? This pair is often confused in both spoken and written English due to the seeming complication of adding another subject into the mix. But it’s actually quite simple to remember when to use “me,” and when to use “I”: cross out everything in the “someone else and me/I” phrase except the pronoun. The correct pronoun is the one that leaves you with a grammatical sentence.
“Me drank a bottle of wine” sounds wrong so the proper pronoun is clearly “I.”
Incorrect: John and me drank a bottle of wine.
Correct: John and I drank a bottle of wine.
Let’s try it again on the following sentence:
The dinner was eaten by John and I.
This sentence has a passive verb, so it’s harder to tell whether the compound noun is subject or object. Perform the test to find out:
The dinner was eaten by
John and I.
The dinner was eaten by
John and me.
The second sentence is grammatically correct: “The dinner was eaten by…me.” This test works for many instances of misused pronouns, but you should become familiar with the subject/object pronoun chart.
Incorrect: The dinner was eaten by John and I .
Correct: The dinner was eaten by John and me.
Summary: Subject/Object Pronouns in Three Steps
1. Identify any pronouns in the sentence relating to the main verb.
2. Identify the antecedent of each pronoun and its role in the sentence: is it the subject or object of the main verb? For compound subjects, cross out the other subject plus the word and.
3. Check to see that the pronoun is in the correct case: subjective for subject pronouns and objective for object pronouns. In addition, subject and object pronouns must agree with their antecedents in number (singular or plural) and gender (masculine, feminine, or neuter).