5 common ways people misuse personal pronouns

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Among the oldest words in English are the personal pronouns I, you, he, she, it, we, and they.

Two of the personal pronouns, you and it, have only one form that is used as either subject or object:

See that goat? It bit me. (It is the subject of the verb bit.)

I hear a bee. Do you see it? (It is the object of the verb see.)

There’s a poisonous spider. Step on it! (It is the object of the preposition on.)

You agree with Charlie on everything. (You is the subject of the verb agree.)

That car just missed you. (You is the object of the verb missed.)

This information must remain between you and me. (You is the object of the preposition between.)

Five of the personal pronouns have two forms each: a subject form (I, he, she, we, they) and an object form (me, him, her, us, them).

The most common errors occur when subject and object forms are reversed.

Two additional errors that seem to be increasing are (a) replacing a personal pronoun with a pronoun ending in -self and (b) using a personal pronoun in a context that calls for a possessive adjective.

Mistake No. 1: Object form used in place of subject form

Incorrect: In the next several weeks, my colleagues and me will be discussing the appropriate way to do that.
Correct: In the next several weeks, my colleagues and I will be discussing the appropriate way to do that.

The subject forms I, he, she, we and they are used as the subject of a verb. Here are models of correct usage:

We went to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. (subject of the verb went)

The children and I had a lovely time. (subject of the verb had)

My colleagues and I will be discussing the plan. (subject of the verb will be discussing)

Mistake No. 2: Subject form used in place of object form following a preposition

Incorrect: She made each child feel special by taking pictures and spending quality one-on-one time with they and the dog.

Correct: She made children feel special by taking pictures and spending quality one-on-one time with them and the dog.

When the object of a preposition is a pronoun, the object form is required.

Reminder: Prepositions include such words as with, to, in, on, under and between. Here are two examples of correct usage:

The butterfly alighted on her. (object of the preposition on)

She gave the horse to Jack and me. (object of the preposition to)

In the sample sentence, a social worker made children feel special by spending time “with them.”

Mistake No. 3: Subject form used in place of object form following a transitive verb

Incorrect: Rodgers then followed she and her daughter out of the grocery store.

Correct: Rodgers then followed her and her daughter out of the grocery store.

When the direct object of a transitive verb is a pronoun, the object form is required. Here is an example of correct usage:

The supervisor commended him for his contribution. (direct object of the verb commended)

The transitive verb followed requires the object form her.

Mistake No. 4: Subject form used in place of the corresponding possessive adjective

Incorrect: Susan announces she and her husband’s plans to divorce in front of Atticus’s family. (“Downton Abbey” site)
Correct: Susan announces her and her husband’s plans to divorce in front of Atticus’s family.

Note: The personal pronouns have corresponding possessive forms. The possessive adjective forms are my, your, his, her, its, our and their. They stand in front of the noun that is “possessed.” For example:

Jack is his friend. (possessive adjective that corresponds to personal pronouns he and him)

Sally is her friend. (possessive adjective that corresponds to personal pronouns she and her)

She is a subject form and cannot be used as a possessive adjective. Susan announces plans for the impending divorce. They are “her husband’s plans.” They are “her plans” as well.

Mistake No. 5: Reflexive pronoun used in place of personal pronoun

Incorrect: Both my wife and myself felt so much happier after watching this movie.
Correct: Both my wife and I felt so much happier after watching this movie.

Pronouns that end in -self or -selves are called “reflexive pronouns” or “emphatic pronouns.” Here are examples of their correct usage:

The boy cut himself with the hedge clippers. (reflexive pronoun)

The mayor herself delivered my newspaper today. (emphatic pronoun)

There may be occasions when the emphatic form is wanted for a rhetorical flourish, but in ordinary speech, replacing a personal pronoun with one ending in -self or -selves is nonstandard usage to be avoided.

A version of this article originally appeared on Daily Writing Tips.

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Me, myself and I: Deciphering pronouns

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Which of the following sentences is correct?

1. Please copy Robert and I on that email.
2. Please copy Robert and me on that email.
3. Please copy Robert and myself on that email.

If you’re not sure of the answer, you’re not the only one. The misuse of pronouns—I, me, myself, he, himself, her, herself, them, themselves—can make your writing seem “juvenile and nonstandard.” Or so says one of my old grammar books.

Let’s examine a few rules for using pronouns so we can cut through the confusion and write for grown-ups.

Pronouns are words used in place of nouns. A pronoun designates a person, place, or thing without naming it. Every pronoun has a case, which means there are different forms for different functions in the sentence.

Subjective case—I, he, she, we, they, who, whoever. These pronouns are used as subjects in a sentence.

I went to happy hour.
She and I went to happy hour.

Objective case—me, him, her, us, them, whom, whomever. These pronouns are used as objects in a sentence.

The bartender served Janie and me.

In the first example, you would not say, “Me went to the happy hour.” You would say, “I went to the happy hour.” The pronoun “I” is used as a subject and is correct in the sentence.

“Me” is used as the object in the second example. You would not say, “The bartender served I.” Therefore, “The bartender served me,” is correct.

Reflexive case—myself, yourself, himself, herself, ourselves, themselves. These pronouns are used to rename subjects. They should only be used to refer to a previous word in the sentence.

He corrected himself.
The winners congratulated themselves.
I was ashamed of myself.

“Sarah and myself had dinner,” is incorrect because myself is not referring back to Sarah, the subject of the sentence. “Sarah and I had dinner,” is correct.

[RELATED: Get advanced writing and editing tips from Mark Ragan and Jim Ylisela.]

Reflexive pronouns can also be used for emphasis. They repeat the noun or pronoun they refer to.

The owner himself brought our drinks.
You should write that article yourself.

Going back to our first example, the second sentence, “Please copy Robert and me on that email,” is correct.

Ragan readers, any other pronouns that trip you up?

Laura Hale Brockway is an Austin-based writer and editor and a regular contributor to PR Daily. Read more of her work at impertinentremarks.com.

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