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One of the many reasons to learn grammar is to allow the proper choice of pronouns in a sentence.
This is determined by case: nominative, objective, and possessive.
Luckily for you, the pronouns that have case are few: only the personal
pronouns in the table below plus who and whom.
Step One: Determine the part of speech the pronoun will act as.
Step Two: Pick the right case and number (singular or plural).
Nominative case pronouns are used for subjects and predicate nominatives (I say predicate nouns).
Objective case pronouns are used for all objects: direct objects, indirect objects, and objects of a preposition.
Possessive case pronouns are the easiest to identify. They simply show possession.
(Knowing or classifying the person of a pronoun isn’t necessary to
choosing the correct one in a sentence. Knowing the case is. You naturally pick the correct
person. You’ve discussed first-person narration, third-person
narration, and the rare second-person narration in your literature
classes, and other than for literature study and classification’s sake,
it’s not that useful to folks who have English as their first language.)
||he, she, it
||him, her, it
|his, her, hers, its
The possessive pronoun its is troublesome for some because of the contraction it’s, which means it is. No such word as its’ exists in our language.
Who and whom
aren’t classified as personal pronouns (even though they target
people). They don’t have person, only case. They are also used as
interrogative pronouns (to ask questions) and relative pronouns to
begin subordinate clauses.
Like the personal pronouns, you must chose the correct case based on the part of speech the pronoun will be in the sentence.
When determining the part of speech who and whom will be, see if they are part of a subordinate clause.
If they are, then you have to determine what part of speech they're
acting as inside the clause. Huh, you say? Example time:
I know (who/whom) cheated on the test.
You might look at know and
recognize it as an action verb and think the pronoun choice will be a
direct object and that you must choose the objective case pronoun whom.
If the sentence ended with the pronoun choice, you'd be right. However,
the correct pronoun choice will be the subject of the action verb cheated in a subordinate clause, so it has to be the nominative case who. Who cheated on the test is a subordinate noun clause, and the whole clause is the direct object for know.
Your pronoun choice is based on how the pronoun is used inside the subordinate clause.
Of course, you don't always have to deal with a subordinate clause, but
it's the tricky part we need to consider. Here's another similar
I know (who/whom) you selected as the committee chairman.
Again, we have a subordinate noun clause answering the direct object
question what/whom? after a subject and action verb pairing, but this
time the pronoun choice won't be the subject of its clause. It's
the direct object of selected and needs the objective case whom.
In incomplete constructions, typically elliptical clauses where
the verb is missing, you have to determine your pronoun choice by discovering what's missing.
Consider this sentence: “Evan
is shorter than I.”
It is missing the verb am after I, but it's understood to be there, and needs the nominative case pronoun I as its subject.
Evan is shorter than I [am].
Consider this one: I don’t know Brenda as well as (she, her).
Depending on what you mean, there is or isn't something missing. Are you comparing your knowledge of Brenda
to how well you know another girl? If so, nothing is missing, and her
is correct. If you’re comparing your knowledge of Brenda to
someone else’s knowledge of Brenda, then it's missing the verb does and she is correct because a nominative case pronoun is needed for a subject to does.
You can see that correct pronoun choice depends on your knowledge
of several other parts of speech. That’s why the basics are so