Are You Talking to I?

by Cherie Tucker

Oh, pronouns.  They’ve confounded the best of us lately.  And it’s not just the who/whom problem anymore.  Is it me or IShe or her? And how can you tell?  And what’s a pronoun anyway?

A pronoun is a word that stands in for a noun (the name of something) when you don’t want to repeat the noun endlessly. (Jim will drive his own car when he gets off work. rather than Jim will drive Jim’s own car when Jim gets off work.) Unlike nouns, however, which don’t change depending on how they are used in sentences, pronouns change all the time.  Luckily no one older than three has any trouble when there is only one of them.  You wouldn’t say, “Me went to the store.”  But when there is more than one pronoun, the trouble starts, as in, “Me and my mom went to the store.” 

If you back up and take them one at a time, you can generally get out of that trap.  Your computer will even warn you with the dreaded green squiggle:

            Me went to the store.  My mom went to the store.  

The other pronoun horror is often heard from the mouths of educated folk in their mistaken efforts to sound elegant: Thank you for inviting my wife and I.  You really can’t invite I anywhere.  It’s especially confusing now that our ears are hearing incorrect usage all the time (a government for we, the people?  No, it’s for us, the people), so here’s how these pronouns function.  If the pronoun is doing something, you need to use one from column A.  If the pronoun is getting done to, use the one from column B:  
           A                                                       B

           I                                               Me                  
           He                                            Him
           She                                          Her
           We                                           Us
           They                                         Them
           Who                                         Whom

NO:  Me and my dad go fishing.            YES:  My dad and I go 
                                                          fishing. (Dad goes; I go.)                   

NO:  Thanks for inviting my wife and I.  YES:  Thanks for inviting 
                                                         my wife and me. (for 
                                                         inviting my wife; for
                                                         inviting me.)
Generally you shouldn’t start a sentence with any of the words in column B (unless you’re saying something like, “Him I can’t stand.”), and never should you use column A’s words when you really mean column B.  It could confuse we if him and you did that.

Cherie Tucker, owner of GrammarWorks, has taught writing basics to professionals since 1987, presenting at the PNWA conference.  She currently teaches Practical Grammar for Editors at the University of Washington’s Editing Certification program and edits as well.

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