Grammar Wednesday

For two of my favorite men!

Falcon mentioned the other day that he’s not sure what the difference is between an objective and a subjective pronoun is, so I’m going to do a little refresher course for him – and, you know, for you, too…

Pronouns fall into three categories, if you will. First, we have subjective pronouns, which behave as the subjects of sentences. These are I, you, he/she/it, we, you, and they:

They went to the store, but she stayed home. They is the subject of the first part of that compound sentence – who went to the store? They did. She is the subject of the second part – who stayed home? She did.

Objective pronouns are, you guessed it, objects. They can be the objects of prepositions or the objects of verbs, but they don’t work in the subjective spaces. Objective pronouns are me, you, him/her/it, us, you, and them.

She thought she sent the letter to me, but it was delivered to him by mistake. Here, she is the subjective pronoun – she sent the letter – and I (in the form of “me“) and him are the objects of the prepositions.  You couldn’t put me or him in place of she in that sentence, because they are objects, not subjects.
Most of the trouble comes, at least for my students, when there’s more than one pronoun to be figured. The questions I had on the midterm that told me my students still don’t “get” it were:

Blank and blank left at seven o’clock.

a) her and me

b) she and I

c) her and I

d) she and me

and:

Blank went to the banquet with Naomi and blank.

a) He and me

b) Him and I

c) He and me

d) Him and me
The way I teach students to figure these out is to take out all but one of the pronouns and work them one at a time. In the first sentence, for example, the students would take out the second pronoun and read the sentence. If they’d done that, they’d realize that the first pronoun HAS to be she because ‘her left at seven o’clock’ doesn’t make sense. Once they figured ‘she,’ they could take out the first pronoun and try the sentence again. Again, if they’d done that, no one would have answered ‘me left at seven o’clock,’ but I’m saddened by how many people got these wrong.

Finally, possessive pronouns show ownership, and most people don’t have much trouble with these beyond the it/it’s problem. Possessive pronouns are my/mine, your/yours, his/hers/its, our/ours, your/yours, and their/theirs.

Your best friend and mine don’t get along very well.

The other day, Bowyer (he doesn’t have a blog, so I don’t have a link) asked me a question about the capitalization – or lack thereof – of the word “Earth.” “There’s only ONE Earth,” he told me, “yet I see it in lowercase letters all the time and I’m wondering what’s up with that.”

The answer I gave him off the top of my head in the movie theatre where the question was posed was that when the word is being used as the proper name of our humble little planet, it should be capitalized. When it’s being used as a common noun, though, it shouldn’t. He disagreed with that on the grounds that one can only find earth on, you know, EARTH – dirt on Mars isn’t EARTH, he claimed, it is MARS. Regardless, though, my quick research has shown that my off-the-top-of-my head answer is backed up by the books and websites which proclaim such things:

Earth: Generally put in lowercase, but capitalize when used as a proper name.

In his garden, he enjoyed the feeling of earth between his fingers.

“You Earth creatures make me VERY angry, ” the Martian shouted as he pulled out his disintegrator.

Bowyer also asked about whether “president” is capitalized, and I gave him much the same answer as I did about “earth:” when I’m writing about a SPECIFIC president, I capitalize: President Lincoln, for example. When I’m speaking of a president in a non-specific way, I use lowercase letters: the president is, in my opinion, the worst thing to happen to our country in generations.

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Happy Wednesday, Everyone!

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11 Comments

Filed under Grammar, Questions, Teaching

11 responses to “Grammar Wednesday

  1. Isn’t the President of the U.S. always capitalized, even when it’s used as I just did? A quick trolling of the internet shows that it is in the vast majority of news stories I find, and I definitely remember learning that.

  2. Lara, I got this from the UA Editorial Style Manual online, and it’s pretty much verbatim what’s in my grammar and usage books:

    president

    As with other titles, capitalize president only when it precedes the individual’s name or is part of another official title, and never when writing generally of the president or a president:

    That’s something for the president to decide.
    I’ll ask President Smith in the morning.
    president’s office
    Office of the President
    President’s List (when referring specifically to a University of Alabama President’s List; when describing a student’s accomplishments in a more general sense, lowercase)

  3. …though, to be fair, I also found this:

    Certain very high ranking government officials’ titles are capitalized even when not followed by a name or used in a direct address when a specific individual is being referred to*.

    Correct: the President (e.g., of the USA or France)
    the Chief Justice
    the Queen (e.g., of England or the Netherlands)

    …so I guess it’s a matter of preference?

    (*asshole)

  4. wordlily

    I see middle ground on this one.

    Capitalize president when referring to a specific one or ones: The President said today …

    and not capitalize when referring to the office generally: The job of being president is a weighty one.

    Maybe that’s more confusing, though. Personally, it makes sense to treat it like other titles. AP has one twist: the title of president (of the United States) can be used on first reference with last name only, first name only being required for clarity’s sake.

  5. Your grammar lessons are a weekly pleasure! I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned from you over the past months. I love the earth-discussion in this week’s lesson!

  6. There’s another kind of pronoun: disjunctive. They look like object pronouns but they’re not used in object position.
    Who wants to go? Not me!
    Me, I’m going out.

  7. I wouldn’t be so sure of the he and I went… rule. I realise there’s a good reason for it, in that either pronoun on its own would have to be a subject pronoun, but I’m not convinced that the conjunction doesn’t have any effect on this.

    What I mean is, it’s possible that the pronouns inside a conjunction are the unmarked pronouns, and neither the subject nor the object pronouns. It just so happens though, that the unmarked pronouns are form-identical to the object pronouns, and this is what I think is going on in the disjunctive examples John gives. Notice you similarly get the ‘object’ pronoun whenever the pronoun is disjoined from the verb.
    Who wants to go?
    Me
    or not me, but never I or not I (and I’m deliberately ignoring such hairy examples such as the jocular expression Not I, said the blind man).

    There are good syntactic reasons to look at it in this way as well, namely, agreement. Verbs agree with the subject, we all know this.
    He goes and I go, not *he go or *I goes.
    But what happens when you conjoin these two? You get the conjunction of a 1st person singular and a third person singular, which, and there are methods of mechanistically working this out, for any language, produces a 1st person plural.
    He goes and I go produces We go, not We goes. But to do that, you have to take the conjunction He and I as a unitary noun phrase, not as two separate noun phrases.

    The point is, there’s good reason to think of conjunctions as behaving differently from the mere sum of their parts.

    The other ones though, such as She saw he and I, well, there’s no other way to analyse that than hypercorrection: we’ve all been taught from an early age to say Such-and-such and I in the subject pronoun conjunctions, that we (might) subconsciously overgeneralise and apply it to all pronoun conjunctions.

  8. Another way of looking at it is that conjunction has an effect on case assignment, at least in some registers of English. So in “She and me left at seven o’clock”, the fact that the pronouns are conjoined means they can have different cases.

    On a related note, and one of my favourite “mistakes” – “between you and I” has been attested since Shakespeare – before English grammar was taught in school – so it can’t be a mistake or hypercorrection, at least in some cases. But it’s a bit different from mrschili’s examples, since you can’t remove one of the pronouns and still have it make sense.

    http://www-csli.stanford.edu/~zwicky/Grano.finalthesis.pdf

    According to this linguistics thesis, object-position “X and I” is a natural extension of subject-position “X and I”, perhaps reinforced by, but not caused by, hypercorrection. Since subject-position “X and I” is more frequent than object-position “s/he and X”, the former is more likely to be extended into object position. Furthermore, “X and I” is a prestige form, and so is more accepted in object position than “me and X” is accepted in subject position.

  9. nhfalcon

    once again, grammatical things are starting to go over my head.

    thanx for the help, though, Mrs. C.

  10. JK

    thank you for the E/earth lesson, I suppose it works as well for the moon too, although I heard our moon actually has a name, we just never use it. Probably only people like Stephen Hawking are on a first name basis…. wouldn’t dirt on Mars just be “dirt”?

  11. Really? Our moon has a name? I’m off to go see if I can find out what it is. And yes; dirt on Mars would just be dirt, but that wasn’t helpful to Bowyer’s point. You’ve gotta know my friend to understand, I think… : )

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