Daily Archives: November 14, 2007

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


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.


Happy Wednesday, Everyone!

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Filed under Grammar, Questions, Teaching