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How to Be a Connoisseur of Pronouns

July 19, 2017

 

NOTE:  The following article appeared in the 2014 spring/summer issue of the online literary publication Magnets and Ladders.

http://www.magnetsandladders.org

Since I have been blessed with rounds of company during the past week, I am sharing with you a “summer rerun” for this evening’s Wordwalk post.  In recent months, hearing pronouns used incorrectly with greater frequency prompted me to reach into my saved documents and select this particular piece for a “summer rerun.”  (Please look for a new post on Wordwalk next Wednesday.)

 

 

PRONOUNcements about Pronouns

 

by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

 

 

“Ouch!  Ouch!” are my sentiments when I hear on a television or radio program an object pronoun used when a subject pronoun is needed.  I have the same painful reaction when I hear a subject pronoun used when an object pronoun is correct.  Yes, I have an allergic reaction to the poor use of pronouns.  KA-CHOOse your pronouns wisely.  With a little play-on-words, five PRONOUNcements will follow.

 

As you remember from your grade-school days, a pronoun is a word that takes the place of a noun.  We, as writers, realize that using pronouns is one simple way of adding variety to our writing.  Clarity is of utmost importance to all writing.  To be certain that each pronoun is clear, the antecedent of the pronoun must be perfectly clear.  The “antecedent” is the noun to which the pronoun refers.  To achieve perfect clarity, the antecedent must be the closest prior noun which agrees in both gender and number with the pronoun.  Additionally, the pronoun must be the proper type.  Your choices of pronouns are subject, object, possessive, and reflexive.

 

PRONOUNcement Number One:  Watch ‘It’!

 

In my article “Checklist for a Better Writing Assignment” (posted on my blog https://alice13wordwalk.wordpress.com on January26, 2013), the first and second points focus on the use of pronouns.  Number one on my list and other such lists for writing courses is to be careful with the use of the pronoun “it.”  While “it” can be a subject pronoun or an object pronoun, the problems usually stem from “it” used as a subject pronoun.  When I was teaching essay writing at the college level for many years, I told my students that I was planning to have made a t-shirt with “IT” printed on the shirt in bold letters.  Although to many people I would look as if I were working for the Department of Information Technology, I would actually be wearing the shirt to remind my students to consider carefully the use of each “it” in an essay or other piece of writing.  I always advise the avoidance of beginning an essay, short story, novel, letter, or e-mail with the pronoun “it.”  Using “It” as your first word can temporarily confuse, permanently confuse, or delay clarity for your reader.  Certainly, “It” as your first word most often will not lead into a first sentence that will be attention-grabbing nor creative.

 

Example 1.  It was the first day of summer.  Zoe and I walked to the lakefront.

Revision 1.  On the first day of summer after the Polar Vortex, Zoe and I finally walked to the lakefront.

 

PRONOUNcement Number Two:  This and That

 

Secondly, check each use of “this” or “that” as a subject pronoun.  Using these words as adjectives is not problematic, as the next two examples demonstrate.

 

Example 2.  This book is available through the National Library Service.

Example 3.  That guide dog is a golden retriever.

 

While the above sample sentences are correct, consider revising the following sentence when “This” or “That” may refer to the entire previous sentence, passage, or paragraph—rather than a noun.

 

Example 4.  This will help us to achieve our goals.

Revision 4.  Completing successfully these three steps will help us to achieve our goals.

 

PRONOUNcement Number Three:  Subject to Subject and Object to Object

 

Third, may the “Logical Force” be with you:  use a subject pronoun in the subject position, and use an object pronoun in the object position.  In recent years, too many people are skipping this very easy rule.  In a recent tournament on my favorite television program Jeopardy, one of the brilliant, young contestants told Alex Trebek and the massive audience: “Me and my brother went to Iceland.”  (To protect the identity of this superb contestant, the latter part of the sentence has been changed.)  Well, my immediate thought was:  “Alex, press that button to open the funny trap door in the floor and zap the contestant right off the stage!”  Of course, the subject pronoun should have been used; and the order of subjects should be arranged so that the first-person pronoun is listed last.  (Putting the first-person pronoun last in a list is polite and appropriate—but not technically a rule.)

 

Revision 5.  My brother and I went to Iceland.

 

To determine the subject of a sentence, place “Who” or “What” in front of the verb and the remainder of the sentence (the predicate).  Your answer will be the subject.  Who went to Iceland?  My brother and I.  Thus, in the compound subject, the subject pronoun “I” is correct.

 

SUBJECT PRONOUNS:  I, you (singular), she, he, it, we, you (plural), they

 

OBJECT PRONOUNS:  me, you (singular), her, him, it, us, you (plural), them

 

When you need a pronoun as a direct object, an indirect object, or an object of a preposition—use an object pronoun.

 

Example 6.  The committee nominated Fred, Evelyn, and me.

 

To determine the direct object of a verb, place the word “whom” or “what” after the verb.  The committee nominated whom?  Fred, Evelyn, and me.  Again, I used an example with a listing:  in this case, the verb has three direct objects.  The mistake of using the incorrect pronoun is more often made when the pronoun is part of a compound subject or compound object.

 

Example 7.  The park ranger will give a map to us.

prepositional phrase:  to us

 

In a prepositional phrase, place an object pronoun after a preposition.  In third grade, Mrs. Lenderman encouraged my classmates and me to memorize the list of prepositions.  I did as this wonderful teacher directed, and memorizing that list of prepositions has served me well ever since.  If you do not memorize the following list of prepositions, become very familiar with this list and keep it at your writing area.

 

PREPOSITIONS:  Aboard, about, above, according to, across, after, against, along, along with, among, apart from, around, as, as for, at, because of, before, behind, below, beneath, beside, besides, between, beyond, by, by means of, concerning, despite, down, during, except, except for, for, from, in, in addition to, in back of, in case of,

in favor of, in front of, in place of, inside, in spite of, instead of, into, like, near, of, off,

on, onto, on account of, on top of, out, out of, outside, over, past, regarding, since,

through, throughout, till, to, toward, under, underneath, unlike, until, unto, up, upon,

up to, with, within, without

 

PRONOUNcement Number Four:  Place a Possessive Pronoun before a Gerund

 

Fourth, if you think you use possessive pronouns well, you probably do.  My only advice for this group of pronouns is concerning their use with a gerund or gerund phrase.  A gerund is one of three verbals in the English language.  (Participles and infinitives are also verbals.)  A gerund is a verb that is acting like a noun in a sentence.  Although not all words that end with “ing” are gerunds, all gerunds do end with “ing.”  Verbals add variety to our writing.  If you need a pronoun before a gerund, be sure to use a possessive pronoun as in the next examples.

 

Example 7.  Their completing the construction by August 31 is a stipulation of the contract.

 

complete subject and gerund phrase:  Their completing the construction by August 31

gerund:  completing

possessive pronoun:  Their

 

Example 8.  Her speaking with more expression will help maintain the attention of the audience.

 

complete subject and gerund phrase:  Her speaking with more expression

gerund:  speaking

possessive pronoun:  Her

 

Example 9:  The student’s writing skills will improve by his memorizing the list of prepositions.

 

PRONOUNcement Number Five:  Relax with Your Use of Reflexive Pronouns

 

Fifth, in the past decade, more people are using reflexive pronouns incorrectly.  A reflexive pronoun must be used in conjunction with the corresponding subject pronoun.  The reflexive pronoun cannot replace a subject pronoun nor an object pronoun.

 

REFLEXIVE PRONOUNS:

The reflexive pronoun “myself” must be used with the subject pronoun “I.”

The reflexive pronoun “yourself” must be used with the subject pronoun “you” (singular).

The reflexive pronoun “herself” must be used with the subject pronoun “she” or an appropriate noun.

The reflexive pronoun “himself” must be used with the subject pronoun “he” or an appropriate noun.

NOTE:  “Hisself” is NOT a word.

The reflexive pronoun “itself” must be used with the subject pronoun “it” or an appropriate noun.

The reflexive pronoun “oneself” must be used with the subject pronoun “one.”

 

The reflexive pronoun “ourselves” must be used with the subject pronoun “we” or with an appropriate noun(s) and “I.”

The reflexive pronoun “yourselves” must be used with the subject pronoun “you” (plural).

The reflexive pronoun “themselves” must be used with the subject pronoun “they” or an appropriate noun(s).

NOTE:  “Theirselves” is NOT a word.

 

Example 10:  The child emphasized, “I want to read this book by myself.”

Example 11.  He built the log cabin by himself.

Example 12.  Mrs. McKendry herself planted the entire garden.

 

If you have read and studied this entire article, you are a connoisseur of pronouns!  Congratulations!  Go forth, and write well.

 

POST-SCRIPT:  You are welcome to share this article with a student who is preparing to enter college in August or with a high school student who will return to classes during the fall semester.  I would like to forward this blog post to a few radio and television broadcasters.

 

Happy summer writing!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

 

July 19, 2017, Wednesday

 

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3 Comments
  1. Alice, do you really mean to say that if you were a contestant on Jeopardy, you wouldn’t be so nervous that you’d forget good grammar. Goodness! Thanks for the reminder.

  2. Sue McKendry permalink

    Alice–Reading this blog reminds me to be more careful when speaking as well as writing!

  3. mfanyo permalink

    Dear Alice,
    Errors in the use of pronouns and other grammar absolutely jump off the written page for me! I think that my ears also react to hearing incorrect use of grammar. I just can’t help myself! The rules of grammar were taught so very well to us that they are a natural part of our expression, both in speaking and in writing. Thanks for the excellent and interesting review!
    Love to you and Willow,
    Mary

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