Subjective vs. Objective
Understanding the subjective and objective cases is the first step in learning which pronouns to use in your writing. Whether a noun or pronoun is subjective or objective depends on where the action of the verb is directed. A subject is the person or thing performing the action of a verb, while an object is the person or thing that the action is being performed upon. For example, in the sentence, “Robert bought a newspaper,”
- Robert is doing the buying, and is therefore the subject, and
- the newspaper is the thing being bought, making it the object.
- “I” is the subject, the person doing the giving, and
- “him” is the object, being the person receiving the newspaper.
Subjective and Objective Pronouns
Before you can use the proper pronouns, you have to know which ones are subjective and which are objective. You’ll probably find that you already know some of these pronouns and their uses, whether or not you already think of them in terms of subject and object. However, becoming familiar with which pronouns are which will aid a great deal in choosing the correct words for your writing.
The subjective pronouns of the English language are:
- you (singular and plural)
- you (singular and plural)
One of the most common errors in both writing and everyday speech is the misuse of the pronouns “I” and “me.” Such mistakes can be understandable if you’re speaking in a hurry, but you should always use the correct pronoun forms when writing. The more you understand proper pronoun usage, the fewer mistakes you will make.
Although “I” may sound more formal than “me” in a sentence, there are times when it is incorrect. Since “I” is a subjective pronoun, it should only be used in the subjective case. “Me” is objective and is therefore used in the objective case. If this seems confusing, there is an easy way to check for proper usage.
To figure out which pronoun is correct, take apart the sentence and look at each subject or object at a time. For example, the sentence “Bob went to the store with Dennis and I” is incorrect. Take Dennis out and you’ll see why this is the case. You wouldn't say, “Bob went to the store with I;” but rather, “Bob went to the store with me.” Therefore, the use of “me” is correct in this case. Remember that this is because Dennis and “me” are objects in this sentence, and “me” is an objective pronoun.
The opposite is true in this sentence: “Dennis and me ran around the yard.” “Me ran around the yard,” is incorrect grammar, so in this case you must use “Dennis and I.” This is because these are the subjects, two people performing the action of running. Since “I” is subjective, it is the correct pronoun to use.
Who and Whom
Another frequently confused set of pronouns are “who” and “whom.” The first thing to keep in mind when deciding which to use is that “who” is the subjective form while “whom” is objective. Thus the same rules apply as when you’re choosing between “I” and “me.” For example, asking, “Who went to the store?” is correct, because the person “who” refers to is the one who has performed the action of the verb “went.” In contrast, “Bob went the store with whom?” correctly uses the objective form, showing someone that is the recipient, or object, of the action.
A simpler way to remember this is to use “who” when you would use “he” and “whom” when you would use “him.” The previous examples illustrate this well:
- Who went to the store? He went to the store.
- Bob went to the store with whom? Bob went to the store with him.
Understanding the difference between subjective and objective pronoun use is a crucial part of English grammar. Subjective and objective pronouns are just one aspect of proper grammar, but are quite commonly misused. Whatever you may be writing, correct grammar will make a good impression on the recipient, which is an especially important when it comes to formal messages such as cover letters and resumes. Choosing the right pronouns when writing and speaking gives your communications credibility and ensures that they flow smoothly.
Guest post by Lindsey Wright. Lindsey is fascinated with the potential of emerging educational technologies, particularly online schools, to transform the landscape of learning. She writes about web-based learning, electronic and mobile learning, and the possible future of education.
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