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Author Topic: Dealing with annoying English grammar errors (13th in a series of 20)  (Read 107 times)
Joe Carillo
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« on: December 19, 2017, 01:20:58 AM »

This is the 13th in a series of 20 essays on what I consider as the most annoying English grammar errors. It is running consecutively here in the Forum from November 7, 2017 every Tuesday and Friday until January 5, 2018.*

6 – Usage of nouns or pronouns in the wrong case (3)

A very common pronoun misuse problem occurs when a personal pronoun is joined with a noun or another pronoun by the conjunction “and” or “or” to form a compound subject. Many people, particularly in colloquial speech, tend to use the objective form of the personal pronoun in such constructions: “The president and him are now politically estranged.” “Both the competition and us will suffer because of this trade mess.” “Alicia and me have been close friends since kindergarten.” “You or me need to stay behind.”




No matter how correct-sounding they may seem, such constructions are grammatically incorrect and are likely to incur disapproval from English teachers and discerning employers. The grammar rule to remember here is to always use the subjective or nominative form of the personal pronoun: “The president and he are now politically estranged.” “Both the competition and we will suffer because of this trade mess.” “Alicia and I have been close friends since kindergarten.” “You or I need to stay behind.”




When the personal pronoun is the last element in the compound subject, people will have a stronger tendency to wrongly use its objective form. This is because the construction obscures the grammatical error and makes it sound aboveboard, as in this example that was given earlier: “The president and him are now politically estranged.”

A good preemptive stylistic habit is to make the personal pronoun the first element instead: “He and the president are now politically estranged.” “Both we and the competition will suffer because of this trade mess.” This way, it becomes unmistakably clear that the personal pronoun should be in the subjective form.

In the spirit of modesty, however, we should make the personal pronoun “I” an exception to this prescription. As we learned early in English grammar, it is good form to make “I” always the last element of the compound subject: “Alicia and I have been close friends since kindergarten.” “You or I need to stay behind.” (It sounds self-serving to use “I” ahead: “I and Alicia have been close friends since kindergarten.” “I or you need to stay behind.”

We’ll look into just three more contentious case usage problems before we close:

(1) Many people will catch themselves saying “This is just between you and I,” “According to you and they, the money was lost in transit,” and “Hardworking people like you and I need a break sometimes.” Some will invoke that even Shakespeare also had done so during his time, but the fact is that a grammar rule outlawing such usage became the English standard in the 1860s onwards.

In your formal writing, therefore, you’ll always be grammatically in the right by using the objective form of the personal pronoun instead: “This is just between you and me.” “According to you and them, the money was lost in transit,” and “Hardworking people like you and me need a break sometimes.”

(2) You still can get into a heated grammar debate on whether to say “No one but I saw that controversial movie” or “No one but me saw that controversial movie,” or to say “No one except I came for the meeting” or “No one except me came for the meeting.” But in such constructions, good grammar will be on your side when you use the objective form of the personal pronoun: “No one but me saw that controversial movie.” “No one except me came for the meeting.”

(3) When using personal pronouns after forms of the verb “be,” do we say “That must be her on the escalator” (objective “her”) or “That must be she on the escalator” (nominative “she”)? Using the objective case may sound more natural than the nominative case, but you’re well advised to limit it to conversational use. Although the nominative case may sound pedantic, it is the grammatically acceptable choice in formal writing: “That must be she on the escalator.”  

(Next: The misuse of participles - 1)     December 22, 2017

This essay, 13th in a series of 20, first appeared in the column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the October 20, 2007 issue of The Manila Times. It subsequently formed part of the book The 10 Most Annoying English Grammar Errors, ©2008 by the author, © 2009 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.

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*Since some types of annoying grammar errors taken up in this series unexpectedly required more than one installment to be fully discussed, the series will run 6 more essays in addition to the 14 originally scheduled. The series will therefore be completed on January 5, 2018 instead of December 22, 2017.
« Last Edit: December 21, 2017, 11:35:01 PM by Joe Carillo » Logged

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