G3: Choosing the Correct Pronoun and Noun Cases

LEARNING OBJECTIVES

  1. Recognize pronoun cases.
  2. Recognize noun cases.
  3. Learn tips for handling pronoun case situations that confuse you.

One feature that is easier in English than in many other languages is noun cases. While other languages have changes for the objective case as well as changes based on gender, English nouns do not change form except for the formation of plurals and possessives.

Pronouns in English, on the other hand, have different forms for the subjective, possessive, and objective cases. The subjective case refers to words as they are used in the subject position, while the possessive and objective cases designate words that are used in the possessive and object positions, respectively. Study the following table for an overview of the noun and pronoun cases.

Subject and object pronouns | The parts of speech | Grammar | Khan Academy
Figure G3.1 Examples of nouns in different cases

NOUNS

SUBJECTIVE CASE

POSSESSIVE CASE

OBJECTIVE CASE

Singular

jar

Jordy

car’s

Jordy’s

car

Jordy

Plural

apples

children

apples’

children’s

apples

apples

Figure G3.2: Singular Pronoun in different cases

SINGULAR NOUNS

SUBJECTIVE CASE

POSSESSIVE CASE

OBJECTIVE CASE

First person

 I

 my

 mine

 me

Second person

 you

 your

 yours

 You

Third person

 he

 she, her, hers

 it

 his

 her, hers

 its

 him

 her

 it

Figure G3.3: Plural pronouns in different cases

SINGULAR NOUNS

SUBJECTIVE CASE

POSSESSIVE CASE

OBJECTIVE CASE

First person

 we

 our

 ours

 us

 

Second person

you

 your,

 yours

 you

Third person

they

 their

 theirs

 them

Figure G3.4: Indefinite pronouns in different cases

SUBJECTIVE

POSSESSIVE OBJECTIVE

 everybody

 everybody’s everybody

 someone

 someone’s someone

 anybody

 anybody’s  anybody
Figure G3.5: Relative and interrogative pronouns pronouns in different cases

 

SUBJECTIVE CASE

 

POSSESSIVE CASE

 

OBJECTIVE CASE

that

 

that

which

 

which

who

whose

whom

whoever

whoever’s (slang)

whomever

Correct Gender Pronouns

As it is unacceptable to refer generically to a doctor as “him,” a teacher as “her,” or a politician as “him,” it is also false to assume that all people identify as either a him or a her. Gender identification does not always fall under two opposing forms of masculine and feminine, also known as a gender binary.

The pronouns he and she are third-person personal pronouns traditionally specific to biological sex; however, English lacks a gender-neutral third person pronoun, and this is problematic for people who identify as neither a him nor a her. In response to this language void, a variety of new pronouns have been coined that do not bear a resemblance to the traditional pronouns of he/him or she/her (Third Person Pronoun; Shank).

The table below lists a range of gender inclusive pronouns that have come into usage. According to the Gay Straight Alliance for Safe Schools, “In English, the most commonly used singular gender neutral pronouns are ze (sometimes spelled zie) and hir” (Third Person Pronoun); however, the singular they is also coming into usage when referring to a person whose gender identification is nonbinary.

CNM offers the option for transgender and gender non-binary students to let instructors know of their gender pronouns and preferred name to be used in the classroom. This service is detailed on the LGBTQ+  page on CNM’s website.

Here is a table of Gender Pronouns, table G3.6.

table G3.6. Gender Pronouns

Subject Pronoun

Object Pronoun

Possessive Pronoun

Reflexive Pronoun

____ is an activist.

I am proud of _____.

That is _____ book. or

That book is _____.

That person likes _____.

She

her

her/hers

herself

He

him

his

himself

Ze

hir

hir/hirs

hirself

Ze

zir

zir/zirs

zirself

E or Ey

em

eir/eirs

eirself or emself

Per

per

per/pers

perself

Hu

Hum

hus/hus

humself

They (are)

them

their/theirs

themselves

Table G3.6: Correct Gender Pronouns is adapted from two sources: Preferred Gender Pronoun Handout and Third Person Pronoun

Some of the pronouns in the table above cannot be located in a dictionary. Every year, hundreds of words are added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Take for example, the terms whatevs (circa 1990) or noob (early 21st century). These innocuous words came into wide usage and were later added to the dictionary. Even though whatevs and noob are informal words, they have a dictionary definition. While the pronouns in the table above may not conform to Standard American English because they do not have a dictionary entry, that does not mean the words will never become mainstream. Language is constantly evolving, and when usage of any of these pronouns grows, dictionary entries will follow.

Tips for Avoiding Pronoun Problems

Tip #1

If you have trouble choosing between “I” and “me” in compound subject and object situations, remove the other subject or object, and try “I” or “me” alone.

  • Example: Which of these two choices are correct?
    • At Bryce Canyon, Carol took thirty pictures of Anna and I.

OR

    • At Bryce Canyon, Carol took thirty pictures of Anna and me.
  • Test: At Bryce Canyon, Carol took thirty pictures of (I, me).
  • Result: Since the correct choice alone is “me,” the correct choice within the compound object is also “me”—At Bryce Canyon, Carol took thirty pictures of Anna and me.

Tip #2

If you are confused about whether to use who or whom in a dependent clause, try isolating the clause that includes who or whom. Then reword the clause as a sentence and substitute a personal pronoun (subjective case: he, she, they; objective case: him, her, them) for who or whom. If he, she, or they sounds right, use who. If him, her, or them sounds right, use whom.

This video explains in more detail:

Subject and object pronouns | The parts of speech | Grammar | Khan Academy

And here is an example for you to read over as well:

  • Example: I don’t know (who, whom) to ask about where to stay at the Grand Tetons.
  • Test: Possible rewording—I don’t know if I should ask (he, she, they, him, her, them).
  • Result: Since him, her, or them are the choices that work, the correct choice in the first sentence is whom—I don’t know whom to ask about where to stay at the Grand Tetons.

Tip #3

If you are confused about whether to use who or whom at the beginning of a sentence, think of an answer for the sentence using a personal pronoun. Then mimic the case of the answer pronoun in the original sentence.

  • Example 1: (Who, Whom) is getting up at sunrise to watch the sun come up over these magnificent trees?
    • Test: They will get up.
    • Result: Since they is subjective case, you should use who, which is also subjective case.
  • Example 2: (Who, Whom) did you ask to watch the fire?
    • Test: I asked her to watch the fire.
    • Result: Since her is objective case, you should use whom, which is also objective case.

Tip #4

In casual usage, some words are sometimes left out, thus requiring a pronoun to do extra work. If you are confused about which pronoun case to use in these situations, think about how the sentence would be written if it were totally complete. Considering the whole sentence meaning should help clarify the pronoun choice.

  • Example 1: Harry likes camping more than (her, she).
    • Test: Harry likes camping more than she (likes camping).
    • Result: The pronoun she is the subject of the assumed verb likes. So subjective case is needed.
  • Example 2: Harry likes camping more than (her, she).
    • Test: Harry likes camping more than (he likes) her.
    • Result: The pronoun her is the object of the assumed verb likes. So objective case is needed.

Tip #5

If you are unsure whether to use we and us before a noun or noun phrase, say the sentence without the noun or noun phrase in place. Whichever pronoun works without the noun or noun phrase is also the correct pronoun to use with the noun.

  • Example 1: Even (us, we) people who like our creature comforts fall in love with nature when viewing the Grand Tetons.
    • Test: Even we fall in love with nature when viewing the Grand Tetons.
    • Result: Once people who like our creature comforts is dropped out, it becomes clear that the pronoun needs to be subjective case.
  • Example 2: Don’t wait for (us, we) creature-comfort people to come up with a plan.
  • Test: Don’t wait for us to come up with a plan.
  • Result: Once creature-comfort people is dropped, it becomes clear that the pronoun needs to be objective case.

Tip #6

You can also watch this short video to learn more about the history of Gender Pronouns:

Gender Pronouns, Get Them Right! | MTV Life
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