WORST "CASE" SCENARIOS
What is wrong with the following?
There has been a long-standing feud between her and I that, even though we live together, everyone has
learned to accept. When me and her first met, we had an instant attraction to each other. Unfortunately, we
sometimes let the heart choose whoever it wants, and worry about the consequences later. Over time, she
and myself started to become more aware of one another's little habits. We stopped ourself from going to
parties together, because we knew we would kill other people's fun. One friend even withdrew hisself from us
altogether. However, eventually he started separately inviting us to his dinner parties and it inspired our other
friends to follow suit. Now, I hold myself dinner parties where she remains upstairs, alone, while we dine
together, and she will do the same on other days. Some have asked, "Why don't they separate and live by
theirselves?" I have no answer, except I've become used to it. As the saying goes, "Sometimes living with the
enemy you know is better than sleeping with the lover you don't."
WAYS IN WHICH PRONOUNS ARE IDENTIFIED
A word that is a substitute for a noun or noun equivalent is called a "pronoun." The nouns for which pronouns
substitute are called "antecedents," a word deriving from the verb "antecede": to go or occur before, in time or
place; precede. In grammar, the nouns or noun phrases for which pronouns are substitutes are referred to as
"antecedents"--the word(s) that come before the pronoun is used. Note: Where word order in a sentence is
concerned, it isn't always the case that the antecedent occurs before the pronoun.
Before she went on vacation for three weeks, Virginia shut off the gas and electricity to her house.
Pronouns Are Identified By Their Number
Pronouns are characterized as either singular or plural in number: "Singular" means one and only one;
"Plural" means two or more. The number of a pronoun is determined by whether its antecedent is singular or
Every dog staying at the kennel had its own dish it shared with no one.
Because dogs are territorial, they might try to keep other dogs from common access to food and water.
Pronouns Are Identified By Their Person
Personhood in pronoun use is a matter of perspective in an intimate dialogue between writer and reader (or,
speaker and listener).
1st Person: The primary perspective is always that of the "I" point of view; the person speaking or
2nd Person: The secondary perspective is always of the individual(s) to whom the "I" is speaking
or writing--the "you"; the person(s) addressed.
3rd Person: The remaining perspective is always of anyone else not included in that relationship--the
"other" about which the "I" is speaking or writing to "you"; the person(s) referenced.
I will remind you next time not to invite them to our party.
Pronouns Are Identified By Their Case
Using a pronoun is a case of substitution. The word "case," then, has the same meaning as in the common
expression, "Just in case . . . "; it refers to a set of circumstances or a situation. The circumstances of how a
pronoun is used in a sentence determines its case. In most "cases," a pronoun serves either as subject or as
object (of a verb or preposition); however, other cases provide more complex substitutions and relationships
Many students neglect to look at the issue of case in their native languages until they study a foreign
language. Understanding the differences among language often comes down to reviewing how different
cases are identified by word endings. English rarely uses different word endings, so selecting pronouns
appropriate for the case genuinely demands an understanding of the grammar. However, since pronouns
substitute for nouns, it is helpful to note first (and memorize) how nouns can fall into four different cases:
in the role of the subject (a.k.a. nominative; predicate nominative)
e.g. 1: "Cabbage stinks."
e.g. 2: "Swing is a style of dance." ("style" is the predicate nominative)
in the role of the direct object of a transitive verb or a preposition*
e.g.: "The chef made a souffle for our guests."
in the role of an indirect object (often implying the preposition "to" or "for")
e.g. 1: "Derek's cologne gave me a headache."
e.g. 2: "The chef made our guests a souffle."
the possessive relationship; indicating belonging (marked by an apostrophe or
e.g. 1: "Mary Ann grasped the broom's handle."
e.g. 2: "The handle of the broom was broken."
Prepositions create more complex in English--the locative (movement from), ablative (indicating an
addressee), and instrumental (indicating an object used to perform or accomplish an action)--but these do not
require any special change of pronoun: they all take the same "object" case.
Subjective Pronouns (including Nominative and Predicate Nominative Cases)
he, she, it
If they take any longer, I will have to ask that we postpone the meeting you scheduled until Friday.
Objective Pronouns (a.k.a., Accusative and Dative Cases)
him, her, it
The manager gave me an application, which required me to complete it right there and return it to her before
Possessive Personal Pronouns (has aspect of the Genetive Case, but is used as, either,
Subject or Object)
his, hers, its
These suitcases are my husband’s and mine, not yours, because all of ours have leather ID
tags, and, if you study those suitcases closely, their tags are clearly plastic.
*Note: The underlined word "their" is not a Possessive Personal Pronoun in this sentence.
Possessive adjectives are not pronouns, but they resemble possessive pronouns very closely and are bound
by many of the same rules of agreement. (See "Pronoun Agreement" below.) The possessive adjectives are:
his, her, its
The word "demonstrative" derives from the verb "demonstrate." A pronoun that substitutes for whatever is
being held up as an example or a demonstration is, therefore, a demonstrative pronoun. The simplest way to
imagine a demonstrate pronoun it is being pointed at (or pointed out). Note that the demonstrative pronouns
come in singular form and in plural form.
this / these
Farther Away (or Further Along)
that / those
These are the study guides I discovered while searching this entire library, but this is the book that those two
librarians told me was the most reliable.
Even though it is always congested, that is the freeway one must take to reach these parts of town. Those are
the risks of moving to a big city like this.
Note: Take care not to confuse the demonstrative pronoun "that" with the relative pronoun "that" or the
begin a question (i.e., an interrogative sentence):
Which is the correct window to enquire, and what should I ask?
begin a subordinate clause (a relative clause) and connect it to an antecedent noun in the main clause:
who, whom (for whom, with whom, by whom, etc.)
Career counselors warn young people to choose whatever interests them, but to listen what their heart tells
them as well. Interests change over time, and that which was once a career can soon become a daily toil.
However, one who starts their work day with a love for what they do will also end their work day with that love
same for life. That means choosing a career that your heart loves is that important--so important, in fact, that
some young people wait for years before they discover that passion.
Note: Only the bolded words in the example above are relative pronouns. Like any noun or pronoun, relative
pronouns answer the questions "What?" or "Who?" Beware! "That" is a word with many meanings and parts of
a demonstrative pronoun: this, that; these, those (E.g., ". . . even if that means"; "That means . . .")
a subordinating conjunction: when, if, as, while, though, that, etc. (e.g., "in hopes that you become an
important person . . . ")
a definite article: a/an, the, that/this [e.g "it's that important person you know")
an adverb: so, this, that, very (e.g., "it's that important to any person you know")
Also, be careful not to confuse "that" with "which"; "which" commonly refers to an entire clause:
Some couples are quick to buy a new home even before they're married or legally and financially tied to each
other, which causes them to live for many years under the stress of being "house poor." (In this sentences,
what causes couples to live under stress is the act of buying a new home before they are financially
committed; the entire main clause is modified by the dependent clause. Notice that a comma separates the
dependent clause from the main clause.)
Even before they're married or legally and financially tied to each other, some couples are quick to buy a new
home that causes them to live for many years under the stress of being "house poor." (In this sentences, what
causes couples to live under stress is the home, itself, and not the timing of its purchase; just the noun "home"
is modified by the dependent clause. Notice that comma does not precede the word "that." )
Indefinite pronouns are derived from adjectives describing indefinite numbers or amounts; when the nouns
they describe are dropped and only the adjectives remain, these become substitutions for their nouns, which
by definition makes them pronouns: "Each toy is handmade" becomes "Each is handmade." Over the
centuries, certain indefinite pronouns have kept their original nouns, especially "-thing" and "-body."
any, anybody, anyone, anything
everybody, everyone, everything
some*, somebody, someone
*Note: The indefinite pronouns marked with an asterisk are plural pronouns. Confusion over the number of
indefinite pronouns is one of the four common causes for subject/verb agreement errors. (See Verb Tenses
for more information.)
Certain combinations of indefinite pronouns create a condition of reciprocity (a reciprocal relationship)
expressed either as a pair or as a group. These are the Reciprocal Pronouns; there are only two of them:
each other = between just two
one another = among three or more
My two parrots barely tolerate each other.
Although disagreements occur among the committee members, they still respect one another.
Pronouns ending in "-self" that are the objects of transitive verbs, and which "reflect" the number and person of
the subject, are Reflexive Pronouns.
himself*, herself, itself
I taught myself how to drive a car, though I, myself, do not believe I am a good driver.
A barber rarely gives himself a haircut.
Pronouns ending in "-self" that repeat a noun or pronoun (instead of substituting for it) add emphasis or
intensity to the words they repeat. These are Intensive Pronouns.
himself*, herself, itself
Death, itself, is, a reality for which you might prepare yourselves, but tax preparation is, itself, a greater
mystery for which no sane person can prepare herself.
Intensive Pronouns are closely related to Appositive Phrases: nouns and noun phrases that are side-by-side
with another noun or pronoun (i.e., that are apposite to them) and restate them in a more particular.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th U.S. president, served as supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe during
World War II .)
*Note: The following are commonly made errors resulting from an attempt to force pronouns to agree with
their antecedents. These pronouns do not exist and should never be used:
PRONOUN AGREEMENT ERRORS
Pronoun errors--pronouns that don't represent their antecedents correctly--are among the most common
errors of grammar in college level writing. There are three ways in which pronouns may be incorrect, and they
correspond to the three ways in which pronouns are identified: in number, in person, and in case.
Pronoun Case Errors
Conversational English makes many allowances for pronoun case errors because, in the spontaneous flow of
dialogue and everyday interaction, no one stops to demand correct grammar. Writing, on the other hand, is
not spontaneous; it can be reread or read slowly, and these mistakes are more glaring indications of the
writer's poor command of English. The most common pronoun case errors confuse the subject case with
object case, or misuse the reflexive case.
Subject-Object Case Error
I made him promise to keep this delicate matter between him and I.
Me and Terrence camped in Yosemite over the weekend.
Yours and your friend's ties are exactly alike.
Reflexive Case Error
This application should be filled out by yourself only.
Samantha, Peter and myself are now roommates.
Her friends respect herself more than she does.
When a plural pronoun does not agree with its singular antecedent, most often it is because the writer is trying
to avoid sexism. The English language has only awkward solutions for pronouns whose antecedents are of
an unknown gender, but pairing a plural third-person pronoun with a singular antecedent is not one of them.
If a student parks a car on campus, they have to buy a parking sticker.
If a student parks a car on campus, she has to buy a parking sticker.
Whenever students park their* cars on campus, they have to buy parking stickers.
Note: Plural pronouns very often demand that other nouns in the sentence, whether subjective or objective,
also be plural.
*Even though “their” is a possessive adjective, it conjugates the way other personal pronouns do. Therefore, it
is subject to the rules of number agreement.
(Related Grammar: Pronoun Shift)
When the person of the pronoun (first-, second-, or third-person) is inconsistent with its antecedent, or shifts
arbitrarily, this is an error of Pronoun Person Agreement:
When a student comes to class late, you should at least have your homework ready.
When a student comes to class late, he should at least have his homework ready.
When students come to class, they should at least have their homework ready.
Over the course of your life, we can expect our hearts to beat 2.6 billion times.
Over the course of our life, we can expect our hearts to beat 2.6 billion times.
Linking Verbs (a.k.a. Iterative Verbs, Copulative Verbs; Related Grammar: Predicate Nominative Case)
Unlike most other verbs, linking verbs reiterate the subject of the clause with another noun (as in the case of
appositive phrases; see above) or with a modifier. When pronouns are used with linking verbs, they must use
the subject case, not the object case.
I thought they were speaking about my friend, but, in truth, it was me.
I thought they were speaking about my friend, but, in truth, the subject of their conversation was I.
When the switchboard operator asked to speak to Mary Donaldson, I said, "This is she."
PRONOUN REFERENCE ERRORS
The prefix "ambi-" means "both" in Latin. Ambiguity occurs when there are two or more possible meanings.
When a pronoun has two or more possible antecedents, but it is unclear which is the right one, this causes a
Pronoun Reference Error. Ambiguous pronoun references are very similar to misplaced modifiers.
When a president carefully selects a Supreme Court Justice, he is sworn to impartiality in his judgment.
When carefully selected by a president, a Supreme Court Justice is sworn to impartiality in his judgment.
Sworn to impartiality in his judgment, a president carefully selects a Supreme Court Justice.
Ambiguity and Misplaced Modifiers
Average citizens have made great strides toward maintaining democracy in their own way.
Average citizens in their own way have made great strides toward maintaining democracy.
Average citizens have made great strides in their own way toward maintaining democracy.
Vagueness occurs when the antecedent of a pronoun cannot be found in the same sentence. Vague pronoun
references are very similar to dangling modifiers.
In the Judicial branch of government, they should be selected for their impartiality.
When judges are appointed the Judicial branch of government, they should be selected for their impartiality.
Advertising is when they try to make us want products and services we do not necessarily need.
Advertisers succeed when they try to make us want products and services we do not necessarily need.
Vagueness and Dangling Modifiers
Preparing for dinner, it took almost an entire hour to scrub the pots from last night's kitchen disaster.
Preparing for dinner, we took almost an entire hour to scrub the pots from last night's kitchen disaster.