Sadly, some of the most common errors in the English language are tied to some of the smallest words – pronouns. What follows is an examination of a few of the absolute basics and a heads-up about the most common examples of pronoun abuse.
The three main types of pronouns:
Nominative – these are the ones that act as the subjects of sentences (I, They, We)
Objective – These are the direct object pronouns (me, us, them)
Possessive – These… show possession. (His, Their, Our)
There are further breakdowns within these three categories, but for now, let’s keep things simple. The only other type that you need to be aware of is…
Reflexive – These are the “-self” pronouns. (Himself, Myself)
COMMON ERROR #1 – Compound subject or direct object
Nobody in this class would ever say “Doug gave the ball to I” or “Him ate all the bread” yet intelligent people make similar mistakes all the time, saying things like, “Me and my friend threw the party” or “They sold watches to Bill and I.” The cause of the confusion is the jump from a simple subject or direct object, like in the first two examples, to the complex ones, like in the latter two examples. Keep your ears open to this mistake, and catch yourself whenever you are using the complex structures. You can know if you are using the correct pronouns if you pare down the complexities… in other words, you wouldn’t say “Us threw the party” or “They sold the watches to he” (OR “They sold the watches to I”).
EXAMPLES – Correct any errors (not all examples have errors, some have several)
1) She and me went to go visit them and her yesterday.
2) They and us visited the museum before Sara told her and I not to go home.
3) He and we went shopping with her and him.
4) Don’t shut the door on we three travelers.
5) (Replace all names with pronouns in the following:) Steve and Shannon took over for Michelle and Cara.
COMMON ERROR #2 – Who is this ‘myself’ person?
Even if problem #1 is giving you difficulty, here’s an easy problem to stamp out – using “myself” as a cop out when you don’t know which pronoun to use (the same goes for himself, herself & themselves). For example, “They visited Marie and myself last week.” What’s more, lose the notion that this makes one sound more sophisticated or intelligent, like people who insist on pronouncing the silent ‘t’ in ‘often’ (I’ve complained about this before, I know…) It doesn’t. Myself is a reflexive pronoun, and should be used to indicate stress (I myself answered the call) or a reflection on self-identity (I am just being myself). As a matter of fact, you should NEVER have a sentence that includes “myself” that does not include the subject “I” – this is the definition of a reflexive pronoun (which you may know from foreign language reflexive verbs)
IMPROVE THE FOLLOWING:
1) The criminals robbed both Harold and myself.
2) I offered to give themselves the cantaloupe.
3) Herself went to the bookstore (Do you see how stupid these sound yet?).
4) Use “myself” correctly in an original sentence.
5) Use, for the last time in your life, “myself” incorrectly (doesn’t it feel good to be rid of this?).
COMMON ERROR #3 – Shape-shifting (usually from singular to plural)
It is grammatically incorrect to say, “A police officer must always keep an eye on their gun”. This problem has a very simple root – avoiding the clunky, yet technically accurate “his or her”. This problem pops up frequently with singular subjects that mutate into plural pronouns, like the above example. Two other common variations of the shape-shifting pronoun are the transformation of “I” into “you” (“I hate it when you trip and fall over” – unless you are being compassionate, this is not right) or the assumption that everybody is a man (“A teacher gets to take his work home with him every day”) Interesting grammar note, as of 2017, the genderless “he,” which had been used for centuries, is no longer considered grammatically appropriate. In casual conversation, “they” is now an acceptable singular pronoun, as in “A teacher gets to take their homework home with them” but in formal writing, this construction is still considered a mistake. Style guides now recommend the clunky, but grammatical “his or her, ” unless you can use this superior fix: make the subject plural, if you are speaking generally anyway (“Teachers get to take their work home with them”)
CORRECT THE FOLLOWING (there may be more than one way to fix these)
1) Somebody left his plates in the sink.
2) As he ventured about, you could see that everything was a mess
3) If a person loses his watch, he should go check at the lost and found.
4) You should feed your dog before they get tired.
5) A child never should forget about his parents’ birthdays.
For more help, check out the Purdue OWL page on pronouns.