Pronouns Have Case

English grammar is much simpler than the grammar of other European languages. For example, English speakers and writers do not have to remember if table is masculine or feminine. They don’t have to learn different adjective endings to go with masculine and feminine nouns.

English verb forms have become so streamlined that the same form is used with most subjects: I walk, you walk, they walk. In the present only third person differs: I walk, you walk, they walk, but he walks. In the other tenses uniformity prevails: I walked, he walked, you walked, they walked, we walked.

However, when it comes to pronouns, English retains differing pronoun forms that do require some effort of understanding on the part of speakers and writers.
For some reason illiterate pronoun use has become popular in the media. Talk show hosts and their guests misuse pronouns in front of millions of viewers daily. Script writers ignore the presumed educational status of characters and have attorneys, physicians, and college professors say things like Her and Max would go there… (highly-placed lawyer on The Good Wife).

Language changes from generation to generation, even such conservative parts of it as pronoun use. For example, standard English speech no longer uses the singular pronoun forms thou and thee or the possessive adjective thy.

Once a plural object form, you has become the only pronoun for second person, subject and object; singular and plural: You, Charlie, make me laugh. You, Class, are about to have a test. You see me. I see you.

The use of whom as the object form of who has all but died out of the spoken language. Most speakers informally use who as both subject and object. even when they observe the differences in writing.

With pronoun forms similar in sound:who/whom, ye/you, a merging of forms is a fairly obvious development.

What’s happening with the pronoun forms I/me, he/him, and she/her, however, represents a trend not so easy to understand.
What teachers and parents need to be aware of is that–despite popular usage–nothing screams lack of education more loudly than pronoun mix-ups like these. We need to comment on the misuse of pronouns in the media and correct the speech of the children in our care.

A word of warning: I once corrected a high school student in her use of pronouns. She angrily informed me that she didn’t talk that way. Somehow we must convey to children the fact that there’s a practical value in the ability to speak and write more than one form of their native language.

Pronoun Case

One Response

  1. You hit the nail on the head, doc!

    “Somehow we must convey to children the fact that there’s a practical value in the ability to speak and write more than one form of their native language.” And, in my opinion, it is very practical to know correct usage. While I recognize that language evolves, it sure helps to get through the evolving if you know where you’re coming from. 🙂

    It hurts my ears when I hear influential media types (talk show hosts, actors, news broadcasters, etc.) say things like, “Him and me are working on a project together.” I know I’m especially sensitive to this kind of thing, and for the sake of sanity (mine and everyone else’s), I no longer correct the way I used to.

    Some of us still care about language, usage, and grammar, and we just have to try to make a difference where and when we can. I’m a freelance copyeditor and also an ESL tutor, so I’m doing my part.

    Thanks for posting!

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