English Grammar

Nouns and Pronouns

by Eugene R. Moutoux

1. Nouns name persons, places, and things. Nouns that we think of as names are called proper nouns and are capitalized. Nouns can function not only as subjects of sentences, direct objects, indirect objects, predicate nominatives, objects of prepositions, objective complements, appositives, and vocatives, but also as attributive adjectives and adverbs (in the latter case they are called adverbial objectives). Gerunds (see separate page) are verbal nouns. Certain other words can function as nouns: adjectives, including participles (Palliative care was available for the sick, the wounded, and the dying); infinitives and infinitive phrases (To love is to live fully); and clauses (I heard that the weekend will be beautiful).

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2. Pronouns are words that take the place of nouns or of noun-equivalents. There are various kinds of pronouns:

- personal pronouns: (nominative case) I, you, he, she, it, we, and they; (objective case) me, you, him, her, it, us, and them; and (possessive case) my, mine, your, yours, his, her, hers, its, our, ours, their, theirs;

- relative pronouns who, whom, whose, which, that, among others (She no longer looks like a person who could swim the English Channel);

- interrogative pronouns who, whom, whose, which, what (Who told you that?);

- demonstrative pronouns: this, that, these, those (Who told you that?);

- reflexive and intensive pronouns: myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves (reflexive: The youngster hurt himself; intensive: I did it myself);

- indefinite pronouns (someone, anyone, etc.);

- reciprocal pronouns (each other, one another).

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3. Many pronouns have antecedents, i.e., previous words to which they refer. In the sentences above, person is the antecedent of the relative pronoun who, youngster is the antecedent of the reflexive pronoun himself, and I is the antecedent of the intensive pronoun myself.

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4. Kindly permit me a word or two (okay, a sermon) about compound expressions involving personal pronouns. How is it possible that people who would never say I think they were talking about I have no trouble at all saying I think they were talking about you and I? I have a theory. When I was a kid, back in the Middle Ages, kids who said things like Me and Jerry caught a frog were relentlessly corrected by teachers, parents, neighbors, and anyone else who could get in on the act. "No," the pedagogues and would-be pedagogues said, "Not me and Jerry. Itís Jerry and I." Well, when youíve heard that forty thousand times, itís indelibly carved into the brain, and you never again say me as part of a compound subject, period. Now fast forward fifty years to a generation that has been deprived by "enlightened" pedagogy of all knowledge of grammar, and itís easy to see how the proscription against me in a compound subject could broaden into an all-out war against me in any compound situation: direct object, object of a preposition, what have you. Of course, it doesnít stop with I and me, but by a process of misguided grammatical analogy, the disease is spreading to other personal pronouns as well, especially he (him) and she (her), above all when these pronouns are used with I in compounds: Thatís between he and I, someone may say. In fact, I googled between he and I and got 28,700 hits. Interestingly, between him and I (also incorrect, of course) brought 26,300 hits. Still, the case is far from hopeless. The correct form, between him and me, yielded the most hits, 97,700. The numbers for between she and I, between her and I, and between her and me were 959, 21,000, and 35,000, respectively. Isnít it strange that significantly more people are willing to say between he and I than between she and I? Almost no one likes between they and I, which brought only 70 hits, but between them and I is alive and kicking (47,600). It was nosed out by the correct form, between them and me, by only 100 hits. Those of us who like logic in our language can take heart in knowing that between him and her, which is correct, easily defeated its incorrect rivals. It seems that I is the most abused personal pronoun, with he second, and she a distant third. We can still win this one. Here is the rule (simplified): Use I, he, she, we, and they for subjects, and me, him, her, us, and them for objects.

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5. Avoid using reflexive pronouns as ordinary personal pronouns. He issued a warning to my friend and myself seems to be a way of getting around deciding which first-person singular personal pronoun to use in a compound expression following the preposition to. The right way to do this is, of course, He issued a warning to my friend and me, and thatís what we ought to say and write.

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6. Donít use chains of nouns as attributive adjectives--except to make a point, as I do here: They hoped to found a world population reduction strategy center. This is, of course, terrible. One way of rewording it for real people is They hoped to found a center where people could come up with ways of reducing the worldís population.

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7. The sentence Which of us would invite a stranger into our home? contains an agreement error. Do you see it? Which of us would invite a stranger into his home? solves the agreement problem but introduces a gender problem. To solve the gender problem, one could say Which of us would invite a stranger into his or her home? But his or her is cumbersome, and many of us donít care for it. How about this: Which of us would invite a stranger into the home? Otherwise a radical revision may be in order.

- from the teacher's enlarged edition of my book Diagramming Step by Step: One Hundred and Fifty-one Steps to Diagramming Excellence

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