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Correct Pronoun Usage

A Grammar Tutorial

Introduction

In communication, proper grammar usage is paramount if you wish to convey your message in a clear and professional manner. While there are many important grammar topics to consider, correct pronoun usage is one that is easy to learn and improve on. In the following tutorial post, you will learn what pronouns are and how to use different forms of them.

Basics

Let’s start with the basics. What is a pronoun? Well, a pronoun is a word that substitutes for a noun or noun phrase. This can be difficult to conceptualize at first, so let’s see an example:

  • Jack ran too fast, so the books fell out of Jack’s hands.”

While grammatically correct, the sentence sounds weird with the repeated noun ‘Jack’. People are smart and can remember what is said in a sentence. We started the sentence by talking about Jack, and in this example, we are still talking about Jack at the end of the sentence. We don’t need to say ‘Jack’ twice. Pronouns allow us to take out the unnecessary second ‘Jack’ and replace it with an appropriate pronoun.

  • Jack ran too fast, so the books fell out of his hands.”

This sounds much better than repeating the same nouns. Now let’s look at an example that spans over multiple sentences.

  • Susan spent the day in the woods. Susan lifted a log. Susan found some worms under the log.”

Again, these sentences are technically correct, although the style would improve by replacing some of the nouns with pronouns.

  • Susan spent the day in the woods. She lifted a log. She found some worms under it.”

The words ‘she’ and ‘it’ replace the words ‘Susan’ and ‘log’. This YouTube video goes over the basics of pronouns.

Subject Pronoun Agreement

Pronoun agreements are a common problem for those who wish to speak and write properly. These issues can be resolved if people know what to look for. In most cases, a pronoun refers back to a noun that appeared previously in the text or conversation. That noun is the antecedent of the pronoun, and the pronoun and noun must agree whether they are singular or plural.

One tricky group of pronouns are indefinite pronouns. This group includes words like ‘nobody’, ‘no one’, ‘something’, and ‘everything’. This is hard to understand at first because the word ‘everybody’ does not sound singular; however, it is treated as a unit, or referring to the entire group. This means that indefinite pronouns are always singular. The words ‘either’ and ‘neither’ get treated as singular even though they refer to more than one thing. Let’s look at some examples of how to use indefinite pronouns.

This YouTube video goes over pronoun agreement.

Gender Issues

Gender issues plague our society at the moment. It used to be widely understood that words like ‘he’ or ‘him’ could stand for both sexes due to it being cumbersome to say, “he or she”. However, in an attempt to avoid offending anyone, many people now use ‘them’ and ‘their’ incorrectly. Let’s look at the following incorrect example.

  • Somebody has left their garbage on the bus.”

In this incorrect example, the pronoun antecedent ‘somebody’ is singular, and the pronoun ‘their’ is plural. This means that the pronoun and the pronoun antecedent do not match up. You could fix this with the following grammatically correct example.

  • Somebody has left his garbage on the bus.”

In this case the pronoun and the pronoun antecedent match up; however, using the masculine pronoun ‘his’ could end up offending someone. One solution to this would be to accept that some people will get offended by this. This is a grammatically correct sentence after all, so why should you care if others get offended due to their lack of knowledge in the English language? This could end up creating unnecessary trouble and should be avoided in a professional setting. Making sure that the message is received in a positive manner should be the goal. Let’s fix the sentence one more time to make it both grammatically correct and gender inclusive.

  • Somebody has left his or her garbage on the bus.”

This sentence is now both grammatically correct and gender inclusive. There is another solution to this problem that makes it where you don’t have to say the cumbersome ‘his or her’.

  • People have left their garbage on the bus.”

By changing the singular subject ‘somebody’ with the plural subject ‘people’, there is now proper agreement between the pronoun and the pronoun antecedent. While this cannot be done in every case, and it can create a slight difference in the meaning of a sentence. Using a plural subject allows for correct usage of the word ‘their’.

Another big gender issue is the use of the correct gendered pronoun. There are some biological men who want to be referred to as ‘her’ and some biological women who want to be referred to as ‘him’. Still others want to be referred to as newly created words like ‘ze’ or ‘xer’. While there is intense political debate on this topic, for the sake of civility, it is usually best to just refer to people by their preferred pronouns. Doing so is a sign of respect to the other person, and this is essential for business communication.

Who vs. Whom

The words ‘who’ and ‘whom’ often have misuse. While the meaning of the message is still clear, proper usage of these words can impress people with your grammar, or at the very least, avoid an embarrassing grammar mistake. ‘Who’ refers to the subject of a sentence. ‘Whom’ refers to the object of a verb or preposition. Here is an easy trick if you are ever in doubt. If you can replace the word with ‘he’ or ‘she’, use ‘who’. If you can replace it with ‘him’ or ‘her’, use ‘whom’. Let’s look at a few examples of when to use the words ‘who’ and ‘whom’.

  • Who would like to go on vacation?”
  • “To whom was the letter addressed?”
  • Whom do you believe?”
  • “I do not know with whom I will go to the prom.”
  • Who made these awesome quesadillas?”

This YouTube video goes over ‘who’ versus ‘whom’.

You

When writing, the word ‘you’ refers to the reader. It is important to make sure that you do not use it to refer to people in general, or yourself in the second person.

I vs. Me

When writing, you can use both words ‘I’ and ‘me’ to refer to yourself. However, you cannot use the two pronouns interchangeably. Depending on the sentence, you must decide which one is correct. It is usually easy to decide which one that is. ‘I’ is the subject of the sentence, while ‘me’ is the object. Here are a few examples of where it is obvious which one to use.

  • I love pizza!”
  • “She is going to hit me.”
  • “Give me my game back.”

There are some cases when it can be harder to know which one to use. This is usually caused by multiple people being in a sentence. Here are a few examples of what to use when multiple people are in the sentence.

  • “Louis and I aren’t going”
  • “Charles sent Mike and me to the store to buy food.”

The easiest way to figure out whether to use ‘I’ or ‘me’ is to take away all of the other people. Here’s an example of this being done to the previous example.

  • I am not going”
  • “Charles sent me to the store to buy food.”

If you were to say, “me am not going”, it would be evident that you used the wrong pronoun. There are some cases where it is more difficult to determine which pronoun to use. Here is one such example.

  • “She’s better than me.”
  • “She’s better than I (am).”

Which one is correct? Well it actually turns out that both are correct. While topic is debated in formal English, it’s your decision on which word to use. Using ‘me’ is more laid-back, while using ‘I’ is more conservative.

On a final note, the rule for correct English is that you should come last in a list. So, it’s “Keven and me”, not “me and Keven”.

Conclusion

If you follow these rules and tricks, you’ll now use pronouns like a grammar pro. Using ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘who’, or ‘whom’ incorrectly can make you look uneducated and unprofessional. Using the incorrect gendered pronoun can make you appear intolerant and disrespectful. Getting the subject pronoun agreements right is easy to do if you know what to look for. While there are more rules on how to use pronouns, this tutorial touched on the more important ones that are easy to correct. Pronoun usage is an essential part to professional communication, and now you will be able to use them properly.

What do you think?

Written by Mack Morris

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