Monday Morning Grammar: Pronouns Part VII—Something Personal Between You and Me

Even my sharpest students get tripped up by compounds involving pronouns. As soon as we simplify the sentence, however, removing the rest of the compound phrase and isolating the pronoun, the correct usage becomes clear. Don’t let compounds and other complex sentence structures complicate your use of the correct pronoun case.

As discussed last week, if a pronoun is the subject of a sentence or independent clause or a predicate nominative after a linking verb, use subjective case. This doesn’t change if your subject or predicate nominative is compound.

It was so hot in Los Angeles this weekend that Jeff and I spent Saturday afternoon at his air-conditioned office.

The only people there were a couple of editors, he, and I.

In cases like these, your ear isn’t always reliable. It might sound just fine to say Jeff and me spent Saturday afternoon at his air-conditioned office or the only people there were a couple of editors, him, and me. To make sure you’re using the right case, simplify the sentence: get rid of the rest of the compound phrase and isolate the pronoun:

It was so hot in Los Angeles this weekend that I spent Saturday afternoon at Jeff’s air-conditioned office.

The only person there was I.

You wouldn’t say me spent Saturday afternoon …, so don’t let the compound phrase confuse you.

Likewise, use objective case when a pronoun is the direct or indirect object of a verb or object of a preposition, even when the pronoun is part of a compound phrase:

Anthony invited Jeff and me to cool off at his place, which is also air conditioned.

Because there are so many computers running at Jeff’s office, the air conditioning was cranked so high that it gave him and me goose bumps.

Still, the chill was a relief to him and me.

It is examples like these to which my students confidently declare that the sentences should read Jeff and I or he and I. But they’re engaging in hypercorrection—and I has been so drilled into them that it sounds right to them, whether the subjective or objective case is required. Yet, when we simplify the compound phrase, the correct case becomes clear:

Anthony invited me to cool off at his place, which is also air conditioned.

Because there are so many computers running at Jeff’s office, the air conditioning was cranked so high that it gave me goose bumps.

Still, the chill was a relief to him.

Do you have a question about pronouns? Let me know, and I’ll include it in a future installment of Mots Justes’ ongoing series.

The Mots Justes Series on Pronouns

Part I—The Basics

Part II—Location, Location, Location

Part III—Number

Part IV—Person

Part V—Gender, Plus “They” as a Gender-Neutral Singular Pronoun

Part VI—On the Case

Resources

Chicago Manual of Style, The. 15th ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003.

Fogarty, Mignon, Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. New York: Holt Paperbacks, 2008.

Hacker, Diana, The Bedford Handbook for Writers, 3rd ed. Boston: St. Martin’s Press: 1991.

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