Tag Archives: pronouns

Grammar: Pronouns Part XVI—Relative Antecedents

Like most pronouns, the relative pronouns who, which, and that have antecedents—nouns or pronouns to which they refer. Usually the antecedent to a relative pronoun appears in the main clause of the sentence. For clarity, the relative pronoun should immediately follow its antecedent:

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day, a holiday that popular belief claims is named after a third-century priest who was executed for performing illegal marriage ceremonies.

Subject-Verb Agreement

Relative pronouns that are the subjects of subordinate clauses take verbs that agree with their antecedents:

Some argue that Valentine’s Day is a holiday that was invented—or at least heavily marketed—by Hallmark.

Questions arise with sentences that include the phrases one of the and only one of the. Chicago prescribes treating one of the constructions as plural and only one of the constructions as singular:

Due to these marketing efforts, Valentine’s Day is one of the few holidays that are celebrated throughout the world.

It is the only one of the myriad holidays that is dedicated to romantic love.

Don’t try applying this guideline on the SAT, though where one is always just that: one—i.e., singular.

Omitted Antecedents

If there isn’t an antecedent, however, what can be used to mean that which:

Is that what you meant by sending me a Valentine’s Day card?

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

Part VII—Something Personal Between You and Me

Part VIII—Infinitives

Part IX—Indeterminate Gender

Part X—Indefinitely (We, You, and They)

Part XI—Indefinitely (It)

Part XII—Possession

Part XIII—Demonstrative

Part XIV—Interrogative

Part XV—Relative

Resources

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

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

Leave a comment

Filed under grammar

Grammar: Pronouns Part XV—Relative

Relative pronouns—who, whom, whose, which, that, and what—introduce a relative (or subordinate) clause and relates it to the rest of the sentence.

Who Vs. Whom

Who is in subjective case. It can be used when the relative pronoun serves as the subject of the subordinate clause:

Led by Brett Favre, who played quarterback at rival Green Bay for fifteen years, the Minnesota Vikings are one game away from the Super Bowl.

Whom is in objective case. It can also be used in two situations: as the object of a verb or the object of a preposition:

Brad Childress, whom the team hired four years ago, has finally coached the Vikings to the NFC Championship game.

Crucial to the Vikings win yesterday was Sidney Rice, to whom Favre threw three touchdown passes.

If you’re having a hard time figuring out whether the relative pronoun is in subjective or objective case, substitute he or him, rewriting the sentence as necessary:

Led by Brett Favre, the Minnesota Vikings are one game away from the Super Bowl. He played quarterback at rival Green Bay for years.

Brad Childress has finally coached the Vikings to the NFC Championship game. The team hired him four years ago.

Crucial to the Vikings win yesterday was Sidney Rice. Favre threw three touchdown passes to him.

If you would use he in the sentence, then use who. If you would use him in the sentence, use whom. Just remember that the m’s in him and whom go together.

Whose is in the possessive case and thus shows ownership:

Adrian Peterson, whose running game is a constant threat, had a relatively quiet game.

Who Vs. Which Vs. That Vs. What

Use who, whom, and whose only when referring to a person. They can be used in first, second, or third person. (See examples above.)

Use which only when referring to an animal or thing:

The team, which got skunked in its last division championship by the New York Giants in 2001, goes into New Orleans with a definitive win against Dallas.

Use what only when referring to a nonliving thing:

The drubbing was exactly what the Vikings needed going into next week’s game against the Saints.

Both which and what can be used in the second or third person, but not in the first.

Use that to refer to a person, animal, or thing. It can be used in the first, second, or third person:

In the locker room after the game, Favre sang the “Pants on the Ground” song that was made famous on American Idol.

For the difference between that and which, see this previous post on comma use with subordinate clauses.

Compound Relative Pronouns

Compound relative pronouns are formed by adding the suffice -ever­ to who, whom, what, or which. Whoever, whomever, whatever, and whichever don’t point back to a noun or pronoun but refer generally to any or all people or things:

Whomever the Vikings face in the rest of the playoffs will be formidable opponents.

Whatever happens next weekend, the Vikings had a fun and exciting season.

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

Part VII—Something Personal Between You and Me

Part VIII—Infinitives

Part IX—Indeterminate Gender

Part X—Indefinitely (We, You, and They)

Part XI—Indefinitely (It)

Part XII—Possession

Part XIII—Demonstrative

Part XIV—Interrogative

Resources

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

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

2 Comments

Filed under grammar

Monday Morning Grammar: Pronouns Part XIV—Interrogative

Interrogative pronouns—who, whom, whose, which, and what—introduce questions.

Who Vs. Whom

Who is in subjective case. It can be used in two situations: as the subject of a verb or as the predicate nominative after a linking verb:

Who hosted a Halloween party this year?

It was who?

Whom is in objective case. It can also be used in two situations: as the object of a verb or preposition:

Whom did you invite to your Halloween party?

As whom did you dress for your costume?

If you’re having a hard time figuring out whether the interrogative pronoun is in subjective or objective case, substitute he or him, rewriting the sentence as necessary:

He hosted a Halloween party this year.

You invited him to your Halloween party.

If you would use he in the sentence, then use who. If you would use him in the sentence, use whom. Just remember that the m’s in him and whom go together.

Whose is in the possessive case and thus shows ownership:

Whose costume was best at the party?

Who Vs. Which

When working as interrogative pronouns, who and which can both refer to people, but their uses differ.

Who is general. Use it when anyone could be the answer:

Who wants to go trick-or-treating this year?

Who also asks about the identity of a specific person:

Who is that woman dressed as a witch?

Which is limited, asking for a member of a group:

Which Beatle are you supposed to be?

Which Vs. What

Either which or what can be used when referring to a person or thing:

Which one of you made your own costume?

What kind of candy did you hand out to trick-or-treaters this year?

When used in reference to a person, what asks a question about that person—what they’re like, what they do, etc.:

What do you think of the party’s host?

When used in reference to a thing, what is used broadly to ask for a thing, especially among a set:

What are you supposed to be?

What was the best costume of the night?

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

Part VII—Something Personal Between You and Me

Part VIII—Infinitives

Part IX—Indeterminate Gender

Part X—Indefinitely (We, You, and They)

Part XI—Indefinitely (It)

Part XII—Possession

Part XIII—Demonstrative

Resources

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

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

Leave a comment

Filed under grammar

Monday Morning Grammar: Pronouns Part XIII—Demonstrative

This, that, these, and those are demonstrative pronouns—or, if you want to get fancy about it, deictic pronouns—that identify or point directly to their antecedents.

This and that are used for singular antecedents:

This is my professional blog about “finding the right words.”

That is my personal blog about staycationing in Los Angeles.

These and those are used for plural antecedents:

These are posts about writing and editing.

Those are posts about getting out and being a tourist in my hometown.

In all of the examples given so far, the demonstrative pronoun has functioned like a noun equivalent in the sentence, but demonstrative pronouns often work as adjectives:

I have been posting to this blog for over a year.

I just started that blog last month.

This and these refer to things that are nearby, whether in time, space, or thought, while these and those refer to things that are farther away.

The antecedent for a demonstrative pronoun can be a noun, phrase, clause, sentence, or implied thought, as long as it’s clear.

Kinda Sorta

Kind of and sort of, when use to mean “a class of,” are often used with adjectival forms of demonstrative pronouns:

This kind of professional blog helps me learn more about my craft while connecting me with other writers and editors.

Those sorts of personal blogs provide structure to my free time while giving me another outlet for creative writing.

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

Part VII—Something Personal Between You and Me

Part VIII—Infinitives

Part IX—Indeterminate Gender

Part X—Indefinitely (We, You, and They)

Part XI—Indefinitely (It)

Part XII—Possession

Resources

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

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

Leave a comment

Filed under grammar

Monday Morning Grammar: Pronouns Part XI—Indefinitely (It)

Monday Morning Grammar: Pronouns Part XI—Indefinitely (It)

It is SAT season, and one of the rules I emphasize with my students as they prepare for the test is that personal pronouns always need to have a clear antecedent. (Two exceptions, even on the SAT, are I and you, whose antecedents—the person speaking or writing and the person being spoken or written to—are implied.) However, in everyday language, it is often used as an indefinite pronoun.

The pronoun it can be used to refer to a phrase, clause, sentence, or idea that’s implied but not explicitly stated:

In yesterday’s Vikings game against the 49ers, Brett Favre threw a game-winning touchdown with just two seconds left on the clock. You have to see it to believe it.

In this example, you can infer that it refers to the play: You have to see the play to believe it.

It can be the subject of a sentence without having an antecedent. Usually the verb in such a sentence is a form of to be:

It was amazing.

It can also open a sentence and introduce a phrase or clause that comes after the verb:

It is strange to see Favre wearing purple after he played for so many years in Packers green.

And it can introduce a subject or object before it appears in a sentence:

I find it hard to get used to this new world order.

Finally, it can serve as a subject in a sentence discussing time or the weather:

It is autumn; it has finally cooled down.

However, although I’ve been known to favor starting sentences with It’s …—check out the first sentence of this post, for example—I wouldn’t recommend it in academic writing because your meaning can become muddled:

Everywhere I go, even at the Goodwill donation center, people want to talk about Favre. It is exciting.

What is exciting? Favre? Or that everyone wants to talk about him?

Friends of my family have a nephew who plays for the Packers. It is a good opportunity.

What is a good opportunity? Ostensibly, it’s the nephew’s position on the team, but the antecedent isn’t clear.

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

Part VII—Something Personal Between You and Me

Part VIII—Infinitives

Part IX—Indeterminate Gender

Part X—Indefinitely (We, You, and They)

Resource

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

Leave a comment

Filed under grammar

Monday Morning Grammar: Pronouns Part VIII—Infinitives

Quickie post today since it’s Labor Day!

When a pronoun is used with an infinitive—i.e., to plus a verb’s root or stem—use objective case. This rule holds true whether the pronoun is the object of the infinitive or the subject:

Jeff wanted me to accompany him to his stepbrother’s wedding this weekend.

The morning after the ceremony, Jeff’s mother asked us to help tear down the wedding decorations and clean up the reception venue.

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

Part VII—Something Personal Between You and Me

Resources

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

Leave a comment

Filed under grammar

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under grammar