Grammar Today


My children, this week's Saturday Morning Grammar Special is likely to be jargon-heavy, so sit up straight and pay attention.

Nothing sets Sister's teeth on edge quite like the misuse of personal pronouns in the wrong syntactic position. What do I mean? Consider the following sentence:

Sister Mary Participia accompanied me to Mass this morning.

Now this is a perfectly grammatically correct sentence in English. Note the personal pronoun me. This is an example of a personal pronoun used as a direct object of the transitive verb accompanied. Personal pronouns used as objects, indirect objects, and objects of prepositions must be in the objective case. These pronouns include me, us, you, him, her, it, them.

For those of you, and you know who you are, whose eyes glaze over at the mere mention of parts of speech (I see you, Ralst! I see you!), think of it this way: these parts of the sentence (objects direct, indirect, and of the preposition) almost always come after the verb, or the action, of the sentence. So, rarely will these personal pronouns appear at the beginning of the sentence, unless, of course, you are Yoda. (Accompanied me to Mass did Sister Mary Participia.)

With me so far? Good.

A misuse occurs with alarming frequency today, and it appears to have begun, in my experience, some time in the 1980s. This problem arises when using more than one noun or pronoun, or compound word groups, in the object position. Then students seem to want to use a pronoun from the subjective case, which includes I, we, you, he, she, it, they. These personal pronouns must be used for subjects of sentences, the actors of the actions of sentences. See the following example:

Sister Mary Participia accompanied the Mother Superior and I to Mass this morning. WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!!!

The correct usage is Sister Mary Participia accompanied the Mother Superior and me to Mass this morning.

I have given this misusage much thought over the years, and I have come to the conclusion that it appears that younger Americans, especially, eschew the use of the simple, useful personal pronoun me, probably because they are over-generalizing the grammar rule which states that one must always use I when referring to one's self. This is to avoid the discordant Suzie and me are going to egg some cars this weekend! I can hear the correction now: No, no, no! Say "Suzie and I are going to egg some cars this weekend"! The lesson stuck, but unfortunately, it spilled over to other parts of the sentence. Yes, one should use the personal pronoun I when referring to one's self, but only if that pronoun appears in the subject position of the sentence:

Sister Mary Participia and I went to Mass this morning.

You see, the I appears as the subject of the sentence, along with Sister Mary Participia, and therefore should be in the subjective case.

Let's see how this plays out with other personal pronouns:

Me and her go to Mass together every morning. WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!!!

She and I go to Mass together every morning. CORRECT!

I go to Mass every morning with the Mother Superior and she. WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!!!

I go to Mass every morning with the Mother Superior and her. CORRECT!

Here is a simple way to remember the crux of this lesson:

Would you say, "I go to Mass every morning with she"? Of course not! Then it stands to reason that you would not, and should not, say, "I go to Mass every morning with the Mother Superior and she."

When faced with a compound direct object, indirect object, or object of the preposition, take the first one out and listen to what you have left. That should guide you in choosing the correct personal pronoun!

Now, my contrarians out there, you may sharpen the long knives.

Good day and good grammar!

Sister Mary Grammatica, SGJ

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