Correct Use of Pronouns
A pronoun is a word that stands for a noun. Effective use of pronouns allows flexibility in writing.
e.g. Peter left for
He drove there in his new car. New York
e.g. I bought myself an expensive watch. It cost me one thousand dollars.
Relative pronouns (who, whom, which, that) introduce clauses that describe nouns or pronouns. These relative clauses can be restrictive (i.e. containing essential information), or non-restrictive (i.e. containing only additional but non-essential information).
Compare the following pairs of sentences:
e.g. The van that hit my dog was a mini van. (correct)
The relative clause above identifies the van, and therefore is essential to meaning of the sentence.
e.g. The van, which hit my dog, was a mini van.(incorrect)
The non-restrictive relative clause above provides only additional information. The use of a non-restrictive clause with the two commas further implies that it can be deleted; however, without which hit my dog, the sentence would not make much sense.
e.g. The reporter who took the photos is now being sued for invasion of privacy. (correct)
The relative clause above is restrictive because it identifies the reporter being sued.
e.g. The reporter, who took the photos, is now being sued for invasion of privacy. (correct)
The relative clause above becomes non-restrictive with the addition of two commas, and who took the photos becomes extra information non-essential to the meaning of the sentence. The sentence without the non-restrictive clause who took the photos would still make sense, and therefore is correct as it stands.
Knowing the difference between a restrictive and non-restrictive relative clause will help you in effective sentence construction.
Incorrect use of subjective pronouns is a common grammatical error.
e.g. My father and I went to see the show. (NOT me: both of us went to see the show)
e.g. It is I who made the decision. (NOT me: I made the decision.)
e.g. The real losers are we ourselves. (NOT us: we are the real losers.)
e.g. The man who called us was who? (NOT whom: who called us?)
e.g. The woman who killed her baby was she. (NOT her: she killed her baby.)
e.g. Peter and he went to the movie. (NOT him: both went to the movie.)
The correct use of pronouns can be difficult with certain expressions, such as, as and more than. The following pairs of sentences are correct, but the meaning is different.
e.g. She likes him more than
I. (She likes him
more than I like him.)
e.g. She likes him more than me. (She likes him more than she likes me.)
e.g. I like Peter better than she. (I like Peter better than she likes Peter.)
e.g. I like Peter better than her. (I like Peter better than I like her.)
Use possessive pronouns with gerunds (words ending in ing) correctly.
e.g. You don’t like my going to the fair by myself. (NOT me going: you don’t like the “going” not “me” the person.)
e.g. Your smirking irritates me. (NOT you smirking: not “you” but your “smirking” irritates me)
A pronoun must agree with its antecedent (the noun that a pronoun refers to).
e.g. All is well. (referring to the sum of all things)
e.g. All are well. (referring to a number of people)
e.g. Everyone wants to get his or her application submitted. (NOT their)
e.g. None of them is going to succeed. (NOT are: the subject is none)
e.g. Some is better than none. (referring to a quantity)
e.g. Some are good. (referring to a number of things)
Stephen LauCopyright© by Stephen Lau