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Pronouns and Case

Why Can't a Pronoun Be More Like a Noun?

Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em. Between you and I, pronouns drive myself crazy, and I bet they do yourself, too. A quick look at the disastrous last sentence and a brief survey of English explains why pronouns are more maddening than a hormone-crazed teenager.

Old English, like Latin, depended on word endings to express grammatical relationships. These endings are called inflections. For example, consider the Old English word for stone, “stan.” Study this chart.

CaseWord
Nominative and accusative singularstan
Genitive singularstane
Dative singularstane
Nominative and accusative pluralstanas
Genitive pluralstana
Dative pluralstanum
Strictly Speaking

There are only three contexts in which myself should be used: as a reflexive pronoun (“I fed myself”), intensifier (“I myself would never leave early”), and in idioms (“I did it all by myself”).

You Could Look It Up

Case is the form of a noun or pronoun that shows how it is used in a sentence. Case is the grammatical role a noun or pronoun plays in a sentence. English has three cases: nominative, objective, and possessive.

Fortunately, contemporary English is greatly simplified from Old English. (Would I lie/lay to you?) Today, nouns remain the same in the nominative and accusative cases and inflect only for the possessive and the plural. Here's how our version of “stan” (stone) looks today: stone, stone's, stones, and stones'. Huh? Sounds like Greek? Not to worry. It will all be clear by the end of this section.

Pronouns, on the other hand, have retained more of their inflections, and more's the pity. The first-person pronoun, for example, can exist as I, me, mine, my, myself, we, us, our, ours, ourself, and ourselves—11 written forms! Because pronouns assume so many more forms than nouns, these otherwise adorable words can be a real pain in the butt.

Head Case: The Three Cases

Case is the form of a noun or pronoun that shows how it is used in a sentence. English has three cases: nominative, objective, and possessive. The following chart shows the three cases.

Nominative (Pronoun as Subject)Objective (Pronoun Showing Object)Possessive (Pronoun as Ownership)
Imemy, mine
youyouyour, yours
hehimhis
sheherher, hers
ititits
weusour, ours
theythemtheir, theirs
whowhomwhose
whoeverwhomeverwhoever
book cover

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grammar and Style © 2003 by Laurie E. Rozakis, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book direct from the publisher, visit the Penguin USA website or call 1-800-253-6476. You can also purchase this book at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.


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