A Complete Guide to Subject and Object Pronouns
Without subject and object pronouns, we would find communication very difficult. But despite the importance of these elements of language, they can still trip up many writers – and editors too!
In our complete guide to subject and object pronouns, we explain how these words work. We’ll help you banish the confusion between I and me, they and them, and who and whom.
What Are Pronouns?
Pronouns are an essential part of language. They stand in for a particular noun in a phrase or sentence when the audience is already familiar with the noun being referred to.
For example, when two sentences refer to the same noun, you can repeat the noun:
My horse is a champion. My horse has won many competitions.
Or you can replace the noun with a pronoun in the second sentence:
My horse is a champion. He has won many competitions.
Using a pronoun instead means you can avoid repeating the noun phrase my horse.
Pronouns take different forms depending on the role they play in a sentence or clause. These changing forms are what cause the difference between I and me, us and we, he and him, etc.
Let’s take a look at how and why subject and object pronouns differ.
What Is a Subject Pronoun?
A subject pronoun is the pronoun that is performing the action described in a sentence. The subject pronoun stands in for a subject from an earlier clause.
In English, the subject pronouns are:
Identifying a subject pronoun is usually simple because most of the time (with the exception of questions), it will come before the verb:
I am feeding the cat.
Here, I is the subject pronoun performing the action of feeding, and the cat is the object involved in the action.
Subject Pronoun Examples
To help wrap your head around how subject pronouns work, take a look at them in action:
- I ran faster than anyone else.
Here, the first-person pronoun I acts as the subject performing the action ran.
- The cat looked very thin. It was begging for food.
In this example, the third-person subject pronoun it replaces the noun the cat. It is performing the action of begging.
- I don’t know who broke into my room.
The pronoun who here describes the subject that performed the action of breaking in.
What Is an Object Pronoun?
When a pronoun is the thing being acted upon or having an action done to it, we call it an object pronoun.
The object pronouns in English are:
An object pronoun should come after the verb because the person or thing represented by the pronoun is the recipient of the action indicated by the verb:
She told us the truth.
An object pronoun may also follow a preposition, and as such, it’s the object of the preposition. This is also known as the prepositional object, meaning a noun or pronoun affected by a preposition.
The exit was closer to him.
In this example, him is the object pronoun affected by the preposition to.
And it’s incorrect to follow a verb with a subject pronoun rather than an object pronoun:
I hugged he. ✘
I hugged him. ✔
…or to place an object pronoun before a verb:
Him hugged me. ✘
He hugged me. ✔
Object Pronoun Examples
Now it’s time to look at some examples of object pronouns in use:
- His shoes didn’t fit in the suitcase, so he had to leave them behind.
The third-person object pronoun them replaces the noun his shoes, which were left behind.
- The real hero was my mom. We should give her a medal.
The object pronoun in this sentence is her, which replaces the noun my mom. The action of the verb give is affecting her.
- The man was the one to whom I was speaking earlier.
Despite the change in sentence structure here, we can see that whom replaces the noun the man. It is the object of the preposition to.
Compound Subject and Compound Object Pronouns
Writers from all backgrounds can get tripped up when it comes to compound nouns.
Compound nouns occur when a sentence has two or more subjects acting together or two or more objects being acted upon.
Using multiple pronouns or a mixture of nouns and pronouns can lead to some confusion over which pronoun to use.
A common error involves mixing up the subject pronoun I and the object pronoun me:
You and me have red hair. ✘
You and I have red hair. ✔
She painted Harriet and I. ✘
She painted Harriet and me. ✔
By removing the additional nouns, you can easily see why some of the examples above are wrong:
Me have red hair. ✘
She painted I. ✘
If you aren’t sure whether the subject or object pronoun is correct in such cases, try the above trick.
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