Writing Advice – Subject and Object Pronouns

Pronouns can be a problem, and if your book contains many instances of incorrect ones, reading it can feel as frustrating as reading a book full of typos.

Here are some sample sentences.

  1. Mom bought some oranges for Lisa and I.
  2. Mom and me bought some oranges for Lisa.
  3. Lisa and I bought some oranges for Mom.
  4. Lisa bought some oranges for Mom and me.

Many people would accept three of these sentences, and some would accept all of them, but only two of them would be considered correct by everyone. All of them can be used in dialog, because it’s perfectly acceptable for characters to use what some consider “bad grammar.” It’s what your characters are saying in the moment, and when somebody’s talking about a scary situation, they’re probably not going to pause to think about sentence structure. The narrator, especially third person omniscient, does have time, and even if people choose not to follow them, it’s always helpful to know the rules.
In the sentences above, the first piece is the subject and tells you who’s doing the buying. In sentences 1 and 4, it’s a single noun, and in sentences 2 and 3, it’s a noun and a pronoun. The word “bought” is the same in all of them, and we can leave it for another post about misused words. The next piece is the object of the verb, which is “some oranges” in all four sentences. Then there’s the preposition “for,” followed by a noun and a pronoun in sentences 1 and 4, and by a single noun in sentences 2 and 3.

Let’s take a break for a minute. I don’t know about you, but my brain’s feeling kind of stale. Grab a cup of coffee, restart your playlist, or text your best friend.

That was a great slice of toast with butter and cinnamon sugar! Now that I’ve gotten myself rebooted, let’s see about these pronouns. Whenever you see a preposition such as “for,” you know you’re in the land of objects. Using a subject pronoun here is hypercorrection. People kept being told not to say things like “Mom and me,” from sentence 2. What they’re really advising against is saying that when dealing with the subject of the sentence, but don’t always bother to say so, so now we have the problem of hypercorrection, like in sentence 1 — “for Lisa and I.” Even if Lisa gets between me and that preposition, an object pronoun is still needed. Isn’t grammar great? No, not convinced? Well, me neither; I often struggle with “whose” and “who’s,” and have to pay very careful attention to which one I’m using. I mean (whose who’s which one come on hurry up!) who’s thinking about that when writing fifty miles a minute and the scene is just so exciting and chaotic? Not me! And yes, I did just begin a sentence with a conjunction, and no, I’m not going to take it back. I also used “me,” where I might have taken my own advice and used “I,” because that “not me” was the subject of that long sentence about not taking the time to think while writing, but “not I,” sounds painfully formal, and I just couldn’t bring myself to use it. That brings me back to my opinion that people can and should say whatever they feel like, and if they need to disobey a grammar rule to do it, they should do so, but before you bend the rules, you should know them.

Sentences 3 and 4 will never earn you dirty looks from English teachers, and . . . hi Lisa, what’s this? Oh, thank you, I love oranges!






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