Pronoun Case

Understanding Cases of Pronouns

Consider which one of these sentences is the accurate expression:
  • “It was he” or “It was him
  • “It must be them” or “It must be they”?

Using the correct pronoun depends on the PRONOUN’s CASE.

CASE refers to the form of a noun or pronoun that indicates its relation to the other words in a sentence.

There are three case forms: Nominative (subjective) case, objective case, and possessive case.

Overview of the Three Pronoun Case

  1. The nominative or subjective caseOpens in new window refers to a pronoun used as a subject or a subject complement in a sentence.
  2. The objective caseOpens in new window refers to a pronoun used as a direct object, an indirect object, or the object of a preposition.
  3. The possessive caseOpens in new window refers to a pronoun used to indicate ownership or possession.

For some of us who like vivid representations like tables and charts, the following chart further illustrate the three pronoun case forms.

Person or NumberNominative
Case
Objective
Case
Possessive
Case
1st person singularImemy, mine
2nd person singularyouyouyour, yours
3rd person singular, malehehimhis
3rd person singular, femalesheherher, hers
3rd person singular, neuterititit, its
1st person pluralweusour, ours
2nd person pluralyouyouyour, yours
3rd person pluraltheythemtheir, theirs
Now, we will delve deeper into the pronoun case forms, with example sentences.

1.     The Nominative or Subjective Case

The nominative case (also known as subjective case) which includes I, we, you, he, she, it, and they, is used when the pronoun is the subject of the sentence.

Examples include:
  • I am at the Sander’s.
  • You are so brave.
  • Andy made good grades, he really deserves it.
  • The electronic is malfunctioning. It needs servicing.
  • They don't want any more supply.

2.     The Objective Case

The objective case which includes me, us, you, him, her, it, and them is used when the pronoun serves as the object of a verb.

(The object of a verb is the person or thing being acted upon).

Examples include:
  • He took me there.
  • You should encourage them the more!
  • I want to thank her for being kind to my daughter.
  • Gift tells him everything.
  • Don't give up on her.
  • He reported the issue to us.

3.     The Possessive Case

Unlike other pronouns, the possessive words such as mine, my, yours, his, hers, her, its, theirs etc cannot be used in place of a noun or another pronoun. Rather, they are used with nouns to make identifications or indicate ownerships.

Examples include:
  • These books are his.
  • These are his books.Those are yours.
  • The shirt is mine.
  • It is my shirt.
  • Those items are hers.
  • Ours were traded.
  • Theirs is not included.
Note that the possessive case takes two forms:

Using the Correct Pronoun Case

The CASE of a Personal PronounOpens in new window depends on the function the pronoun serves in the sentence.

Based on function, a pronounOpens in new window can serve as a subjectOpens in new window, a complement (predicate nominativeOpens in new window, direct objectOpens in new window, or indirect objectOpens in new window), an object of a prepositionOpens in new window, or a replacement for a possessive noun.

When the pronoun is the subject:
When pronouns are the subject in a compound subject:

Recognizing which pronoun is accurate to use requires an understanding of how the pronoun is used in the sentence.

In this case, we recognize the nominative case is the accurate form to use. Therefore He and I, and She are the correct forms of the pronouns.

Thus, the correct forms of the sentences are shown in 4), 5) and 6) respectively.


When the pronoun is the object of the preposition:

When the object of the preposition is a compound object (i.e., Mike and me) as in: “Mr. Brigade gave the results of the test to Mike and me.” the objective case form of the pronoun is required.

When the pronoun replaces a possessive noun:

In 8) the possessive pronoun hers is used to replace a possessive noun. For example, suppose there is a novel that belongs to Emily. We would say,

Important Hint  

Do not use an apostrophe with a possessive pronoun. There are no such words as her’s or their’s.

A situation that requires choosing between the nominative (subjective) case and the objective case is when a pronoun is used to identify a noun or another pronoun.

In many situations, you can determine the correct pronoun by mentally omitting words or rearranging the sentence.

Observe carefully the following constructions:

Original
  • The chief told us, Chris and me, that we had been nominated for a valor award.
Test version
  • The chief told me that we had been nominated for a valor award.
    (Omitting a few words clearly shows that the objective pronoun me is required, not the nominative pronoun I.)

Original
  • They thought we were guilty of stealing, Henry and I.
Test version
  • They thought I was guilty of stealing.
    (Rewriting this sentence clearly shows that the nominative pronoun I is required, not the objective pronoun me.)

Original
  • We arrested the suspect last night, Tony and I.
Test version
  • I arrested the suspect last night.
    (Rewriting this sentence clearly shows that the nominative pronoun I is required, not the objective pronoun me.)

The nominative (subjective) case and the objective case are the most important case forms.

Simply remember that pronouns in the nominative case or the subjective case are those that can function as subjects. So, by default, if a pronoun cannot function as a subject, then it must be in the objective case.