Put Out a BOLO (Be On the LookOut) on Pronoun Agreement
We (Edith Hope Fine and Judith Josephson) are the Grammar Patrol. Both of us taught for years and are now writers, with thirty plus books between us, including our two popular grammar guides, Nitty-Gritty Grammar and More Nitty-Gritty Grammar. For close to twenty years, we taught writing and grammar basics and now we blog about grammar for writers.
In Perfect Grammar Land, you’d hear, “Put out a BOLO for a blue station wagon, license ISPKGOOD.” We want you to put out a BOLO on agreement bloopers when prepositions pair with incorrect pronouns. Such errors abound, especially in speech and on TV and radio shows.
The Grammar Patrol winces when a best-selling writer says on NPR, “It was a big thing for my wife and I to take the plunge.” Would you say, “It was big for I?” or “Where are the Girl Scout cookies for I?” (No way: for me . . . me . . . me!)
Can you spot the bloopers? Clues are in boldface.
1. Here’s a picture of Sam and I holding hands.
2. He said it to Alex and I many times.
3. The photocopier decision was made by he and she.
4. Between you and I, I’m not a Downton Abbey fan.
5. Our cow costume won for she and I.
All five examples have incorrect pronouns used with prepositions. This is an easy error, made by the most erudite among us.
To get this straight, you need to know three things:
• what a preposition is
• what a prepositional phrase is
• which form of a pronoun to use.
√ Step 1: Know Prepositions
Once at a Nitty-Gritty Grammar workshop for the Navy, a young ensign raised his hand. “I can recite all the prepositions,” he said. He rattled off a long alphabetical list of prepositions and earned a huge round of applause. His sixth grade teacher had done him a great favor. He had prepositions down cold.
In the five sentences above, the boldfaced words are all prepositions. A clue to prepositions is there in the word: position. Think of a puppy with a cardboard box. It can take lots of positions in and around that box. The pup can go on, around, through, from, beside that box. She can play by, above, below, beyond, past the box or between boxes. Note that at, with, and for also belong to the merry band of prepositions.
√ Step 2: Know Prepositional Phrases
A prepositional phrase combines a preposition with one or more nouns or pronouns:
past the planet to the station by the rocket around the island
from them beside her by us to him
√ Step 3: Know Pronoun Forms
Subjective pronouns are used as subjects: I, he, she, we, and they.
Monty and I got hitched last weekend. (Not Me and Monty)
Objective pronouns are used as objects: me, him, her, us, them.
We invited them to tea. (“We” is the subject. “Them” is the object.)
Okay so far? Here’s the big news: Prepositions always take objective pronouns, not subjective pronouns. Always.
Let’s revisit those five bloopers:
1. The Fix: Here’s a picture of Sam and me holding hands.
Think it through. “Of” is a preposition. Prepositions take objective pronouns. “I” is subjective. Use “me.”
2. The Fix: He said it to Alex and me many times.
“To” is a preposition. It needs the objective pronoun me.
3. The Fix: The decision was made by him and her.
Use objective pronouns with the preposition “by.”
4. The Fix: Between you and me, I’m not a Downton Abbey fan.
Remember this me/thee rhyme: “Between me, thee, and the gatepost . . .” “Between” needs “me,” not “I.”
5. The Fix: Our cow costume won for her and me.
By jove, you’ve got it. “For” needs the objective pronouns “her” and “me.”
No wonder there’s a BOLO on ISPKGOOD. The license for you and us should be ISPKWELL! Are we in agreement on these common pronoun bloopers? Send us bloopers like these from everyday life.