"Between he and Stan Van Gundy" - Grammatical Gripes (2)1
What is the single most common grammatical error made today in both speech and writing? A few days ago I was in my truck listening to sports talk radio. The host was talking about the recent signing of Dwight Howard by the Houston Rockets. In the course of his comments he referred to Howard’s previous struggles, particularly in Orlando where there was an on-going dispute “between he and Stan Van Gundy” (former coach of the Magic).
So, what’s wrong with that, you ask? Everything! Here are a few other examples of this same mistake that has become so commonplace that people struggle to recognize the error:
“Our prayers are with he and his family.”
“Don’t you agree with Jim and I?”
“I purchased this gift card for she and her daughter.”
“Here’s a picture of Ann and I.”
“Did you read that article about he and his wife?”
Before I set things straight, there’s a simple way you can always avoid this error. In each of the examples just cited, pretend that only one person is involved. In other words, drop the reference to “his family,” “Jim,” “her daughter,” “Ann,” and “his wife.” Having done so, you wouldn’t say,
“Our prayers are with he.”
“Don’t you agree with I?”
“I purchased this gift card for she.”
“Here’s a picture of I.”
“Did you read that article about he?”
I know what you’re thinking: “But doesn’t the fact that there is more than one person involved require that we change the form of the pronoun?” No, is the simple answer. Never. The proper form for each of these is as follows:
“Our prayers are with him and his family.”
“Don’t you agree with Jim and me?”
“I purchased this gift card for her and her daughter.”
“Here’s a picture of Ann and me.”
“Did you read that article about him and his wife?”
The rule is quite simple and straightforward. Whenever you have a preposition such as for, with, by, about, on, in, between, among, to, of, through, concerning, just to mention a few, the word it modifies must be in the objective case. I know it’s been a long time since some of you went to school, but here is a quick rundown of the difference between the objective and subjective cases.
If a word is the subject of a sentence, it is in the subjective case. The subject performs the action of the verb and is usually the first noun or pronoun before the verb in the sentence. For example, in the sentence, "She drank the Coke," She is clearly the subject of the verb drank and is therefore in the subjective case.
If a word (whether a person[s] or thing[s]) receives the action of the verb, it is in the objective case and is called the direct object. It is that which is acted upon. Whatever the verb does, it does to the direct object. In the sentence, "Sam will flunk him if he doesn’t come to class," "him" is receiving the action implied in the verb "flunk" and is therefore the direct object. "Him" is therefore in the objective case. Note also in this sentence that we don’t say, “if him doesn’t come to class.” The pronoun “he” is the subject or doer of the action suggested by the verb “come” and thus is in the subjective case.
Don’t talk like Tonto! I’m sure you remember The Lone Ranger’s Indian sidekick who was famous for saying things like: “Me go to town now,” or “Me protect you, Kemo Sabe” (or however the latter is spelled).
Why was Tonto wrong? He was wrong because he was using the objective form of the first person pronoun (“me”) when he should have used the subjective form (“I”). The same principle applies in every prepositional phrase, such as the ones we saw above. Anytime you have a preposition followed by a pronoun, the latter must be in the objective case: me, him, her, us, them, but never, ever in the subjective case: I, he, she, we, they.
Don’t let the awkward sound bother you. Anytime you have a prepositional phrase, you must use the objective case of the pronoun. I’ll conclude with a brief list of examples:
“for him and Ann” (not “for he and Ann”)
“between him and me” (not “between he and I”)
“with him and her” (not “with he and she”)
“by her and her husband” (not “by she and her husband”)
“to him and us” (not “to he and us”).
Trust me, folks. If you can learn this one simple rule of grammar, you will eliminate at least one half of all the mistakes you might otherwise make. Take it from me (not “I”), this will go a long way in improving your communication skills.
(with assistance from Dean Bertsch)