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How to Use Subject and Object Pronouns

In grammar, a noun most often fulfills one of two major functions: 

  1. The subject of a sentence or verb 
  2. Or the object of a verb or preposition 

When we replace these with a pronoun, we have to choose the right one to fulfill the function of the original noun. In this article, we’ll explore object pronouns, subject pronouns, their various uses and subtypes, and the difference between subjective vs. objective pronouns.

I Object!: Looking at Subjective and Objective Pronouns

We’re going to look at both subjective and objective pronouns in this guide. Let’s start with the objective pronouns, including a definition and some object pronoun examples

The object pronoun category overlaps significantly with the personal pronoun category, as they’re mostly the same group of words, just separated into a specific group due to the particular role they are capable of playing within a clause or a sentence as a whole.

Here’s a comprehensive list of object pronoun examples:

 

  • me
  • you
  • him
  • her
  • it
  • us
  • them
  • whom
  • what

 

There are three situations, plus some rarer occasions, in which you may find yourself likely to use an object pronoun and subjective pronoun. Two situations relate to verbs and one relates to prepositional phrases. Let’s take a look at each of these situations and how they use objective pronouns.

Direct Your Attention Here: Direct Object Pronouns

Direct object pronouns replace nouns that have that same direct relationship with a verb. They are the thing that is acted upon by the verb. Put another way, these words “receive” or complete the action of the main subject-verb combination.

  • Alexander saw her across the room.
  • We grew them in our own garden.

In the above examples, the bolded words function as replacements for some (in these cases, unknown) antecedent that is connected to a particular verb. In the first sentence, her replaces some previously identified female person who is seen by Alexander (the subject of the sentence). In the second, we can assume from the context that them is probably some kind of plant that was previously seen in another sentence.

A good way to determine if the word in question belongs to the category of direct object pronouns is to rephrase the sentence as a question that asks who, what, or where. Using the above object pronoun examples, we get:

  • Alexander saw who across the room?
  • We grew what in our own garden?

If rephrasing in this way makes a grammatically correct, logical sentence that does not require a preposition around the interrogative word, then we’re dealing with object pronouns in the category we’ve been discussing so far. The key here is that adding a preposition would make the sentence illogical. Here are a couple object pronoun examples:

  • Alexander saw to who across the room?
  • We grew from what in our own garden?

As you can see, adding a preposition made these sentences illogical.

What about a sentence that makes sense either way with the object pronoun?

  • George had mailed her the letter.

“George had mailed who the letter?” makes sense (at least in informal speech), but so does “George had mailed the letter to whom?” Let’s explore this (and other object pronoun examples) in the next section.

Now that you are beginning to understand a little more about what is an object pronoun, let’s look at the next category to find out what this means. No objective pronouns definition is complete without diving into all of the types of object pronouns and their different uses. 

 

The Indirect Route: Indirect Object Pronouns

Indirect object pronouns, as opposed to a direct one, answers the question to whom/what or for whom/what. In colloquial English, we often omit the preposition in the question form of these sentences, but it is still implied.

Take this sentence (from the object pronoun examples above):

  • George had mailed her the letter.

George is the subject and had mailed is the verb. 

To find the direct object pronouns, we ask “had mailed what?”—and the answer is the letter, not her. 

To find the indirect object pronouns, we ask “had mailed the letter to whom?”—and the answer is her.

Therefore, indirect object pronouns replace a noun that functions in this indirect manner. “Her” in this example sentence presumably refers to someone who has been named previously. Let’s say the paragraph that contains our example sentence reads like this:

Amelia checked her mailbox and found the letter she had been waiting for. The problem was, it was anonymous. Unbeknownst to her, George had mailed her the letter.

Her has a clear antecedent in Amelia. The key with these kinds of objective pronouns is that they indicate to whom an action is done. Review Indirect object pronouns to prepare for practice questions below. Are there differences between indirect and direct object pronouns? You can find an additional reference and examples here.

Prepositions Galore: Back to Object Pronouns

n the object pronoun case we described above, the prepositions are mostly implied. It’s also possible for a pronoun to be grammatically related to a preposition that is actually stated in the sentence. In these cases, the object pronouns are either replacements for a preceding noun or standalone identifiers.

  • The clerk sold the earrings to me.
  • We held a copy of the book for her.
  • Is the new batch of orders from them?

In each of these cases, we use a preposition to clearly identify the relationship between the noun and the rest of the sentence as an object pronoun. This is a fairly common construction and can encompass a wide variety of situations.

Another way object pronouns are used is to help form answers and statements. Here are few couple object pronoun examples:

  • Hand it over!
  • Her message was sent.
  • Don’t tell me what to do!

These object pronoun examples have acted as both commands and short answers with the object pronoun bolded and italicized in each one. But these instances can also be used as a subject pronoun. The formula would look like this: 

Subject pronoun + verb. 

Regardless of what sentence construction you’re using, one thing that doesn’t change is the objective pronouns subject can be a little tricky to learn. Need to follow a proper format when you cite a passage? MLA format and APA format are the most common, but you may also find yourself asked to follow one of several more styles.

After reading through these object pronoun examples above, you should feel comfortable identifying and using these parts of speech in your writing. Next, let’s learn what is a subjective pronoun.

The Subject of Tonight’s Lecture…

Finally, let’s get back to the debate of subjective vs. objective pronouns and focus on what is a subject pronoun. We’ve looked at situations involving object pronouns, but what is a subjective pronoun? These are, as you might guess, the ones that are used as the subjects of sentences or clauses.

  • You are the perfect person for the job.
  • Olivia wasn’t sure if it was safe, but she opened the door anyway.

The first sentence is a fairly standard, basic sentence without any extra clauses. You is the subjective pronoun and the subject of the sentence. It’s one of the unique words that does not have or need an antecedent, since this is the only way we can refer to someone in the second person. 

Is that all there is to answer the question “What is a subjective pronoun?” While the above may be the general definition, subjective pronouns can also cover commands:

  • You will lay down!
  • He demands it.

The second sentence utilizes another way of including subjective pronouns: as the subject of a relative or dependent clause. Whereas an object pronoun is used to refer to something being acted upon, its subject counterpart, the subjective pronoun, does the action itself.

Another way that both subjective and objective pronouns  can be used in separate cases is when either object pronouns or a subjective pronouns come after as or than for comparison. Take a look at this subject and object pronouns example:

  • They are as fast as me
  • You are taller than Sara. 

*For subjective pronouns, you add subjective pronoun + verb. 

Lastly, subjective and objective pronouns can be used after but and except. Examples:

  • The whole group left the store except for a young girl
  • My dog ate all of the sandwiches but the tomatoes.

The formula: subjective pronoun + verb,  works in this case too. Thinking back to what you’ve learned about subjective pronouns thus far, hopefully you can now answer the questions “What is a subjective pronoun?” and “What are subject and object pronouns?” 

In fact, if you think you’re ready, take the practice questions below and review what you’ve learned on subject and object pronouns, as well as on indirect and direct object pronouns. For more information on subjective vs. objective pronouns, check this out.

Review Questions

  1. What is a subjective pronoun?
  2. When do you use subjective vs. objective pronouns?
  3. What are direct object pronouns and what are the differences between them and indirect object counterparts?
  4. Create 3 sentences with objective pronoun examples.

Congratulations on completing this guide exploring subjective vs. objective pronouns,  what is a subject pronoun, and how objective pronouns are useful. Hopefully the explanations and examples of subject and object pronouns were useful in understanding how subjective and objective pronouns work. 

Remember to use correct grammar and cite all your sources; our grammar and plagiarism checker can help with that. Happy writing!


Published March 6th, 2019. Updated April 30th, 2020.

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