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How to Use Subject and Object Pronouns

In grammar, a noun most often fulfills one of two major functions: the subject of a sentence or verb, 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, their subject counterparts, their various uses and subtypes, and the difference between subjective vs objective pronouns.

I Object!

We’re going to look at both subjective and objective pronouns. Let’s start with the latter, including a definition and some object pronoun examples. This 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 in which you may find yourself likely to use an object pronoun. Two 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 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 object pronoun 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 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.

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

What about a sentence that makes sense either way?

  • 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 look at the next category of object pronoun examples to find out what this means.

The Indirect Route

An indirect object, 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 the example above:

  • George had mailed her the letter.

George is the subject and had mailed is the verb. To find the direct object, we ask “had mailed what?”—and the answer is the letter, not her. For the indirect one, 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 kind of objective pronouns is that they indicate to whom an action is done. You can find an additional reference and examples here.

Prepositions Galore

In the cases we’ve 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. This is a fairly common construction and can encompass a wide variety of situations.

Regardless of what sentence construction you’re using, one thing that doesn’t change is the 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.

The Subject of Tonight’s Lecture…

We’ve looked at situations involving the object of a sentence; now, let’s turn to subjects. 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.

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

After reading through these examples, you should feel comfortable identifying and using these parts of speech in your writing. Remember to use correct grammar and cite all your sources; our grammar and plagiarism checker can help with that. Happy writing!