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Passive and Possessive—Pronouns for Pros | Kestrel's Aerie

Passive and Possessive—Pronouns for Pros | Kestrel's Aerie

Passive and Possessive—Pronouns for Pros

How about some mad props for the alliterative title? Hopefully, it caught your attention and prompted you to read more. So without further ado….

First, let’s be sure we’re all on the same page with respect to what pronouns are. They are words we substitute for nouns, generally to avoid repeating the nouns each time we want to refer to those people, places or things.

Pronouns are used in first–, second–, and third–person, and in singular and plural forms. They can be active and objective, or passive and subjective.

Before we get down to cases, let’s look at pronouns in tabular form:

  Subjective Subjective
Objective Objective
1st-Person Singular I my me mine
2nd-Person Singular you your you yours
3rd-Person Singular he/she/it his/her/its him/her/it his/hers/its
1st-Person Plural we our us ours
2nd-Person Plural you your you yours
3rd-Person Plural they their them theirs


Pronouns never, EVER have apostrophes.

The first thing I want you to notice about the table above is this: There is no apostrophe in that table. Anywhere. There are few absolutes in this world, but here is one: PRONOUNS NEVER, EVER HAVE APOSTROPHES.

Unlike pronouns, nouns generally use an apostrophe to indicate the possessive case:

Tom’s book is on the table.

The book on the table is not Mary’s.

The cat’s toy is under the davenport.

New York’s skyline is one of the most recognizable in the world.

Another thing you should note that is if we were to diagram these sentences1, each of the possessive nouns above would be identified as an adjective. That’s a confusing topic we’ll save for another day.

Now let’s substitute pronouns for the possessive nouns:

His book is on the table

The book on the table is not hers.

Its toy is under the davenport.

Its skyline is one of the most recognizable in the world.

If you’re comparing the sentences to the words as laid out in the table, you probably noticed that one of these things is not like the others. If you haven’t done that comparison, I’ll give you a moment to figure out which is different.

Hopefully, you determined the second sentence is the oddball. Why? Because in this case, the pronoun is the objective form. Remember, the classic form of the sentence in English is Subject – verb – object. The subject and object are nouns or pronouns: The subject performs an action (denoted by the verb), while the object has something done to it. (And just to complicate matters, when we make the object into a subject, we end up with passive voice. Yet another Topic To Be Addressed Later.)

However, I do want to address passive voice here at least in terms of pronoun use. Let’s look at a situation that occurs around my house each time my wife bakes:

I eat the cookies.

Steve eats the cookies.

He ate the cookies.

The cookies were eaten by me.

The cookies are also eaten by her.

In the first three sentences, "the cookies" are the object of my action (eating). The last two are classic examples of passive voice. The key here, if you must use passive voice (and it’s rarely wrong, just awkward), is to be sure you use the proper pronoun form. In the examples above, “the cookies” are the subject of the last two sentences; thus, the objective pronouns “me” and “her” are correct, rather than the subjective “I” and “she.”

Never, ever join a subjective and an objective pronoun with a conjunction

If you keep a mental copy of the table above in your head, you won’t find yourself 2 using such combinations as her and I, she and him, he or us: When joining pronouns with a conjunction, both (or all) pronouns must be the same type, either subjective or objective.

Of course, that doesn’t prevent the following:

Me and her went to the movie.

Shudder. Twitch.

If you’re going to use one or more pronouns as the subject of a sentence, use the subjective form(s). Similarly, if the pronouns are the objects of an action, use the objective forms. Don’t combine forms with a conjunction.

I hope this article has been enlightening, as well as helpful. If nothing else, perhaps we’ve saved a few more of our collective readers from future mistakes of our’s.3

  1. Don’t worry; I still have nightmares about the linguistics course I took in college, not to mention high school English: No diagramming here!
  2. Yes, pronoun forms ending with –self are another form, but not one I want to get into here; just keep in mind they are always objective.
  3. See what I did there? Don’t do it!
5 Responses to Passive and Possessive—Pronouns for Pros
  1. Bre
    January 19, 2010 | 10:03

    “Pronouns never, EVER have apostrophes.”

    Thanks! I never knew that and it gives me a great wall I know can not be crossed. Also thanks for helping to clarify the whole subjective/objective thing…many times the terms used to describe the parts of speech causes more confusing than understanding.

    As always, a great post my friend!

    • Kestrel
      January 19, 2010 | 12:36

      Thanks, Bre! :D

      There are fewer and fewer absolutes out there, when it comes to writing, grammar, and punctuation. So when I run across one (or two) for an article, you can bet I’ll call ‘em out!

      • Bre
        January 19, 2010 | 12:41

        How much do I fail! I didn’t notice the little nugget of “don’t do this” in your last sentence. You sly fox!

  2. Joseph Condron
    January 19, 2010 | 11:35

    Ah grammar and syntax it brings me back to my old school days. Very informative post. This area can be a complete minefield. Well done for being so clear and precise.

    • Kestrel
      January 19, 2010 | 12:34

      Thanks for such positive feedback, Joseph! Very appreciated and encouraging. :)

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