Like subject-verb agreement, which I discussed in my last post, personal pronouns are a simple grammatical concept that can become a challenge on the SAT. Students are often confused about when to use what form of the pronoun—for example, for first person singular, when should you use “me” and when should you use “I”? Correspondingly for the third person plural, when should you use “they” and when should you use “them”? In this post I’ll explain the difference between these forms so you are ready to catch errors on the SAT Writing section.
Subjective vs. objective cases
Cases are classifications of nouns and pronouns based on their role in a sentence. The subjective case and objective case mean just what they sound like. A noun or pronoun is in the subjective case when it is the subject of the sentence or phrase. A noun or pronoun is in the objective case when it is the object of a verb or the object of a preposition. Read over the following sentences and try to determine the role of each pronoun:
My sister and I saw the movie yesterday.
Pranjal was making so much noise that the teacher threw him out of class.
Susan thought that they were all making up the story.
Greta passed the ball to him just in time and the team won the game.
In the first sentence, “I” is one of the subjects of the sentence, so it is in the subjective case. In the second sentence, “him” is the object of the verb “threw,” so it is in the objective case. In the third sentence, “they” is the subject of the second clause, so it is in the subjective case. In the final sentence, “him” is the object of the preposition “to,” and it is thus in the objective case.
The following is a listing of both subjective and objective case forms for personal pronouns. Note that in several cases, the forms are identical.
Subjective: I, you, he/she/it, we, you (plural), they
Objective: Me, you, him/her/it, us, you (plural), them
A common mistake is using the objective form of a personal pronoun (especially “me”) when the subjective case is necessary. This is understandable, as this usage is a standard part of colloquial, spoken English, but it is not correct in a formal academic setting—and it is not correct on the SAT. Here are a few examples:
Incorrect: Darryl and me are both going to quit if we don’t get a raise. Correct: Darryl and I are both going to quit if we don’t get a raise.
Incorrect: “May I speak with Mrs. Smith?” “This is her.” Correct: “May I speak with Mrs. Smith?” “This is she.”
Incorrect: “Mr. Lee and them opened a new business.” Correct: “Mr. Lee and they opened a new business.”
Try out the SAT Writing practice test to check your SAT preparation