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Two More Reasons Pronouns Plague Us

For several weeks now, we’ve been counting the ways that pronouns give us nightmares. Today we’ll look at two more culprits: infinitives and verbs that end in -ing (known technically as participles and gerunds).

To form an infinitive, precede a verb with the word to. The infinitive of look is to look. Constructions like to be looking, to have looked, and to have been looking are also infinitives.

Note what happens if we paraphrase I believe he is honest, using an infinitive: I believe him to be honest. The presence of the infinitive (to be) turns he (the subject of is) into him (the object of believe).

If we change the statement to a question, should we use who or whom? The rule of thumb we discussed when this series began in September is who = he (subject) and whom = him (object). So it would be correct to say Who do you believe is honest? (Who is honest, do you believe?)

But with an infinitive, Whom do you believe to be honest? would be correct. (Do you believe him to be honest?)

The situation is similar with verbs ending in -ing. There are times when an -ing verb in a sentence lets you say the same thing with either a subject pronoun or an object pronoun. For instance, you could say We recall she was driving home or We recall her driving home.

Again, converting those statements to who-or-whom questions poses a challenge. Who do you recall was driving home? would be correct. (Who was driving home, do you recall?) And Whom do you recall driving home? would also be correct. (Do you recall her driving home?)

Such fine distinctions further illustrate why certain everyday pronouns are endlessly confounding.

To be continued…

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Pop Quiz

Find the grammatically correct pronouns.

1. I discovered they/them and Al sleeping in the barn.

2. I discovered they/them and Al were sleeping in the barn.

3. Mary trusted we/us and the team would return her car.

4. Mary trusted we/us and the team to return her car.

5. Who/whom do you predict to win the match?

6. Who/whom do you predict will win the match?

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by Eugenie A. Nida

We'll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes;
But the plural of ox should be oxen, not oxes.
Then one fowl is goose, but two are called geese;
Yet the plural of moose should never be meese.

You may find a lone mouse or a whole lot of mice,
But the plural of house is houses, not hice.
If the plural of man is always called men,
Why shouldn't the plural of pan be called pen?

Cows in the plural may be cows or kine,
But the plural of vow is vows, not vine.
And I speak of a foot and you show me your feet,
But I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?

If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth,
Why shouldn't the plural of booth be called beeth?
If the singular is this and the plural is these,
Should the plural of kiss be nicknamed kese?

Then one may be that and three may be those,
Yet the plural of hat will never be hose.
We speak of a brother and also of brethren,
But we say mother, we never say methren.

The masculine pronouns are he, his and him,
But imagine the feminine she, shis, and shim.
So our English, I think you all will agree,
Is the trickiest language you ever did see.

Pop Quiz Answers

1. I discovered them and Al sleeping in the barn.

2. I discovered they and Al were sleeping in the barn.

3. Mary trusted we and the team would return her car.

4. Mary trusted us and the team to return her car.

5. Whom do you predict to win the match?

6. Who do you predict will win the match?

68 One-Minute English Usage Videos

English In A Snap: 68 One-Minute English Usage Videos FREE 

Learn all about who and whom, affect and effect, subjects and verbs, adjectives and adverbs, commas, semicolons, quotation marks, and much more by just sitting back and enjoying these easy-to-follow lessons. Tell your colleagues (and boss), children, teachers, and friends. Click here to watch.

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