Common Pronoun Errors

Sadly, some of the most common errors in the English language are tied to some of the smallest words – pronouns. What follows is an examination of a few of the absolute basics and a heads-up about the most common examples of pronoun abuse.

The three main types of pronouns:

Nominative – these are the ones that act as the subjects of sentences (I, They, We)

Objective – These are the direct object pronouns (me, us, them)

Possessive – These… show possession. (His, Their, Our)

There are further breakdowns within these three categories, but for now, let’s keep things simple. The only other type that you need to be aware of is…

Reflexive – These are the “-self” pronouns. (Himself, Myself)

COMMON ERROR #1 – Compound subject or direct object

Nobody in this class would ever say “Doug gave the ball to I” or “Him ate all the bread” yet intelligent people make similar mistakes all the time, saying things like, “Me and my friend threw the party” or “They sold watches to Bill and I.” The cause of the confusion is the jump from a simple subject or direct object, like in the first two examples, to the complex ones, like in the latter two examples. Keep your ears open to this mistake, and catch yourself whenever you are using the complex structures. You can know if you are using the correct pronouns if you pare down the complexities… in other words, you wouldn’t say “Us threw the party” or “They sold the watches to he” (OR “They sold the watches to I”).

EXAMPLES – Correct any errors (not all examples have errors, some have several)

1) She and me went to go visit them and her yesterday.

2) They and us visited the museum before Sara told her and I not to go home.

3) He and we went shopping with her and him.

4) Don’t shut the door on we three travelers.

5) (Replace all names with pronouns in the following:) Steve and Shannon took over for Michelle and Cara.

COMMON ERROR #2 – Who is this ‘myself’ person?

Even if problem #1 is giving you difficulty, here’s an easy problem to stamp out – using “myself” as a cop out when you don’t know which pronoun to use (the same goes for himself, herself & themselves). For example, “They visited Marie and myself last week.” What’s more, lose the notion that this makes one sound more sophisticated or intelligent, like people who insist on pronouncing the silent ‘t’ in ‘often’ (I’ve complained about this before, I know…) It doesn’t. Myself is a reflexive pronoun, and should be used to indicate stress (I myself answered the call) or a reflection on self-identity (I am just being myself). As a matter of fact, you should NEVER have a sentence that includes “myself” that does not include the subject “I” – this is the definition of a reflexive pronoun (which you may know from foreign language reflexive verbs)

IMPROVE THE FOLLOWING: 

1) The criminals robbed both Harold and myself.

2) I offered to give themselves the cantaloupe.

3) Herself went to the bookstore (Do you see how stupid these sound yet?).

4) Use “myself” correctly in an original sentence.

5) Use, for the last time in your life, “myself” incorrectly (doesn’t it feel good to be rid of this?).

COMMON ERROR #3 – Shape-shifting (usually from singular to plural)

It is grammatically incorrect to say, “A police officer must always keep an eye on their gun”. This problem has a very simple root – avoiding the clunky, yet technically accurate “his or her”. This problem pops up frequently with singular subjects that mutate into plural pronouns, like the above example. Two other common variations of the shape-shifting pronoun are the transformation of “I” into “you” (“I hate it when you trip and fall over” – unless you are being compassionate, this is not right) or the assumption that everybody is a man (“A teacher gets to take his work home with him every day”) Interesting grammar note, as of 2017, the genderless “he,” which had been used for centuries, is no longer considered grammatically appropriate. In casual conversation, “they” is now an acceptable singular pronoun, as in “A teacher gets to take their homework home with them” but in formal writing, this construction is still considered a mistake. Style guides now recommend the clunky, but grammatical “his or her, ” unless you can use this superior fix: make the subject plural, if you are speaking generally anyway (“Teachers get to take their work home with them”)

CORRECT THE FOLLOWING (there may be more than one way to fix these)

1) Somebody left his plates in the sink.

2) As he ventured about, you could see that everything was a mess

3) If a person loses his watch, he should go check at the lost and found.

4) You should feed your dog before they get tired.

5) A child never should forget about his parents’ birthdays.

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4 thoughts on “Common Pronoun Errors

  1. I’m a kid looking for help not trouble with pronouncing words on your page!!!!!!!!!!!! Besides, this website is helpful, but also difficult to understand but I can try to manage these hard words on your page for common errors with pronouns thank you for reading this comment and please make it more worldwide for fourth graders like me okay.

    P.S : who ever worked on this I just have to say your a genius , you worked hard and did a great job , but once again make it more worldwide for kids like me in the world of fourth graders like me so we understand what you’re trying to say what your trying to teach us with your hard work that was put into it thank you again for understanding this was very kind, cool, helpful and difficult at th same time!!!!!!! thank you very much !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 🙂 😉

    • Hello Asheley!

      I am very excited that you found our page, and that you find it so useful! The reason why some of the words are harder though is because we created this page for our high-school students, and some of them are twice your age! But it is GREAT that you are so far ahead that you are already trying to learn the things that we are teaching our high schoolers.

      I don’t think we can change the phrasing so much to make this page ready for fourth graders – it would be a LOT of work – but I found a page that you might like, and it’s made for kids your age:

      http://www.tburg.k12.ny.us/mcdonald/grammar4.htm

      I recommend Punctuation Paintball. Anyway, thank you so much for your feedback, and I am very pleased that you like our page.

      Mr. Lally
      English Teacher at Burlington High School

  2. My son wrote a letter lately saying in it: “Thank you for making cookies for Emily and I.” I tried to correct him saying that he confuses object case with subject case, and he should have said: “Thank you for making cookies for Emily and me/ myself or us.” However he said that his teacher teaches them to use “I ” in such sentences. This doesn’t make any sense to me : (

    • Hello!

      I think the confusion comes from the old-school politeness that our grandparents instilled in us, that it’s never right to say “Emily and me”. But the truth is, you are correct – the pronoun here ought to be in the objective case. The easiest way to hear the correct response is to get rid of the extra person … nobody would ever seriously say “…making cookies for I” right? So “making cookies for Emily and I is equally incorrect. I hope this clears up the issue!

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