I have an interesting English grammar podcast lesson on subject and object pronouns today. In the lesson you’ll get to hear me speaking in Latin and German learn about my name, Hilary in Latin. Just to keep you on your toes, I’ve included a quiz so you can test your comprehension at the end.
We’re going to talk about subject pronouns and object pronouns. I know that might sound complicated, but it’s not. After a few examples and some easy to follow rules, you’ll be surprised how easy it is to get right. Learn English grammar in a conversational and engaging way. It’s simple, fun, straight to the point, everything you need to improve your ability to speak English.
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Hi and welcome to this podcast from Adept English.
Let’s do an English lesson today, but let’s keep it light. Let’s cover a confusing aspect of English grammar, but one that’s not too difficult. And then let’s make sure there’s a bit of time to practise at the end! It’s good sometimes to get active, to get you participating in the podcast, even if this does make it appear like you’re talking to yourself in your car, in the shower, in the supermarket – or wherever you are when you listen to the Adept English podcast.
You might get funny looks from other people, but never mind. Your English will just be getting better and better!
If I say to you ‘subject pronouns and object pronouns’ – you might just think ‘Uch’! So let’s do what we always do and use examples and try and make it more interesting. What about these two sentences? Test yourself – do you know which one of these two sentences is correct?
- ‘As Michael was talking, he kept looking at you and I for encouragement’. Or...
- ‘As Michael was talking, he kept looking at you and me for encouragement’.
Which one do you think is correct – ‘at you and I’ or ‘at you and me’? Well, if you answered the second one, ‘at you and me’, you would be correct. But both phrases ‘you and I’ and ‘you and me’ can be correct. It just depends which part of the sentence they appear in. Are they the subject of the sentence or the object of the sentence?
- So again ‘As Michael was talking, he kept looking at you and me for encouragement’.
So the reason that it’s ‘you and me’ here, is that the subject of the sentence is Michael or ‘he’. Michael is the one doing the action, he’s doing the looking – that makes him the subject – and ‘you and me’ – well, we’re just objects, passive bystanders, who’re being looked at. ‘I’ is subject, ‘me’ is object.
Nouns as subject of the sentence and nouns as object of the sentence. Different languages do this differently. I mentioned before my history of studying Latin – even having a degree in it. Well, if you’ve ever studied Latin, you’ll know that Latin nouns change all the time, depending upon which part of the sentence they appear.
Latin is an extreme in this regard. For example, if you take my name ‘Hilary’, it’s Latin in origin – meaning ‘merriment, laughter, fun’. So in Latin, my name would be Hilaria, HILARIA. So if you take my name as a Latin noun, it would change depending upon which part of the sentence I appeared in.
If I was the subject, the person doing the action, it would be Hilaria. ‘Hilary saw her sister’ is ‘Hilaria sororem vidit’. But if my sister saw me, I’d be the object of the sentence, so then my name would become Hilariam. It would be ‘Soror Hilariam vidit’. And if you were talking about something that belonged to me – like Hilary’s shoes – my name would change again to Hilariae.
Now this might sound slightly funny to someone who is English speaking – English doesn’t really do this much at all and certainly we wouldn’t change people’s names. French is the same. But in other languages like German, the nouns sometimes change, but the adjectives and articles associated with the nouns change too, depending upon which part of the sentence they appear.
In German – ‘the tall man sees me’ – ‘Der groβe Mann seht mich’ – but if it was ‘I see the tall man’, it would be ‘Ich sehe den groβen Mann’. So ‘ Der groβe Mann’ the subject of the sentence becomes ‘den groβen Mann’ when it’s the object. So there, it’s the article and the adjective that change, but not the noun. Different languages do it differently.
The point here is that English is only doing what plenty of other languages do – changing the word, depending upon whether it’s subject or object. It’s just that it’s relatively unfamiliar in English, because we don’t do it very much, we’re not used to it. And so people sometimes get it wrong – and that’s English speakers too.
What’s interesting, most people can get this right if ‘I’ is the only subject of the sentence or ‘me’ is the only object in the sentence. It’s when the ‘I’ or ‘me’ is combined with another person that things seem to go wrong.
In that original sentence ‘As Michael was talking, he kept looking at you and me for encouragement’, few people would have difficulty getting that right if it was just one person Michael was looking at. Few people would make the error ‘As Michael was talking, he kept looking at I for encouragement’ – that just sounds wrong.
So, yes - English speakers get this wrong, as well as English language learners, when ‘I’ is mixed or ‘me’ is mixed with someone else!
So whether it’s ‘you and I’ or ‘you and me’ depends whether we’re the subject of the verb or the object of the verb.
You might hear from an English speaker ‘Me and my husband went for a curry’. This is incorrect – you wouldn’t say ‘Me went for a curry’! It’s clearly a case where ‘My husband and I’ should be used. Queen Elizabeth used to say sometimes in her speeches ‘My husband and I’. It’s a bit sad that she can’t see that so much now, can she? But the phrase ‘Me and my husband’ would be correct if you were the object of the sentence.
A photograph of a woman pointing at here face. A fun way to learn English grammar.
Even Queen Elizabeth would say ‘The prince gave a gift to my husband and me’. And there’s a bit of British politeness here too – one puts oneself second. It’s polite to put the other person first in the sentence. That’s why ‘my husband comes first’.
Shall we do a quiz – some example questions so that you can test yourself on this one? So I’ll give you a correct sentence and an incorrect sentence – you have to work out which one is right! Here goes.
- ‘My mother sat between you and I’ or ‘My mother sat between you and me’?
- ‘He can walk faster than me’ or ‘He can walk faster than I’.
- ‘Susan and I were followed by a strange man’ or ‘ Susan and me were followed by a strange man’.
- ‘She knows that you and me are friends’ or ‘She knows that you and I are friends’?
- ‘I read the book to he and William’ or ‘I read the book to him and William’?
- ‘Did you or him eat all the cake?’ or ‘Did you or he eat all the cake?’
- My boss gave my colleague more praise than me’ or ‘My boss gave my colleague more praise than I’?
- ‘To him, the writing of a book is the most important thing’ or ‘To he, the writing of a book is the most important thing’?
- ‘Knock knock – it’s me!’ Or ‘Knock knock – it is I’
OK, how do you do with that? Was it more difficult than you thought? I’ll go over the answers in a minute. Meanwhile, just a reminder if you haven’t already done it, you need to sign up for our free course, The Seven Rules of Adept English – because this course will show you how to use our podcasts, so that your English language learning improves more quickly.
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Right, the answers to the quiz? Here goes.
- ‘My mother sat between you and me’ – the subject of this sentence is ‘my mother’ and ‘you and me’ is the object of the preposition ‘between’.
- ‘He can walk faster than me’ is what you’re more likely to hear in spoken English, though actually it’s incorrect. But if you are writing, go for the correct version ‘He can walk faster than I’ or even ‘He can walk faster than I can’ – which sounds better.
- ‘Susan and I were followed by a strange man’ - this is an example of what we call ‘passive voice’. Although the strange man does the action of following, if we use ‘we were followed’ the we – or here the ‘Susan and I’ is the subject of the sentence.
- ‘She knows that you and me are friends’ or ‘She knows that you and I are friends’? You’ll hear both in spoken English, but the second one is correct – because ‘You and I are friends’ can stand alone as a sentence – and the verb takes the ‘we’ form. So ‘you and I’ are the subject of the second bit of the sentence.
- ‘I read the book to him and William’? You’ll never hear ‘to he’ – it would always be ‘to him’ or ‘to her’ and the subject of the sentence here is ‘I’.
- ‘Did you or he eat all the cake?’ You can check this one by taking ‘you’ out. ‘Did him eat all the cake?’ or ‘Did he eat all the cake?’ It’s easier then to tell that the second one is the correct one.
- ‘My boss gave my colleague more praise than me’ – again simplify ‘My boss gave me praise’ – you can tell it’s definitely ‘me’ there. Or...the other possibility here ‘My boss gave my colleague more praise than I did’. It depends who’s doing the praising. ‘…..more praise than I did’ means ‘I’ am the subject, so it’s ‘I’.
- ‘To him, the writing of a book is the most important thing’ – again it’ll never be ‘to he’, always ‘to him’ – and the subject of the sentence here is the noun ‘the writing’.
- ‘Knock knock – it’s me!’ Or ‘Knock knock – it is I’. Well, this is a funny one. Almost every English speaker would say ‘It’s me’, rather than ‘It is I’, but actually the second one is grammatically correct. A loose rule here – when it’s a grammar mistake that almost everyone makes when they’re speaking, just go with the flow in spoken English. But if you’re speaking in a formal setting or you’re using written English, it’s probably better to go with the correct version. ‘It is I’!
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I hope that’s made you think! Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.