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How-To Guide: Using Pronouns Correctly and Other Editing Tips

It may seem like a no-brainer, but many of us in casual conversations occasionally misuse pronouns. In spoken language, those errors go by instantly and will not likely be remembered even if noticed. Not so with the written word. The following, from Ace Copyediting, is excerpted from their website, www.acecopyediting.com. Ace Copyediting is a for-profit editorial service that provides lots of free tips for writers and editors. We make no endorsement of the company, but do encourage you to explore the site.

30-SECOND WRITING CLINIC

LESSON: The use of pronoun cases. Listen to a few family members, friends, television personnel, actors, or even your boss or teacher. Many of them seem to have a problem with pronouns these days! You can learn the simple usage rules and speak correctly. Become informed. Be an example for others to imitate. Change this shameful American trend, born of either laziness or a concern to be "politically" correct. Not speaking correctly is like having your tattered slip show beneath the hemline of a designer dress . . . or like showering and splashing on some expensive after-shave cologne, before dressing in your sweat-stained sport togs! Your image of respectability is ruined.

Do you make any of these pronoun usage errors?

Wrong: Him and I are going to see Titanic tonight.

Wrong: Mary invited both he and I to her birthday party.

Wrong: Me and her are going to eat out tonight.

Wrong: Me and John and you should take Spanish lessons.

Wrong: Who's going to the party tomorrow? Myself and her.

Are you asking, "What's wrong with that?" From this moment on, you're going to know!

Correct: He (or she) and I are going to see Titanic tonight

Correct: Mary invited both him and me to her party.

Correct: She and I are going to eat out tonight.

Correct: You, John, and I should take Spanish lessons

Correct: Who's going to the party tomorrow? She and I.

RULE: Pronouns have three cases: nominative (I, you, he, she, it, they), possessive (my, your, his, her, their), and objective (me, him, her, him, us, them).

Use the nominative case when the pronoun is the subject of your sentence, and remember the rule of manners: always put the other person's name first!

HELPFUL HINT: Use this test. Leave out the other person's name in your sentence and then your own; you'll get a better idea of the correct pronoun form to use. "Me is going to see Titanic tonight." "Him is going to see Titanic tonight." Obviously, both examples are incorrect!

Practice several other examples, until you understand the rule.

Susan and he will be at the party. (Susan will be at the party. He will be at the party.)

Mary invited both him and me to the party. (Mary invited me to the party. Mary invited him to the party!)

Russ and she are the new managers. (Russ is a new manager. She is a new manager.)

He and she are co-anchors. (He is a co-anchor. She is a co-anchor.)

Wrong: Me and Henry will be late, as usual!

Correct: Henry and I will be late, as usual!

TEST QUESTION:

Would you say, "Me will be late, as usual!" or "I will be . . . ."?

LESSON: Agreement errors: singular subjects with plural pronouns! Listen to television and radio news and talk show personalities; listen to the text of radio and television ads; listen to teachers and neighbors and family members. More and more, they are violating a basic rule of agreement in subjects, verbs, and pronouns. They are choosing to do this, in the name of being "politically correct." In the past, writers used "his" as a generic pronoun to include both male and female. This is no longer acceptable, but we can rewrite our sentences to be inclusive of women, without breaking grammar rules.

A national tutoring program recently had an ad that stated, "Every parent wants their child to succeed in school." It should be, "Every parent wants his or her child to succeed in school." The writer of the ad could have written, "Parents want their children to succeed in school," or "All parents want their children to succeed in school."

A well-known cosmetic company had an ad for its fruit-perfumed shampoos that stated, "Everyone has their favorite . . . ." Since men are unlikely to buy and use such perfumed products, the ad should say, "Everyone has her favorite . . . ." Or, the ad could state, "Everyone has a favorite."

A major food company had a long-running ad for salad dressings that stated, "Everyone has their own kind . . . ." What should it say?

Everyone and every and each are singular subjects and must take a singular pronoun for agreement. We expect school children to learn this and to be accountable for knowing it for exam purposes. Why, then, do adults in advertising expose them to a daily barrage of incorrectly used sentences? It is just as easy for writers of ads and news articles to either make subjects plural or rewrite the script. A writer has choices! Look up the rule, if you have trouble knowing which pronoun to use with your subject, or change your wording to avoid the problem altogether. Do not settle for using the incorrect pronoun, in the name of being politically correct. Rewrite!

Wrong: Each employee will submit their choice for an HMO by Friday.

Correct: Each employee will submit his or her choice for an HMO by Friday.

Correct: Employees will submit their choice for an HMO by Friday.

Wrong: Everyone has an opportunity to express their concern.

Correct: Everyone has an opportunity to express his or her concern.

Correct: All of you have an opportunity to express concern.

Correct: Everyone has an opportunity to express concern.