Grammar, Learning English

Subject Pronouns and Object Pronouns

In many ways, pronouns make the English language easier to understand. They take the place of nouns, so they make sentences shorter and simpler. Without them, you would be using names or phrases such as “the new trainees at my workplace” over and over again.

However, if English is not your first language, pronouns may be confusing. Should you use “I” or “me” in a sentence? Is “you and me” correct, or “you and I”? What about “who” and “whom”? Even if you are a native speaker, sometimes you may have to stop in the middle of writing a lengthy or complex sentence and ask yourself if the pronoun you are using is grammatically correct.

There are many kinds of pronouns, but for now we will look at the difference between subject pronouns and object pronouns. Knowing the difference will help you avoid making mistakes and your English writing will sound more natural.

Subject pronouns

I, he, she, we, they, who

To put it simply, subject pronouns are used for somebody who is doing some type of action. A subject pronoun can also be used for somebody who feels something, thinks a certain way, or who is in a particular state of being. (For more on this, click here to see our article about action verbs and non-action verbs.)

Here are some example sentences. The subject pronouns are in boldface type.

Yesterday I rode my bike.

He feels tired because he has been taking care of the baby all day.

We ate dinner at Taco Bell.

She pretended she was a princess and dressed up in a frilly costume.

They know many people who work at this investment firm. (This sentence has two different subject pronouns!)

He is not studying for the exam. (Here is a negative sentence that tells us what the subject pronoun is not doing.)

I don’t think she will come to the party.

You can also find subject pronouns in questions:

Did she leave her umbrella in the car?

How long have they been working for this company?

Who fixed the printer?

Isn’t this the place where we found the cat?

Do we have the list of employees at the ABC branch?

Object pronouns

me, him, her, us, them, whom

The word “object” can be misleading because we usually think of an object as a thing, not a person. But an object pronoun usually refers to a person, or to multiple people. Furthermore, an object pronoun is used when someone is having something done to them. They are not performing the action themselves.

Let’s look at a quick example to help you understand the difference.

They stayed up too late. (“They” have performed an action, so we would use a subject pronoun.)

The babysitter let them stay up too late. (In this sentence, the babysitter is the one who performed an action by letting the other people—”them”—stay up too late. The other people are on the receiving end of the babysitter’s actions.)

In the below example sentences, you will find an object pronoun written in boldface type. Some of these sentences also have a subject pronoun, but to avoid confusion, these are not written in boldface.

Ricardo is reading to him.

Could you please give the tools to me?

That pizza is for us.

We left the slides for her to complete.

For whom did Betty leave these invoices?

The cat will not come to me when I call.

Kathy lent them her study materials.

You may have noticed that sometimes—but not always—there is a preposition next to an object pronoun. Some of the most common prepositions you’ll see in this type of sentence are “to”, “for”, “from”, “about”, and “with”. We do not use prepositions this way with subject pronouns. Sentences like “Kathy lent they her study materials” or “That pizza is for we” sound bizarre and are not grammatically correct.

What about “it” and “you”?

You may have noticed that “it” and “you” are not listed as either subject pronouns or object pronouns. This is because they fit into both categories, depending on how they are used.

You love me. (In this sentence, “you” is a subject pronoun because “you” is the person who is experiencing the feeling of love.)

I love you. (Here, “you” is an object pronoun; “I” is the one who is experiencing the feeling of love while “you” is on the receiving end of that emotion.)

As for “it”, here are some example sentences. See if you can tell where “it” is a subject pronoun and where “it” is an object pronoun.

It broke down last week.

I can work with it.

Does it fit?

We don’t have the right parts for it.

They lost it.

It makes too much noise.

In some upcoming articles, we will look at common errors that occur when writers mix up subject pronouns and object pronouns. Specifically, we will look at how to tell the difference between “I” and “me” and “who” and “whom”.

In the meantime, if you aren’t sure if you are using the right pronouns, click the blue box below. One of our TextRanch editors will take a look at your writing and let you know if you’re on the right track.

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