More on Pronouns

I commented yesterday on Gary O’Donoghue’s use of him in subject position. On the same programme today, someone else said it was her who where we might expect it was she who. The GloWbE (Corpus of Web-Based English Global), indeed, suggests an overwhelming preference for the nominative form in the string [it] + [is/was] + [personal pronoun] + [who], although there is a slight preference for it was me who over it was I who. We might conclude that there is a universally applicable rule here, but we’d be wrong. Further examination of the GloWbE shows that the same degree of preference is not apparent when is is contracted to ’s, as is usually the case in speech. Thus, there are ten times as many records for it’s me who than there are for it’s I who. There is not such a large variation with the other personal pronouns, but the instances of nominative and accusative are much more evenly balanced than when they follow is and was.

Now, here’s another instance where our tentative rule doesn’t apply. On listening again to Gary O’Donohugue, I found that he also said Ministers are throwing their weight around a little bit, and here’s them saying actually, that’s not true. If we follow our rule, that would have to be here’s they saying, but would any speaker of Standard English actually say that? The samples in the GloWbE for here’s them and here’s they are too small to draw any conclusions from them, but in the first person singular there are 8 records for here’s I against 188 for here’s me.

Any readers still with me will perhaps have noticed that the preference for the accusative in it was me who, it’s me who and here’s me all occur with the first person pronoun. It is here that we see the greatest variation, as when, in object position and in coordination with a noun or another pronoun it can occur in either the nominative or the accusative form. There’s something about talking about ourselves which surely merits further investigation.

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7 Comments

Filed under English Language, Grammar, Language

7 responses to “More on Pronouns

  1. I is tricky. Chaucer could have someone answer “Who is that?” with “It am I” but that’s right out nowadays, no matter how properly you speak. The ‘s clitic just about forces the object case pronoun, as do constructions like “Poor me has to do all your work” or “here comes him”. The range of acceptable places for subject case pronouns is much narrower than it’s ever been (making “give Al and I” somewhat remarkable).

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  2. As well as comparing non-contracted (formal) with contracted (informal), it might also be worth investigating the apparent increased use of ‘that’ with the objective form – here’s Swan in Practical English Usage:
    It is I who am responsible – formal
    It’s me that’s responsible – informal

    Heidi Qinnn, in The distribution of pronoun case forms in English seems to find something similar, both in terms of ‘me/us’ compared with ‘him/her/them’ and ‘that’ use.

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    • Thanks. I don’t know about an increase in its use, but, as far as I’m aware, ‘that’ has long been used to introduce an integrated relative clause, whether as subject or object, when the antecedent is human. Both ‘He’s the journalist that spoke to me last week’ and ‘He’s the journalist that I met last week’ both seem unobjectionable.

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