Universal Translator: Pronoun

Dear Editor: Unsurprisingly, my colleague The Unlearned Dresgjas Sjart-Iiih grasps the incorrect end of the tree waste when he pontificates about nouns. He asserts that humans are primitive beings obsessed with naming objects, when in fact their complex culture is built on the ritual avoidance of nouns. I will attempt to set the record straight with this entry.

Pronouns. Words that take the place of nouns, so that these nouns cannot be specifically identified.

Types of Pronouns. Humans have demonstrated their cultural sophistication by dividing their pronouns into several categories.

Indefinite Pronoun: A pronoun used to avoid blame when an act has been performed that is contrary to social expectations. For example, when humans are challenged for putting forth a nonsensical idea, they will state “Everyone thinks that!” Or when someone’s fermented beverage is missing from any cooling device, the chief suspect can remark that “Anyone could have done it.”

Interrogative Pronoun: A pronoun used by human interrogators to force another human to reveal a specific noun: “What was taken?” Who did it?” “Which way did he go?” These pronouns require special care, and are only used by those with special roles in human society, such as mothers or expert swordsmen.

Inigo asking the Man in Black "Who are you?"

In this recording, the interrogator asks a ritually masked man “Who are you?” and is unable to force a noun from him. This demonstrates the strong taboo against nouns.

Demonstrative Pronoun: A pronoun used by humans to avoid identifying things when they are being interrogated. When asked what is missing, for example, a human can wave one of their appendages in a random geometrical pattern and say, “You mean those? Or these?”

Personal Pronoun: A pronoun that deliberately protects a human or valued object from being named and coming to the attention of any jealous, wrathful deities. When taking notice of either an accomplishment or a failure, a human will make statements like “I did it” or “That’s yours.

Intensive Pronoun: A pronoun used by important humans to compensate for their lack of a specific name and regain social status: “I myself believe that I am the most favoured of the gods.” An intensive pronoun can also be reused by these humans as a reflexive pronoun when admiring themselves in a mirror as an object: “I have taken an ocular impression of myself, and I look shiny during this diurnal cycle.”

Relative Pronoun: A pronoun that prevents the overuse of a noun when there is no choice but to name something or someone. This pronoun relates back to the noun. For example: “The Unlearned Dresgjas Sjart-Iiih, who is woefully ignorant, should employ my superior anthropological methodology in the future to ensure accurate scholarship.”

Entry submitted by The Superior Antarinalia Ravannilah of the planet Trin-La

(Editor’s Note: Find a real Earth expert next time – if there is such a thing!)

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Image of Inigo Montoya from one of my favourite movies ever, The Princess Bride

Stay tuned for future entries on other parts of speech. 🙂 If you missed the entry on nouns, you can find it here. As always, I welcome any feedback. Was this post helpful for you? Superior alien minds want to know!

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Me, Myself, or I—Whodunnit?

I’m dealing with a pronoun identity crisis. It’s like trying to pick a clone from Star Wars out of a lineup. Me, Myself, and I are all possible suspects. Which one should I use in my sentence? With the help of Anne Stilman (and with apologies to Jango Fett), I’m going to sort out these annoying pronoun clones once and for all.

Suspect Number One: I, the Arrogant Subject

Jango Fett from Star Wars

I am in control of my destiny!

 I is a “take charge” kind of pronoun. I demands pride of place as the subject of a sentence (the person committing the action).

I will lead my troops to victory! ✓

I continues to demand this right even when there are other subjects in the sentence.

Yoda and I will never be good friends. ✓

I hates it when someone writes Yoda and Me. ✕   This is simply disrespectful.

I also barges in when there are comparisons between two subjects. I shows up even when there is no verb following it.

Mace Windu thinks he is better than I. ✓

In the sentence above, the verb is implied. The full sentence is below.

Mace Windu thinks he is better than I am. ✓  (What a fool!) ✕

I wants you to know that missing words don’t excuse you from getting this right. Don’t screw it up by saying Mace thinks he is better than Me. ✕

I is also arrogant enough to crowd in directly after a verb, when the verb is a form of to be (is, am, was, were).

It is I, the great clone warrior! ✓

In this case, I is following a linking verb (is). A linking verb links the subject to the item that follows it. It (the subject) = I (the subject).

I wants us to understand that I is clearly > Me, so It is Me is ridiculous. (Although this usage is increasingly accepted—for another view, check out Grammar Girl’s take on “It is I.”)

Bottom line, I is an attention hog and a horrible dinner companion. Enough said.

Suspect Number Two: Me, the Objectified Victim

Jango Fett from Star Wars - 2

Why is everyone always bothering me?

Everyone is always out to get Me. Instead of being a subject, this pronoun is treated as an object. Verbs are constantly acting against Me.

They are all plotting to dispose of Me. ✓

Since I is a hog, it likes to kick Me out of its rightful place when there are multiple objects in a sentence.

The Jedi are pestering Boba and I. ✕

This is completely wrong, and makes Me suffer. Here’s the correct version.

The Jedi are pestering Boba and Me. ✓

On a bright note, there is one sentence where Me is not the underdog.

Woe is Me. ✓

At first glance, it looks like I should be taking over this sentence. (Remember when I followed the linking verb is in It is I?) Not so fast. This is another sentence with some implied words.

Woe is delivered unto Me. ✓

Me continues to be an object here, as the receiver of a delivery. So Me wins this round (if you can call it winning).

How appropriate that we are talking about woe around such a moping and hard-done-by pronoun. Let’s move on from Me—the party pooper.

Suspect Number Three: Myself, the Perpetual Sidekick

Jango Fett from Star Wars - 3

I really need to stand up for myself.

Myself really needs a mind of its own. Instead, it follows I around everywhere, feeding I‘s superiority. This is why Myself is known as a reflexive pronoun. It is a reflection of I.

I can’t fight this war all by Myself! ✓

(Guess it’s time to make some more clones then.)

Sometimes Myself tries to rise in importance by acting as an intensive pronoun. Myself intensifies what I is saying.

I Myself believe that war is the only true answer. ✓

This is a correct sentence, but Myself is still following I around, so I’m not sure how successful its ploy for greatness is.

In a last bid for glory, you can find Myself trying to act like a subject or an object.

Dooku and Myself are clearly both subjects. ✕

The Jedi insulted Myself and my other clone brother objects. ✕

The pronoun should be I in the first sentence, and Me in the second one. Myself is out of luck. It continues to be a tagalong pronoun. No wonder it got dragged into a lineup with the other pronoun troublemakers!

I think my pronoun identity crisis is over. The verdict? All of them are still annoying. But at least I know when to use them in my sentences. Now if only they can stay out of trouble!

(Have you experienced pain with pronouns? Are there any particular grammar challenges you would like to see me tackle here? Please share your thoughts below.)

Slay those villainous pronouns!

Epic fantasy books often have a huge cast of characters. A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin has over two hundred of them. I love this novel, but keeping track of everyone can be hard on the brain!

Game of Thrones, Season 3

No, him! That guy! The one with the…oh, never mind.

Luckily, Martin does a fantastic job writing about his characters. (This is why his book has turned into a popular HBO series.)

Even with a smaller number of characters, it can be tough to figure out who’s doing what. This is because writers tend to rely too much on pronouns.

Those Sneaky Pronouns

When you write a lot about the same people, you can get tired of repeating names all the time. This is why you use personal pronouns—like he, she, or they—to take the place of the names. It’s okay to do this, as long as your readers know who the pronoun is replacing (the antecedent of the pronoun). Unfortunately, your readers may not be able to tell.  They’ve fallen into the ambiguous antecedent trap!

Two Sentences, Three Ways

I’m going to take a passage from A Game of Thrones to show you what I mean by troublesome pronouns. Here’s the original text:

“Will could see the tightness around Gared’s mouth, the barely suppressed anger in his eyes under the thick black hood of his cloak. Gared had spent forty years in the Night Watch, man and boy, and he was not accustomed to being made light of.”

After reading this passage, we know something about Gared and his history. The meaning is clear. But what if I replace one name with a pronoun?

“Will could see the tightness around Gared’s mouth, the barely suppressed anger in his eyes under the thick black hood of his cloak. He had spent forty years in the Night Watch, man and boy, and he was not accustomed to being made light of.”

Now we have to think. Is “he” referring to Will, or to Gared? We might guess it’s Will because Will is the subject of the first sentence. Eventually, we figure out that it’s grumpy Gared. Meanwhile, we’re grumpy that we had to think about this.

What happens if I replace another name? Uh oh.

“Will could see the tightness around his mouth, the barely suppressed anger in his eyes under the thick black hood of his cloak. He had spent forty years in the Night Watch, man and boy, and he was not accustomed to being made light of.”

Now we have no idea what’s happening. Is Will looking at his reflection? There’s nothing that tells us otherwise. We’ve lost track of Gared altogether.

See what I mean about the dangers of pronouns?

A Call to Arms

The best way to avoid this trap is to pay attention to those sneaky pronouns. Are you sure that your reader is going to know your meaning when you use one? If not, you can try one of these tactics:

  • Get rid of that pronoun and replace it with the noun. Sometimes this works. Sometimes it can make your sentences feel repetitive. You be the judge.
  • Change the order of your words so that the pronoun is closer to the original noun (the antecedent). This makes it easier to tell that the two words are related to each other.
  • Reword your sentence so that you don’t have to use a pronoun. Who needs them, anyway?

Don’t let your readers be ambushed by pronouns. It’s time to fight back!

(P.S. Here’s a bonus link about ebook typos for Game of Thrones fans. Enjoy!)