A grammar exercise says that this is correct: "The final choice made Heather and I change our decision." Why is the pronoun "I" correct when, if you dropped "Heather and" and changed "our" to "my" you would use the objective pronoun me (The final choice made me change my decision.)

  • 5
    The exercise's answer is incorrect. – Peter Shor Jul 23 '13 at 17:35
  • 2
    What @Peter said. Even people who aren't setting "grammar exercises" rarely get this one wrong. Syntactically equivalent totals from Google Books: gave he and I, 5 results; gave him and me, 46,200 results. I think this is General Reference. – FumbleFingers Jul 23 '13 at 17:49
  • You can Google and find the exercise, and there's an even more absurd answer to one of the questions: For "Angela and I went to visit my friend Ian," it says you have to change "my" to "our". If Angela has never met Ian before, you can't call Ian "our friend". I don't know who designed this exercise, but I wouldn't trust anything they said about grammar. – Peter Shor Jul 23 '13 at 17:53
  • Relevant CGEL quote. I'm not sure that question quite justifies closing this one as a duplicate, but I am certain there are other candidates, which I'm sure someone will link to soon. – RegDwigнt Jul 23 '13 at 19:49
  • @FumbleFingers But why assume a priori that the choice of pronoun when conjoined with another pronoun must be the same as when conjoined with a non-pronoun? (Sure, that's a rule prescribed by prescriptive grammars, but if you're taking a descriptive/analytical approach and looking at how the actual language behaves, that 'requirement' goes away so your Google books comparison isn't quite valid.) – Neil Coffey Jul 23 '13 at 23:24

There are several similar questions on this site, and most of the answers I've looked at point to the obvious ungrammaticality of sentences that result from removing the first member of the coordinated phrase:

*The final choice made I change my decision.

No-one disputes that this is wrong, but there are linguists who do dispute the rationale for claiming:

The final choice made Heather and I change my decision.

is wrong for the same reason, or even wrong at all.

One of these linguists is Geoffrey Pullum, co-author of the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. I have included part of his CGEL discussion of the issue here in an answer to a similar question.

Pullum returns to the issue in one of his posts on Language Log, where he defends Australian politician Julia Gillard from accusations of grammar ignorance:

Now, I think there may be many people who imagine that in a sentence like The Australian community knows Kevin and I we have an occurrence of the pronoun I showing up as an object. We certainly do not. We have the pronoun I showing up as the word following a coordinator in a phrase and I which is the second of two phrases making up the coordination Kevin and I. It is the coordination that is an object. Being a part of a phrase that serves as an object is not at all the same as being an object. Consider I resent the fact that he lied. The object of resent is a noun phrase, the fact that he lied. Inside it is a pronoun. But that pronoun (he) is a subject. It just happens to be inside an object.

Later in the blog Pullum says:

Whether we want to regard it as correct or acceptable in Standard English to use the nominative after and is another matter, and much more difficult to adjudicate. We can say that it's very common; huge numbers of Standard English speakers do appear to follow that rule (see pages 9-10 of The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language for a discussion of this highly controversial point). Shakespeare apparently did (at least, he has one of his characters say between you and I in The Merchant of Venice). But whether people should be following this rule is off the agenda here — like whether Pearson is a stuck-up right-wing snob or whether Gillard is a jumped-up illiterate Welsh immigrant or whether Language Log writers are chain-swinging anti-correctness thugs. Here I'm just making a single point about the use of evidence.

I rather suspect that Pullum himself would not write or say sentences such as the ones he analyses in the blog and the CGEL; and neither would I or most of the knowledgeable contributors to this site.

  • I actually think Pullum is full of it there, and so do several knowledgeable people I respect. – tchrist Jul 23 '13 at 22:53
  • Whereas I think he's spot on. – Colin Fine Jul 23 '13 at 23:15
  • When you say "there are linguists", you make it sound like these linguists are somehow the minority crazy black sheep among linguists. Taking a scientific approach, as far as I can see you pretty much have to dispute the rationale! – Neil Coffey Jul 23 '13 at 23:29
  • Incidentally, just because you dispute that the rationale for a given prescriptive rule has any inherent truth doesn't mean that you won't still decide to follow that rule. Pullum may well decide himself to use what he refers to as the 'nominative' form just for the sake of arbitrarily following a piece of social etiquette, just as he may decide to eat yoghurt with a spoon rather than scooping it out of the pot with his hand. – Neil Coffey Jul 23 '13 at 23:34
  • @Neil. If I had written Linguists dispute the rationale ... then I would have implied that all of them do so, and I don't know if this is true. My answer addressed the common assumption that because She told I is wrong then She told John and I is also necessarily wrong. However, the fact is that many people believe it to be so. It would be interesting to know if such usage has increased in recent years, which is my impression. PS. I greatly enjoy reading Pullum's combative posts on Language Log and find the CGEL an indispensable resource. – Shoe Jul 24 '13 at 5:35

If the sentence is phrased " Kevin and I are known by the Australian community.," using 'to know' in a passive mode, then 'I' would be correct i.e. 'I am known.'

  • Welcome to the site, jacocono. What you say is true, but it does not address the original question. – tunny Nov 10 '14 at 21:03

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