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Just read this line on the Guardian:

He dismantles his bedroom and helps tidy the house, daubing white paint over the pencil marks on the doorframe which have measured the growth of he and his sister from infancy until now.

Can't figure out how he is correct here. Shouldn't it be him?

  • It's either a typo or written by a non-English speaker. The Grauniad used to be famous for its typos. – David Jun 19 '16 at 18:07
7

Yes, it should, but it's another example of the instability of English pronouns.

  • 3
    Talking here of instability of the English pronouns is very gracious from your part (+1). Although I'm not at all a prescriptivist I find certain things are mistakes that can show lack of understanding from the writer's point of view and hinder the comprehension of a sentence and coming from a journalist of a quality paper it is not reassuring for the English language. Not special to English either I must say. – None Jan 31 '14 at 8:44
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    I see this kind of variation in pronoun use as a continuation of the erosion of pronominal inflections that began centuries ago. Why, after all, do we not still use the original accusative form of the third person masculine singular of the personal pronoun? That was not him (which was the dative), but hine. – Barrie England Jan 31 '14 at 8:53
  • I see your point. – None Jan 31 '14 at 8:54
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    As Huddleston and Pullum write, ‘why should we simply assume that the grammatical rules for case assignment cannot differentiate between a coordinated and a non-coordinated pronoun? – Barrie England Jan 31 '14 at 10:52
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    I don't believe that for one minute, but we can hardly pursue the point here. – Barrie England Jan 31 '14 at 12:51
4

"Him" is better than "he," because it's the object pronoun, but is still not idiomatic. Simplify the sentence to check; "pencil marks measured the growth of him?" No! "Pencil marks measured his growth." The conventional way to add the sister would be "and that of his sister." That could make the sentence above correct:

He dismantles his bedroom and helps tidy the house, daubing white paint over the pencil marks on the doorframe which have measured his growth, and that of his sister, from infancy until now.

but even clunkier. The sentence should have been rewritten entirely. Going through contortions to make something work grammatically is usually a sign that the sentence structure itself is becoming problematic!

2

The error has since been rectified by the Guardian

At the start of Richard Linklater's extraordinary, deeply moving Boyhood, seven-year-old Mason (Ellar Coltrane) ups-sticks for Houston. He dismantles his bedroom and helps tidy the house, daubing white paint over the pencil marks on the doorframe which have measured the growth of him and his sister (Lorelei Linklater) from infancy until now.

The pronoun, him, is used because it is the object of the verb measure.

But it is also possible to say,

... which have measured his height, and that of his sister from infancy until now.
... which have measured his height, and his sister's [height] from infancy until now.

1

For me it's either a typo or a grammar mistake. A gradual change of the system can be seen in sentences of the type It's me, but after prepositions the accusative forms of the personal pronouns are still in use: for him, to her. I take "he" simply for a typo and would not speak of erosion of "pronominal inflections". I would say the accusative (me/him/her/us/them) as object or after pronouns is so stable that there is no cause for worries about the collapse of the English grammar system.

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