I have the following sentence: "The swimmer next to Cavic arrives just before he." My question is why can't we write "The swimmer next to Cavic arrives just before him"? Isn't "just before..." an prepositional phrase that modifies "arrives"? Thus, wouldn't what follows be the object of the preposition, and thus one would have to use the objective case "him"? I know that "he" is correct, but why is it correct, and why can we not use "him"?

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    Why do you suppose that "he" ought to be correct? I personally would use "him" there. And so would most of the excellent writers I have known or read. – Robusto Aug 7 '15 at 19:55
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    You must use "him"; "he" is not correct. – deadrat Aug 7 '15 at 19:57
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    According to some sources, the correct answer is "he" because the verb "arrives" is implied. Thus, you would have "The swimmer next to Cavic arrives just before he (arrives)". Why is this wrong? I need to get to the bottom of it. – Wesley Aug 7 '15 at 20:00
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    @MilesDavis First, you look to see what people actually do. And what do they do? They tend to use him, not he. Then you look for an explanation that fits the evidence. If your explanation predicts the wrong thing ("the correct answer is 'he' because the verb 'arrives' is implied"), then you know your explanation is wrong. – snailcar Aug 7 '15 at 20:07
  • @MilesDavis: Why do you "know that he is correct"? Did somebody tell you? They're wrong. Does it say so in a textbook? They're wrong, too. Find some native speakers to hang around with. – John Lawler Aug 7 '15 at 20:20

The swimmer next to Cavic arrives just before him.

99.44% of native speakers would regard he there in place of him as ungrammatical, understanding "before" to be a preposition not an adverb.

  • What about if we said "The swimmer next to Cavic arrives just before he does"? – Wesley Aug 7 '15 at 21:18
  • Before can take a nominal (e.g. "him") or a declarative content-clause that does not have "that" at its head (e.g. "he does"). – TRomano Aug 7 '15 at 21:33
  • @MilesDavis That's a difference sentence and irrelevant for deciding the grammaticality of the sentence you asked about. – curiousdannii Aug 7 '15 at 22:49

I don't know anyone who would ever say "arrived before he". It would sound either pretentious or just wrong. Or maybe both. :)


Both "he" and "him" are valid; the meaning is the same; "he" would be much less common, and it would mark the expression as formal.

The object of the preposition could be either the whole clause he arrives/does (with the predicate implied), or just the pronoun.

Viewing just the pronoun as the object may seem sloppy when before isn't used in the meanings "literally in front of" or "before the age of", but it was good enough for Shakespeare, which is usually enough to overturn that kind of objection. (E.g. "Spur post, and get before him to the King" from King Richard the Second.)

Anyway, if the before is governing only the pronoun, then the only acceptable form is "him".

If it's governing the whole clause, then a traditional view of grammar would insist on "he", but even in that case, since the predicate here happens to be elided, and if the context is not markedly formal, the modern language prefers "him".

It's not necessary in this case to pick only one of those two analyses of the use of before as the one being actually used, because they have the same meaning. That wouldn't be the case with e.g. "I met Cavic before him/he". (Before he met Cavic? Before I met him?)

In conclusion, "him" is the nearly-neutral formulation which also places no additional strong limitation on the sentence analysis; "he" works only with the object of before being a whole implied clause, and even then marks the expression as formal.

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