For example:

The Pope became the anointed leader of kings and emperors, they becoming his subjects.


The Pope became the anointed leader of kings and emperors, them becoming his subjects.

On one hand, I can see it being the subject pronoun "they" because it appears that "they" is the subject of a form of the verb "becoming" in a phrase. On the other hand, I can see it being the object pronoun "them" with "them" referring appositively back to the object "kings and emperors" as the antecedent and the phrase "becoming his subjects" being an adjectival modifier of "them."

  • 5
    ...I'd avoid the whole issue and say …thereby becoming (or who became) his subjects. But what do I know? EDIT: Fully aware it doesn't answer the question, that's why it's a comment. :)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 18:13
  • Yeah, but that doesn't answer the question. I mean, actually, that's what I did do, sort of, not "thereby." Being that, your comment isn't without value, its value being practically expeditious. But I'm looking for an answer so I don't need to repeatedly rephrase and talk around my ignorance. Anyway, thanks for your comment. Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 18:15
  • @Mari-Lou A Unless OP comes up with other examples that sound more natural, I'd say your response is very wise. Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 18:19
  • Really, Ed? I don't think what I've put lacks in naturalness in anyway. Moreover, "thereby" doesn't mean the same thing. Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 18:25
  • 2
    I can't find any internet examples of absolutes beginning with personal pronouns. If some evil pseudogrammarian held a gun to my glass of milk and said "Choose", I'd guess that three people somewhere sometime in the last 50 years have defaulted to the usual accusative. And I'd say this follows the 'It should be "It is he!" ... but it never is' pattern. Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 18:44

1 Answer 1


The answer is both and will depend on whether you want a more 'correct' formal register or a more colloquial one.

They becoming his subjects can be analysed as a nominative absolute phrase.

Usually (...) an absolute phrase (also called a nominative absolute) is a group of words consisting of a noun or pronoun and a participle as well as any related modifiers. Absolute phrases do not directly connect to or modify any specific word in the rest of the sentence; instead, they modify the entire sentence, adding information. They are always treated as parenthetical elements and are set off from the rest of the sentence with a comma or a pair of commas (sometimes by a dash or pair of dashes). Notice that absolute phrases contain a subject (which is often modified by a participle), but not a true finite verb.

In this sense, the subject of the phrase will be 'they' (in the nominative case).

But in more colloquial English, you will also come across the accusative absolute:

I respected what she said, her being my trusted GP.

Merriam Webster's first definition of the accusative absolute exemplifies the German language. Wikipedia cites ancient Greek, German and Latin. But the second entry at Merriam Webster is the following:

Accusative absolute
2: a construction in English, especially colloquial English, consisting of a pronoun in the accusative case joined with a predicate that does not include a finite verb and otherwise identical with the nominative absolute (as him being my friend in “him being my friend, I granted his request”)

  • 2
    The accusative absolute is the newer construction, and the absolute phrase is the older construction. See Ngrams (although I'm not sure I totally trust it in this case); also, Shakespeare never used the accusative absolute. Anyway, I would use the accusative absolute even in formal writing; I think it's proper 21st century English. Commented Aug 23, 2019 at 14:59
  • I don't think either of OP's sentences comes within a kiloparsec of 'a more colloquial [register]'. Commented Feb 1, 2022 at 12:15
  • I'm not sure that it is an accusative. I would see it as a nominative disjunctive as in "Who wants and ice cream?" -- "Me!" Compare with the French "je - moi." And with the verb "to be" the pronoun would not be accusative. See also forum.wordreference.com/threads/…
    – Greybeard
    Commented Feb 1, 2022 at 12:50

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