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How do I correctly write sentences like these:

"Not just [he/him], but [she/her] is leaving this year"? I'm unsure whether to use an object or subject pronoun.

I've come to learn that in phrases like "not just A but B", "not only A but B, not just A but also B", etc... we focus on the B part. --> Not only the cats, but the dog is sick.

See this post on quora.com.

So if B commands the verb then I think it is a subject pronoun. I still am uncertain about A. Is it an object or subject? In my mind, it plays out as "Not just A is ... but also B is..." which confuses me.

2 Answers 2

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We don't use just to modify subject pronouns; we use only instead. (I don't know why this is the case, but it seems to be so; consider this Ngram). But we can't say Just him is, either, because him is not a subject pronoun.

So your sentence should read

Not only he, but she is leaving this year.

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  • Not just him - she too is leaving this year. It seems to work with whatever odd sort of fronting this is.
    – Phil Sweet
    Jul 31, 2022 at 22:56
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In some cases, being "technically correct" according to prescriptive grammar rules doesn't change the fact that a sentence sounds unnatural or just bad.

I think this applies to either form of the sentence in your title (and I would also argue that "Not only the cats, but the dog is sick" sounds bad regardless of whether it follows a rule).

The Google Ngram Viewer, which uses "." as code for any punctuation mark, records no examples of "just he . but she" in its corpus of English text. And my ears tell me that "Not just he, but she is leaving this year" just doesn't sound like something somebody would say.

That aside, more commonly used wordings like "Not only I, but ..." support the "grammaticality" (in the prescriptivist's sense, not in the linguist's sense) of a subject pronoun here. The pronoun certainly plays the grammatical role of a subject, although linguists, unlike prescriptivists, recognize that this doesn't have a one-to-one correspondence with case forms in modern English ("me" in "Me and my brother went to the store" has the grammatical role of a subject, despite its form).

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  • I'm not sure this actually answers the question. There are four potential forms of the OP sentence, so "either" seems odd. There is also a difference between colloquial English and more formal environments.
    – Andrew Leach
    Jul 30, 2022 at 10:06

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