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How to Choose the Proper Pronoun with Linking Verbs

Choosing the correct English pronoun can give even native speakers headaches. How do you choose the correct pronoun for a sentence with a linking verb? Think of a linking-verb sentence as reversible. That is, the pronoun you put after a linking verb should be the same kind of pronoun that you put before a linking verb.

Here is an easy example:

Ruggles is a resident of Red Gap.
A resident of Red Gap is Ruggles.

Both sentences mean the same thing, and both are correct. Now look at pronouns:

The winner of the election is him!
Him is the winner of the election!

Uh oh. Something’s wrong. You don’t say him is. You say he is. Because you have a linking verb (is), you must put the same word after the linking verb that you would put before the linking verb. Try it again:

The winner of the election is he!
He is the winner of the election!

Now you’ve got the correct ending for your sentence.

If you pay attention to linking verbs, you’ll choose the right pronouns for your sentence. Subject pronouns are I, you, he, she, it, we, they, who, and whoever. Pronouns that are not allowed to be subjects include me, him, her, us, them, whom, and whomever. (In case you're curious, these pronouns act as objects.)

Remember that the previous examples discuss formal English, not conversational English. In conversational English, the following exchange is okay:

Who’s there?
It is me. OR It’s me.

In formal English, the exchange goes like this:

Who is there?
It is I.

Because of the linking verb is, you want the same kind of pronoun before and after the linking verb. You can’t start a sentence with me, but you can start a sentence with I.

Now you’ve probably, with your sharp eyes, found a flaw here. You can’t reverse the last reply and say

I is it.

I takes a different verb — am. Both is and am are forms of the verb to be — one of the most peculiar creations in the entire language. So yes, you sometimes have to adjust the verb when you reverse a sentence with a form of to be in it. But the idea is the same; I can be a subject. Me can’t.

You don’t need to know this information, but in case you’re having a slow day: grammarians divide pronouns into groups called cases. One group, the nominative or subject case, includes all the pronouns that may be subjects. The pronoun that follows the linking verb should also be in nominative, or subject, case. Another group of pronouns, those in objective case, acts as objects. Avoid object pronouns after linking verbs.

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