Of prepositions and pronouns

I encountered this sentence in a piece of copy I was editing Friday (July 8): It later sparked an argument between she and her boyfriend. I changed “she” to “her,” of course, but I also knew that I had blog fodder.

A pronoun that is the object of a preposition should be in the objective case. “Between” seems to be one preposition that gives a lot of folks trouble. Whenever I teach about pronouns, I always use the example of “between you and I” because that error seems so prevalent and I want to do my small part to stamp it out. I think most pronoun mistakes are a sort of “hyper-correction.” We have heard somewhere in our past that “I” is better than “me,” and we generalize that to believe that “he” is better than “him” and “she” is better than “her.” But, of course, all pronouns have their place.

It’s grammatically incorrect to say “Please give the papers to Johnny and I.” To is a preposition so the proper noun (Johnny) and the pronoun that follow it are objects. The way to say this is “Please give the papers to Johnny and me.” In your childhood, perhaps, your mother corrected you when you said “Me and Johnny,” telling you to say “Johnny and I” and to always put the other person first. But she didn’t mean that “I” (or any other nominative case pronoun) was always right.

In the example of “she and her boyfriend,” perhaps it would sound better to the writer if we wrote “her boyfriend and her.” That would certainly be correct, too.

This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.