Understanding Subject And Object Pronouns

If you know your grammar, then you know that nouns are words that we use to refer to people, places, things, and ideas. For example, the word king is a noun in the sentences The king is nice and We met the king. In sentences, nouns can be replaced by pronouns in order to make them shorter or less repetitive. For example, we rewrite our sentences to say He is nice and We met him.

Wait a minute. Why did we use two different pronouns to replace the word king? Is it because of a royal decree? No, it is actually because of the rules of grammar, which apply even to kings. For now, let’s leave the royal court behind and earn our grammar knighthood by going on a quest for the answer to the question of what is the difference between subject pronouns and object pronouns.

What are pronouns?

A pronoun is a word that can replace a noun and can perform all of the same grammatical functions as a noun can. In general, we use pronouns to shorten our sentences and/or avoid repetition. For example,

  • No pronouns: Scott is a chef. Scott knows many recipes. I always ask Scott to cater my parties.
  • Using pronouns: Scott is a chef. He knows many recipes. I always ask him to cater my parties.

The second example above is both shorter and less repetitive. It will sound a lot less awkward to most people. It also demonstrates two of the major noun functions that a pronoun can perform: acting as a subject or as an object. However, not all pronouns can do both of these jobs.

Review the types of nouns that you may encounter in English.

Subject pronouns

If a word or phrase is the subject of a sentence, it typically means that the word or phrase is referring to who or what is performing an action or experiencing a state of being in a sentence. Usually, the subject comes before a verb except when asking questions. In the sentence William reads books, for example, the subject is William. William is the person who is performing the action of reading books.

A subject pronoun is a pronoun that can fill in for a noun as the subject of a sentence or clause. For example, we can replace William with the pronoun he to make the sentence read He reads books. Because he is a subject pronoun, this sentence makes grammatical sense.

Subject pronoun list

Many different pronouns can be used as subject pronouns. Some of the most commonly used subject pronouns include:

  • I
  • you
  • she, he, it
  • we
  • they
  • who

Subject pronoun examples

The following examples show how we use subject pronouns in sentences. Notice that each pronoun is referring to people or things performing actions or experiencing a state.

  • I like to go to the zoo.
  • We went to the circus yesterday.
  • She is a police officer.
  • They drove to Ohio.
  • Who painted this masterpiece?

Object pronouns

If a word or phrase is the object of a sentence, it typically means that the word or phrase is referring to the person or thing that is having an action done to it. Usually, an object follows a verb. For example, the word chickens is the object in the sentence The farmers raise chickens. The chickens are having an action done to them by the farmers (which is the subject of the sentence).

As was the case with subject pronouns, object pronouns can substitute in for a noun as an object. For example, we can replace the word chickens in the above sentence with the object pronoun them to say The farmers raise them.

Unlike subjects, objects can also be used in prepositional phrases in addition to sentences and clauses. These means you might see an object pronoun used after a preposition rather than a verb as in:

  • This is a present for her.
  • This letter was written by him.

Prepositions can be used with verbs as well, which is one way to make a phrasal verb. Learn more!

Object pronoun list

Some of the most commonly used object pronouns include:

  • me
  • you
  • her, him, it
  • us
  • them
  • whom

Object pronoun examples

The following sentences show how we use object pronouns. Notice that all of these pronouns are being acted on by a subject or are used as the object of a preposition.

  • Joshua spoke to me about the Olympics.
  • I have always been nice to her.
  • The acrobats amazed us.
  • The deer found the delicious berries and quickly ate them.
  • You said that nobody is better at tennis than whom?

The passive voice

Things get a little more complicated when using verbs in the passive voice. When the passive voice is used, the subject of the sentence does not perform the action. For example, the sentence The dinner was cooked by Eduardo uses the passive voice. In this sentence, the subject (the dinner) did not do anything. Instead, it was acted on: Eduardo cooked it. For example,

  • Sharon was cheered up by Randy.

This sentence says that Randy (the object of the preposition by) is the one who cheered up Sharon (the subject). Even though everything is flipped around, subject and object pronouns will still follow the rules that they always do. So, if we used pronouns in this sentence, it would read:

  • She was cheered up by him.

and not:

  • Her was cheered up by he.

The passive voice often makes things more complicated (than sometimes we feel they need to be), which is why writers often try to avoid using it in sentences unless absolutely necessary. If you’d like to learn more about this topsy-turvy verb voice and instances in which you might use it, we have a great guide to the passive voice.

Pronouns that pass as subject or object pronouns

If you looked closely at the above lists of pronouns, you probably noticed a couple of words that managed to sneak into both lists. Some pronouns are able to be used as either a subject pronoun or an object pronoun depending on the sentence. You and it are two of the most commonly used pronouns that can fill either role:

  • Subject: You are the friendliest person I know.
  • Object: Amanda told you to clean the attic. 
  • Subject: That is a huge hippo. It is as big as a car!
  • Object: The TV is broken. Hopefully, we can fix it

Some other commonly used pronouns that can pass as subject or object pronouns include the demonstrative pronouns this, that, these, and those as well as indefinite pronouns, which include words like any, some, none, and either.

  • Subject: This is a delicious pie.
  • Object: I don’t know what to do with this.
  • Subject: Some of us helped take care of the dogs.
  • Object: We talked to some of the guests.

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When there are multiple subjects and objects

People often make a common grammar mistake when using pronouns in a sentence that has more than one subject and/or object. You can see an example of this common mistake in the following sentence:

  • Pierre and me ate lunch.

Regardless of how many subjects or objects a sentence has, subject pronouns can only be used as subjects and object pronouns can only be used as objects. So, our sentence should read:

  • Perre and I ate lunch.

If a subject or object uses multiple pronouns, they should all match the part of the sentence they are being used as. For example,

  • She, he, and I played outside. (All subjects)
  • Roger was mean to her and me. (Both objects)

For clarity reasons, it is often best to avoid using pronouns at all when people of the same gender are performing actions on each other:

  • Confusing: Mario, Luigi, and Bowser own a pizzeria. He taught him and him to make pizza.
  • More clear: Mario, Luigi, and Bowser own a pizzeria. Mario taught Luigi and Bowser to make pizza.

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Don't subject yourself to confusion when it comes to adjectives. Review the order of adjectives here!

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