Pronouns can be tricky. Many people misuse them, but we’re here to clear up the confusion so you can speak and write more confidently. In today’s grammar lesson, we will cover the correct usage of “us” and “we.”
When to use the subject pronoun “we”:
Use the pronoun “we” when it is the subject of a sentence or when it renames the subject of a sentence. Take a look at these examples:
- “We Americans cherish our freedom.”
- “Us Americans cherish our freedom.”
The word “Americans” is the subject, and the pronoun simply renames it, so the first sentence with “We” is correct.
To ensure that you choose the correct pronoun, eliminate every word except the pronoun and the verb. You should be left with a clause that still makes sense: “We cherish” vs. “us cherish.” The correct choice is obvious: “We cherish.”
“We birds of a feather flock together” contains another example of a pronoun that renames the subject. “Birds” is the subject of the sentence, so the correct pronoun is “We.”
When to use the object pronoun “us”:
Use the pronoun “us” as a direct object, an indirect object and the object of a preposition. Examples:
- In the sentence “Our company flew us to Bangkok for a conference,” “us” is serving as the direct object.
- In the sentence “Please send us a proof of the letter by Monday,” “us” is serving as the indirect object.
- In the sentence “The holiday bonuses were greatly appreciated by us employees,” “us” is the object of the preposition “by.” Note: In this case, changing the sentence from passive to active tense would be a big improvement: “We employees greatly appreciated the holiday bonuses.” If you made that change, the pronoun would once again be renaming the subject, so “We” would be correct.
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Many people mistakenly use the personal pronoun “I” to sound smarter or more proper, when “me” is actually the correct choice. The former is a subject pronoun, whereas the latter is an object pronoun. That means we use them in different ways. Follow the rules from this grammar lesson to use them correctly:
- After any form of “to be”: Let’s say you knock on your co-worker’s door and you hear him say, “Who is it?” It can be tempting to say “It’s me,” but that would be incorrect. The subject pronoun “I” always comes after forms of the verb “to be,” such as “is” and “was.” In this case, “It’s I” is the grammatically correct response. Editor’s note: If you feel like that sounds stilted, you could always say “It’s [your name]” instead. Your co-worker will probably appreciate your specificity anyway!
- After prepositions: Object pronouns always follow prepositions; subject pronouns never do. (Reminder: “I” is a subject pronoun and “me” is an object pronoun.) For example, the sentence “Bring the statements to Sally and I in the morning” is incorrect—even though a lot of people think it sounds proper. Instead, say “Bring the statements to Sally and me in the morning.”
Check yourself: Sentences with compound subjects tend to confuse people. In a sentence like “Laura served John and me some coffee,” it might be necessary to double check your grammar. Simply narrow the sentence down: “Laura served me.” Now you know you’ve chosen the correct pronoun.
When saying or writing comparisons, you might also need to check yourself. If you say, “She reads more than me” but aren’t sure if that’s correct, write out the full comparison: “She reads more than I read.” This will clue you in to the correct pronoun: “I.”
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We’re starting a “Grammar lesson” series, in which we’ll cover tricky writing issues you might encounter in common workplace correspondences. For today’s lesson, I’m going to cover dangling and misplaced modifiers. Here are the main terms you should know:
- Modifier: An optional word, phrase or clause that restricts or clarifies a noun or verb in a main sentence. It’s “optional” because its removal wouldn’t render the sentence grammatically incorrect. Examples: “We are eagerly awaiting your response!” “Of the samples we received, this one was the best value.”
- Dangling modifier: A problematic modifier that is intended to modify a word that isn’t in the sentence. Example: “Returning to their desks, the mood was anxious.” That modifier is dangling because it’s intended to describe a group that isn’t actually mentioned in the sentence. It’s just dangling there, not attached to anything. You could rewrite it as “Returning to their desks, the employees were anxious.”
- Misplaced modifier: A problematic modifier that is intended to modify one word, but is actually modifying another because of its placement in the sentence. Example: “We spoke to the customers using calming word choice, tone of voice and body language.” The placement of that modifier implies that it was the customers who used the calming word choice, tone of voice and body language, but that’s not what was intended. You could rewrite it as “Using calming word choice, tone of voice and body language, we spoke to the customers.” That way, the modifier is closest to the pronoun it’s supposed to modify: “we.”
Note: Although I included both terms in the grammar lesson, I don’t think it’s actually critical to know whether the modifier in question is dangling or misplaced, as long you recognize it as problematic and know how to fix it.
Why dangling and misplaced modifiers are problems:
Aside from making your writing sloppy and unprofessional, dangling and misplaced modifiers can make your writing confusing and misleading. For example, if you reach out to a potential client and include the sentence “Please look over the proposal that is enclosed with your partner, and get back to us,” that person may dismiss you. As written, it appears as though the person’s partner should have the proposal.
Even if the potential client figures out what you intended (and doesn’t go on a wild goose chase looking for the proposal), he or she will question your communication skills and attention to detail, and possibly move on to your competitors—all because of a misplaced modifier. You can fix that example by moving the modifier: “Please look over with your partner the proposal that is enclosed, and get back to us.”
Want more practice with this grammar lesson?
Check out these quizzes to help you identify and correct dangling and misplaced modifiers:
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[Image Source: Berries blog]