Okay, sometimes I can be a grammar Nazi. It bugs me when I hear people – especially teachers, serious writers, or news anchors among others who should set a good example – make simple grammar errors. We wonder why American students keep falling behind in literacy tests, but the answer is clear. They are exposed constantly to bad grammar, mispronounced words, and bad usage. Just tonight I heard a high school teacher say, “Her and her Mom went…” Ouch. That hurts.

The teacher used the wrong case. The subject of a sentence should be in the subjective case. That only makes sense. The subjective case is also called the nominative case, a term probably dating back to Latin. I don’t care what you call it as long as you get it right. For all practical purposes this is only important for pronouns. The subjective case includes I, we, he, she, and they. The objective case, which is used for direct and indirect objects and objects of prepositions, includes me, us, him, her, and them. The words you and it have the same form in both cases.

Mistakes are almost always made when there is more than one subject or object, like in the example I gave. It is now common to hear things like “Her and and her Mom went…” or “Me and him decided…”. The proper form is “She and her Mom…” (or “Her mom and she…”) and “He and I …” You should always put yourself last, too, out of politeness, not grammar. This is one point of grammar that has a very easy rule to remember. You should use the pronoun you would use if there was just one subject or object instead of two or more. You wouldn’t say, “Her went to the…” or “Me decided to…”. You’d say “she” and “I”. So why change those pronouns to “her” and “me” just because someone else is in the sentence? There is no reason. This mistake of using objective case for a subject is typical of less educated people.

Better educated people make the same mistake only the other way around. Typically you hear them use the subjective case when they should use objective. You might hear them say “The doctor gave my wife and I good advice.” Once again, the rule is the same. Pretend there is just one person there and see if it sounds right. You wouldn’t say “The doctor gave I good advice.” You would use “me”, not “I”. So why change just because there is another person there? Again, no reason. This is so simple, yet so many people get it wrong.

Grammarians can come up with exceptions or difficult sentences, such as predicate nominatives and dependent clauses, but let’s not bother with that now. It’s easy to do right for simple sentences like the examples I gave. If you want to sound intelligent, or at least pass bonehead English, this is one small thing you can do to help. It also helps a lot in learning a foreign language if you understand your own English grammar.

Happy Thanksgiving.