Titles, character names, and pronouns

Pronouns replace nouns:

Rex barked.
He barked.

To replace a story title, use the pronoun “it”:

My favorite story is “Cinderella.” It is about…
My favorite story is “Mother Hulda.” It is about…
My favorite story is “Hansel and Gretel.” It is about…
My favorite story is “Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs.” It is about…

To replace a character’s name, use “he,” “she,” or “they“:

My favorite character is Cinderella. She
My favorite character is Mother Hulda. She
My favorite characters are Hansel and Gretel. They
My favorite character is Snow-White. She

Don’t use “he,” “she,” or “they” to refer to the story title:

WRONG RIGHT
 In “Cinderella,” she…
(“Cinderella” is the story title.)
 In “Cinderella,” Cinderella marries the prince.
OR:
In the story of “Cinderella,” Cinderella marries the prince.
OR:
In the story “Cinderella,” Cinderella marries the prince.
 In “Mother Hulda,” she…
(“Mother Hulda” is the story title.)
 In “Mother Hulda,” Mother Hulda showers the daughter in gold.
 In “Hansel & Gretel,” they…
(“Hansel & Gretel” is the story title.)
 In “Hansel & Gretel,” Hansel & Gretel slay the witch.
In “Snow-White & the Seven Dwarfs,” she…
(“Snow-White & the Seven Dwarfs” is the story title.)
In “Snow-White & the Seven Dwarfs,” Snow-White lives with seven dwarfs.

Will this relationship last? (“function words” can predict)

According to University of Texas psychologist James Pennebaker, “function words” are like fingerprints. We all use them a bit differently, and our style of function-word use reveals our character.

In English, the function words are: prepositions, pronouns, determinatives, auxiliary verbs, coordinators, and subordinators.

Nouns, full verbs, adjectives, and adverbs are “content” words.

The easiest way for beginning composition students to understand what function words are is to think of them as words whose meaning you can’t look up in the dictionary. The meaning of a function word comes largely from the sentence it’s in, or from the surrounding sentences.

Function words largely serve a grammatical purpose in a sentence — some people call them “glue words.”

Function words:

Content words:

  • nouns (Mercy College, chair, beach, love, grammar…)
  • “full” verbs (run, sit, sing, fall…)
  • adjectives (blue, tall, sunny, odd…)
  • adverbs (slowly, sadly, inquisitively, ostentatiously…)

Another name for the distinction between function words and content words: “closed” and “open” word classes.

Content words are an open class; new content words are invented all the time.

Function words are a closed class; new function words rarely come into existence.


Different people have different styles of function word use. As an example, some people use the pronoun “I” more than others do.

Function words also predict romance.

The study below, from 2010, found that people whose function-word styles were similar were more likely than people whose function-word styles were different to: a) be romantically attracted to each other, and b) stay together.

An excerpt from the study:

Function words, such as pronouns and articles, are generally short, are frequently used, and have little meaning outside the context of a sentence (Chung & Pennebaker, 2007). As a result of these features, function words are processed rapidly and largely nonconsciously when people produce or comprehend language (Segalowitz & Lane, 2004; Van Petten & Kutas, 1991) and require shared social knowledge, or common ground, to be used effectively (Meyer & Bock, 1999). For example, the function words (underlined) in the sentence He placed it on the table make little sense without prior knowledge of the man, the object, and the table in question. Perhaps because of their key role in social cognition, function words are robust markers of a variety of individual differences and social behaviors, ranging from leadership style to honesty (Hancock, Curry, Goorha, & Woodworth, 2008; Slatcher, Chung, Pennebaker, & Stone, 2007; Tausczik & Pennebaker, 2010).

Language Style Matching Predicts Relationship Initiation and Stability by Molly E. Ireland, Richard B. Slatcher, Paul W. Eastwick, Lauren E. Scissors, Eli J. Finkel, and James W. Pennebaker Psychological Science 2010

Bullet points:

  • Function words are usually short
  • Function words are used frequently
  • Function words have little meaning outside a sentence (or outside the surrounding sentences in a text)
  • Function words are processed very quickly by the brain
  • Function words are processed mostly outside of conscious awareness (for example, people have no idea, consciously, how often they use the pronoun “I”)
  • Function words require that speakers (or writers & readers) possess shared social knowledge in order to know what the function word means (If I say to you, “Give this book to her,” you and I both have to know what person I mean by ‘her.’
  • Function words reveal numerous personality differences and social behaviors, including leadership traits and honesty
  • In this study of speed dating transcripts, people whose function word use was similar were more likely to be romantically attracted to each other than people whose styles were dissimilar
  • AND they were more likely to still be together 3 months later

AND SEE:

Quiz

My husband likes football more than I.
My husband likes football more than me.

Assuming that both of the sentences above are grammatically correct, what do they mean?

ANSWER

Source:
Choosing between pronouns such as I and me

AND SEE:

‘The sweaters Mom knitted for Victor and me’

for Victor and I
for Victor and me

Which one should you use?

Answer: for Victor and me

Here’s how to convince yourself that “for Victor and me” is right:

a sweater for me
a sweater for I
Which one sounds right?

a sweater for him
a sweater for he
Which one sounds right?

a sweater for her
a sweater for she
Which one sounds right?

sweaters for us
sweaters for we
Which one sounds right?

sweaters for them
sweaters for they
Which one sounds right?

It doesn’t change when you add “Victor”!

a sweater for me
a sweater for Victor and me

If you are a native speaker, the “object pronoun” (see the chart below) sounds right when you have just one OBJECT OF THE PREPOSITION. For some reason, though, the object pronoun stops sounding right to a lot of people when they add a second object of the preposition:

a sweater for Victor and _______ ??

Grammatically, nothing has changed; the preposition still takes an object pronoun!

A SWEATER FOR VICTOR AND ME
and
SWEATERS FOR HIM AND ME (not “sweaters for he and I”)

Here’s the test. Cross out the other object (or objects) and ask yourself which form of the pronoun sounds right.

Mom knitted a sweater for Victor and I.
Without “Victor” in the sentence, “I” is clearly wrong. So use “me.”

If you’re still feeling doubt, run the same test in reverse:
Mom knitted a sweater for Victor and me.
Without “Victor” in the sentence, “me” is clearly right. So use me!

More t/k.

AND SEE:
A question most students missed
Langan on pronouns
My husband likes football more than I/me.
HANDOUT: Pronoun case guidelines from Tidewater Community College (pdf file) – very short and clear
HANDOUT: Diana Hacker on Choosing between pronouns such as I and me (pdf file)

Langan on pronouns

In another post (t/k) I will explain why ‘me’ is the correct pronoun in “The sweaters Mom knitted for Victor and me are too small.” But first, by way of introduction, here is what John Langan has to say about pronouns in general.

From Chapter 29 : Pronoun Agreement and Reference (p. 513):

Nouns name persons, places, or things. Pronouns are words that take the place of nouns. In fact, the word pronoun means “for a noun.” Pronouns are shortcuts that keep you from unnecessarily repeating words in writing. Here are some examples of pronouns:

Eddie left his camera on the bus.
(His is a pronoun that takes the place of Eddie’s.)
Elena drank the coffee even though it was cold.
(It replaces coffee.)
As I turned the newspaper’s damp pages, they disintegrated in my hands.
(They is a pronoun that takes the place of pages.) [color & emphasis added by CJ]

4 common types of pronouns – Chapter 30: Pronoun Types (p. 518):

demonstrative pronouns: pronouns that point to or single out a person or thing. The four demonstrative pronouns are this, that, these, and those.

object pronouns: pronouns that function as the objects of verbs or prepositions. Example: Tony helped me.

possessive pronouns: pronouns that show ownership or possession. Example: The keys are mine.

subject pronouns: pronouns that function as the subjects of verbs. Example: He is wearing an artificial arm.

AND SEE:
Langan on pronouns
the sweaters Mom knitted for Victor and me
“My husband likes football more than I/me.”
Pronoun case guidelines from Tidewater CC (very short and clear)
Diana Hacker on Choosing between pronouns such as I and me

A question most students missed

In class on Wednesday, just about everyone missed the first question in Activity 1, p. 518 (College Writing Skills with Readings 8th Edition by John Langan):

The sweaters Mom knitted for Victor and (I, me) are too small.

The correct answer is me! The sweaters Mom knitted for Victor and me are too small.

Not: The sweaters Mom knitted for Victor and I are too small. I explain why in another post (t/k).

Given how few people seem to know this rule these days, I have to assume it’s in the process of dying. If so, then at some point “the sweaters Mom knitted for Victor and I” will be considered grammatically correct. Nevertheless, for the time being the rule is alive and well in the minds of college professors – and quite possibly in the minds of your future employers – so it’s just as well to learn it now and begin to use it. To a person who knows – and hears – the difference between “the sweaters Mom knitted for Victor and me” versus “the sweaters Mom knitted for Victor and I,” the 2nd version really is jarring, and you don’t want to jar your professor or your boss.

AND SEE:
Langan on pronouns
the sweaters Mom knitted for Victor and me
“My husband likes football more than I/me.”
Pronoun case guidelines from Tidewater CC (very short and clear)
Diana Hacker on Choosing between pronouns such as I and me