Don't Use "Him" or "Her" as the Subject of a Clause
by Tina Blue
October 18, 2002
One reader e-mailed me recently with a question about proper pronoun usage. He felt quite sure that what he was hearing more and more frequently could not possibly be correct, and yet when he didn't find an article about it on my website, he began to wonder whether things might have changed far more than he could have imagined.
These are the examples he gave me:
~Him and his wife are celebrating their 10th anniversary.
~Her and three other hikers found themselves lost.
~Her and him went bowling yesterday.
And this was his rather dismayed comment:
I hear this more and more lately, even by those I know to be very intelligent. I'm pretty sure this is improper use of him and her, but when I didn't find it on a site such as yours I'm beginning to wonder. Am I nuts?
Of course, he is absolutely correct. The sentences he gives are quite nonstandard. The subject of a clause must be in the nominative case:
~He and his wife are celebrating their 10th anniversary.
~She and three other hikers found themselves lost.
~She and he went bowling yesterday.
"Him" and "her" are in the objective case, and can only be used to fill object slots in a sentence: the direct or indirect object of a verb, the object of a preposition (or, in a less common sort of structure, the appositive* of an object).
I have not posted an article on this point before, because I actually never see that error in writing. On the other hand, I must admit that I do encounter it sometimes in the speech of my students here at the University of Kansas, and even more often in the speech of children under, say, about 14.
But even though my KU students sometimes will say "Me and him did this or that," or "Him and her did this or that," no student has ever written such a thing in a paper for me.
I am reminded of another grammatical error I often hear in speech here in Kansas, and especially when speaking with people from the western part of the state. Often Kansans will use the simple past tense form rather than the past participle as the main verb in a verb phrase, saying "I could have went," or "He should have did it," rather than "I could have gone," or "He should have done it."
But the same people that I have heard say such things have never written such things, at least not in any of their writing that I have ever seen.
I think what is going on here, and probably also in the "him and her," "me and him" locutions, is that people revert to a regional dialect with nonstandard features when speaking informally, but when writing they automatically make use of the standard forms they learned in school.
Of course, if they would make a habit of using the same standard forms in speech that they use in writing, then their children would not grow up using the nonstandard forms at all, either in speech or in writing.
*For an explanation of what appositives are, how to use them properly, and how they should be punctuated, see"The Loyal Apposition."