english pronoun case (was Re: everybody...their)

Arnold Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Thu Apr 19 04:43:08 UTC 2001

a. murie:
 >Arnold Zwicky writes:

  >>one context in which predicative nominatives are especially
  >>awful is with infinitival "be" form of BE:

  >> (h) *You wouldn't want to be I.
  >> (i) *I need to be free to be I.
  >> (j) *Just be I for a week; then you'll see how hard things are.
  >> (k) Want to have a better life?  *Just be I.
  >> (l) When they assigned roles for the play of my young life,
  >>        *Robin made Sandy be I.
  >>        *I watched Sandy be I.
  >> (m) Q: Who's responsible for this?
  >>     A: *That  would/could/has to   be I.<<

 >Since infinitives take the objective case for their subjects, it is
 >logical for their predicate complements to be objective, too.

there are two parts to this proposal:
  (1) infinitives take the objective case for their subjects;
  (2) predicatives agree (in case, in particular) with their subjects.
both of these are hypotheses about english syntax; we have to look
at the facts.  i'd argue that there's something right about both of
them for english, but that neither is simply and straightforwardly
true of the language.

hypothesis (1) runs into trouble with examples like
  (a) Look at the person on the left in the photo.
       He will be me/*I.
  (b) I tried hard to be him/*he.
  (c) I now seem to be him/*he.
it is, of course, *possible* to posit an empty accusative/objective
subject for such occurrences of infinitive verb forms, but the
most straightforward analysis is one in which the infinitive verb
forms share subjects with the verb they are complements to (WILL,
TRY, SEEM), and *these* subjects are nominative/subjective.

so hypothesis (1) would predict the facts in some situations
(in combination with hypothesis (2)), but not in general.

hypothesis (2) runs into trouble in examples like
  (d) You've heard about nutty linguists.  Well, we are, in fact,
and it runs into trouble with number agreement, where (it's
well known), subjects and predicatives can disagree:
  (e) It is the ducks I'm afraid of.

both hypotheses have something going for them: (1) does apply
for clauses with non-finite main verbs (Them leaving at noon!),
and (2) applies in situations where there's no conflict between
subject-verb and predicative-verb agreement (Kim is a spy;
Kim and Sandy are spies).

but neither (1) nor (2) is the right generalization for english.
they're sort of close, but they're not quite what's going on
in this particular language.  (this is not to say that they
couldn't be the right generalizations for some other languages.)

arnold (zwicky at csli.stanford.edu)

More information about the Ads-l mailing list