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I want to modify a pronoun with adjectives like "rich he", "poor they" and "beautiful I". Can I do that?

For example, can I say "I saw rich him driving a supercar", "Poor you can't buy foods enough", "Smart they graduated from a famous university"?

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A good question! No, you can't (normally) put an adjective before a pronoun. All of your examples sound incorrect and non-fluent.

But there is one way that you can correctly put an adjective in front of a pronoun: as an exclamation. For example, Poor me! or Lucky you! which is like a way of saying "How unlucky I am!" or "How lucky you are!"

  • By extension: "Rich him!", not "rich he!" – wizzwizz4 Feb 18 '17 at 18:13
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    The OP's second example actually sounds pretty OK to me, for some reason. (Well, aside from the "foods enough" part, which should be "enough food".) I hear it as sarcastic, though, which may not be what the OP intended. – ruakh Feb 18 '17 at 18:39
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    Worth pointing out that "poor" in that sense doesn't mean financially poor, but something more like "unfortunate". Of course not having enough money to live is in itself unfortunate, so "poor you" would probably still work in that context — it just probably doesn't mean what you think it means. – Muzer Feb 18 '17 at 20:36
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    @stangdon I found the usage in CGEL (poor is an extremely good choice actually since it's so standard I CGEL has this exact use indexed). I quote : "Pronouns do not normally allow internal pre-head dependents: *"Extravagant he bought a new car. *I met interesting them all." [snip] "exception, the use of a few adjectives such as lucky, poor, silly with the core personal pronouns: "Lucky you! No one noticed you had gone home early.", "They decided it would have to be done by pool old me." " end of quote. – DRF Feb 18 '17 at 22:24
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    @ruakh I would want to stick a comma in there: Poor you, can't buy enough food. The Poor you part still comes across as an exclamation. Without the comma, Poor you as the subject of the sentence sounds odd to me. – verbose Feb 18 '17 at 22:50
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There might be a possible use for it: if you use it as some kind of "alias" for different outcomes. It's hard to explain, so I'll just present an example:

You find a suitcase full of money. You can either take it and become rich, or take it to the police and stay poor. "Rich you" could buy expensive things and live comfortably. "Poor you" would have peace of mind because he did the right thing.

It's not orthodox, but it isn't wrong either (as far as I know).

  • That could be expanded into "The rich/poor (version of) you" – Zachiel Feb 18 '17 at 23:13
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    Plus one for thinking outside the box. In case non-native speakers are wondering, this example is perfectly acceptable, if uncommon. – Stephen C Feb 19 '17 at 1:08
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    @StephenC: This example is interesting in that even native speakers may have the tendency to want to put "rich you" and "poor you" in quotes, which may well be due to a natural reaction to seeing the adjectives in the wrong place and resorting to quotes to force the correct meaning to get through. Though I won't find anything wrong even if the quotes are removed from this example. – user21820 Feb 19 '17 at 3:38
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    @StephenC Thank you! I'm not a native speaker myself, so your comment really cheered me up :-) – walen Feb 19 '17 at 11:15
  • I.e. if you are making a compound noun rather than describing the pronoun. – Ben Feb 20 '17 at 10:12
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(Wrong) I saw rich him driving a supercar.

If you have not referred to him before then you should use:

I saw a rich guy/person/friend/neighbour driving a supercar.

If you have referred to him before then you might consider:

I saw him driving a supercar. Such a rich guy!

The key is to identify what you want to focus on, and the order you wish to convey the information or your opinion.


(Wrong) Poor you can't buy foods enough.

"Foods enough" is incorrect and should be "enough food". Probably what you want is:

You are poor and can't buy enough food.

If you want to emphasize the relation between the cause and consequence, you can use:

You, being poor, can't buy enough food.

Or:

You, as a poor person, can't buy enough food.

But note that all three sound quite rude if you are really talking to a poor person. And in a generic sentence only the first is suitable:

If you are poor and can't buy enough food, you can collect food stamps from the government.


(Wrong) Smart they graduated from a famous university.

If you have previously referred to those smart people then use:

Those smart people graduated from a famous university.

If you are talking about them for the first time then use:

Some/Many smart people graduated from a famous university.

If you want to be implicitly link smartness to the fame of the university (possibly sarcastically) then use:

They, smart people, graduated from a famous university.

  • Thank you for the answer. This answer is easy to understand for me. – Yuuichi Tam Feb 19 '17 at 4:21
  • @YuuichiTam: You're welcome; I'm glad it's helpful to you! – user21820 Feb 19 '17 at 4:27
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Possible alternative sentences that use correct English grammar:

I saw a rich guy; he was driving a supercar.

There was a guy I saw; he must be rich because he was driving a supercar.

You are so poor you can't buy enough food.

They were smart; they graduated from a famous university.

You can replace any semicolon in the example sentences above with a period if you are willing to use multiple sentences rather than just one.

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As already noted, there are a few very limited circumstances in which you can modify a pronoun with an adjective.

One of the ways you can do this is in the exclamation, "Poor you!" But be aware that this means "you are unfortunate," not "you have little money."

You could stretch this even further and use "poor you" as the subject of the sentence, "Poor you can't buy enough food." But this is only suitable for informal writing or speech, and it is not easy to know when you can get away with using such an expression. As a general rule, I would advise you not to try, at least until you have a much better ear for the language. Moreover, the sentence does not mean what you thought it meant: its meaning is close to the more formal sentence, "You are unfortunate because you can't buy enough food."

The opposite of "poor you" is "lucky you," not "rich you."

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