In this sentence should I use "he" in place of 'him"?

He explained that Lily, not him, had planned the party.


In formal and scholastic registers, "he" is appropriate.  It is part of the subject of the subordinate clause. 

The alternatives presented here are that Lily had planned the party and that he had planned the party.  The complete subject of the clause is "Lily [and] not he", which excludes the latter alternative. 

That being said, the informal registers of many English dialects are not exclusively subject-oriented.  For the same reason that the formal "it is I" is often replaced by the common "that's me", the appositive "not him" can easily take the oblique case -- not as an object but merely as a non-topic.

We don't commonly regard English as a topic-oriented language.  Still, we can't explain how the informal variants of copular clauses (such as "that's me") and interrogative clauses (such as "who did you see?") function under a purely subject-oriented framework. 

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    " For the same reason that the formal "it is I" is often replaced by the common "that's me", the appositive "not him" can easily take the oblique case" Those are entirely different cases. In "That's me", "me" is the object of "that [i]s". "Still, we can't explain how the informal variants of copular clauses (such as "that's me") " Again, that's easily explained by "me" being an object. "who did you see?" That's just a case of the word "whom" disappearing from natural speech. – Acccumulation Sep 26 '17 at 22:56
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    Ah, but those aren't objects. The argument of the copula is a subject complement, which traditionally takes the subjective case. That is the same situation as a subject's appositive -- they share the subject's referent. And, "just a case of the word 'whom' disappearing" doesn't serve as an explanation. The reason it's vanishing is that it is typically topical, as the key word of a question or of a relative subordinate. – Gary Botnovcan Sep 27 '17 at 1:01
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    That "me" is an object is a perfectly valid explanation. Just because some people refer to the object of the copula as a "subject complement" doesn't mean it's not an object, let alone that it conceptualizing it as an object is not an explanation. Your question of why subject complements take the objective case is one that exists solely due to your choice of nomenclature. Furthermore, it is not the case that subject complement traditionally takes the subjective case. That is an affectation/hypercorrection that has been rationalized by this "subject complement" special pleading. – Acccumulation Sep 27 '17 at 1:31
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    No. That "thou" vanished is an observation, not an explanation. That "thou" vanished because the respectful plural became universally applicable is an explanation. We didn't start to prefer an indiscriminate "you" because "thou" waned. "Thou" waned because the replacement served a purpose. That's how it works. To explain the disappearance of "whom", one must show what makes the alternative preferable. – Gary Botnovcan Sep 27 '17 at 2:35
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    @Acccumulation does any serious linguist consider the complement of a copula an object? Most Indo-European languages similarly use the same subject form for the copula complement (in particular Latin, Spanish, Esperanto). – eques Sep 27 '17 at 17:07

Given the clause (what was explained):

Lily, not him, had planned the party.

both Lily and "him" are subjects. So use the subjective pronoun form, he is correct:

He explained that Lily, not he, had planned the party.

But in informal speech, people often say it either way, often depending on what seems to sound best.

  • Yes, I was thinking along that line as well. That both he and Lily are subjects here. – skywardhope Sep 26 '17 at 17:57
  • That is interesting - I was not aware that a sentence can have more than one subjects. Lessen learnt - thanks! – Jochen Sep 26 '17 at 17:59
  • So the modifier "not" doesn't change "he" to "him", ever? – Mr Lister Sep 26 '17 at 17:59
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    Ah, I know that song well. 'Tis I in the corner. 'Tis I in the spot-light. And I know not whether I can do it. – Gary Botnovcan Sep 26 '17 at 19:00
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    @MrLister: It is not the subject, but traditionalists would call for a subject pronoun (a nominative pronoun if you prefer), since be is said to take a nominative complement rather than an object. – rjpond Sep 26 '17 at 19:29

Both "he" and "him" are awkward.

This sentence falls into a broad class of sentences in which a pronoun is used as part of a subject, but isn't the whole subject. The most well known example of this type of sentence is:

John and me planned the party.


John and I planned the party.

Both may be considered correct, as both are used commonly by native speakers. The second sentence is correct in "prescriptive grammar", as the word "I" is in the subject, and so the nominative case should be used.

There is an alternate rule, which states that "I" should only be used when it forms the whole subject, and as it is not the whole subject, the correct pronoun should be "me".

In your example, application of the first rule leads to "not he", the second rule would lead to "not him". However both are awkward

Rephrasing would be a much better alternative.

He explained that Lily had planned the party; he had nothing to do with it.

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    "Both may be considered correct, as both are used commonly by native speakers" - I suppose it depends on whether you're a prescriptivist or a descriptivist! Most educated people I know think "John and me planned the party" is a hideous linguistic abortion, considering that you would never say "Me planned the party." Can you provide a source for that alternate rule you mention? I've never heard of it. – stangdon Sep 26 '17 at 21:33
  • I agree that both "he" and "him" are awkward – but for a different reason: it's unclear if the two pronouns refer to the same person, or to two different individuals. Consider: "John explained that Lily, not Dave, had planned the party" vs. "John explained that Lily, not John himself, had planned the party." – J.R. Sep 26 '17 at 21:54
  • @J.R. - Good observation about the unclarity, although I don't think it changes the answer. Consider this: "John explained that Lily, not he/him himself, had planned the party." "Him himself" just sounds bizarre there, IMO. – stangdon Sep 26 '17 at 22:08
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    "Both may be considered correct, as both are used commonly by native speakers." That is a very loose sense of "correct". I think that the focus of this SE should be what is standard, not merely what usages appear among native speakers. – Acccumulation Sep 26 '17 at 22:59
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    @Acccumulation - I think most learners are interested in both. Most learners I know don’t want to sound stilted, and don’t mind knowing about informal, conversational English. That said, I agree with you, we need to be careful about what we label as “correct.” – J.R. Sep 27 '17 at 0:51

Other people have already told you the correct answer (it's "he" according to the strict rules of English, but that sentence sounds a little awkward to native speakers). So instead, I'm going to focus on something that only one person has mentioned in a comment, which is a general rule for figuring out the right pronoun in sentences like this one.

A good way to decide between "he" and "him" (or "she" and "her") in sentences like "John and (I/me) went to the party" or "Lily, not (he/him), had planned the party" is to remove the extra subject. Leave the pronoun alone in the sentence and see what it should be. Consider these two sentences:

I went to the party.


Me went to the party.

When you look at them like that, it becomes clear that the correct pronoun is "I", therefore the correct sentence is

John and I went to the party.

This general rule will help you figure out the pronoun in other situations too, like when the pronoun is the object, rather than the subject, of the verb. For example:

My friends bought movie tickets for my wife and (I/me).

Which one should it be? Well, remove the extra object and that sentence becomes:

My friends bought movie tickets for (I/me).

And now it's clear that the right pronoun is "me", so the correct sentence is:

My friends bought movie tickets for my wife and me.

NOTE: This particular example ("for my wife and me") is one that many native speakers of English get wrong. There's also some dispute about whether it's really "wrong" or not, but that's a question that you probably don't need to worry about as a second-language learner. Just remember the general rule (remove the other words to figure out what the pronoun would be if it was alone), and you'll get it right.

  • No, this methodology (of turning mulitiple subjects/objects) to singular ones has been shown to be fallacious. English speakers have developed ways of talking about compound, ie multiple subjects/objects, that dont follow the rules that singular ones do. – green_ideas Sep 27 '17 at 14:08
  • I'm unaware of any such case. Could you cite an example, please? – rmunn Sep 27 '17 at 16:20
  • @Clare - I didn't mention possessive compounds ("Mary's and John's cars are both in the shop" when it's two cars separately owned vs. "Mary and John's car is in the shop" when it's a single car, jointly owned), which might be what you're referring to. But if you mean anything else, I believe you are incorrect. An example would help clarify. – rmunn Sep 27 '17 at 16:27
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    "Both me and Beth loved Kingsman 2!" <- Real life example heard "in the wild" from a native speaker. I'm not saying that's perfect standard English, but I didn't blink an eye when I heard it. I wouldn't say "I and Beth both loved it" and I also wouldn't say "Me loved it". I would say "Beth and I loved it." but probably wouldn't if we were just chatting informally. The person I was talking to wanted to emphasize that they loved the movie, and (surprisingly) their partner did too, so the "both" was emphasized as the important part of the sentence. – ColleenV Sep 27 '17 at 17:03
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    It's true that the "remove the extra part of the compound" rule won't help you with getting the compound word order correct, but that's like complaining that the "is the last digit 5 or 0? then it's divisible by 5" rule of thumb won't help you with calculating divisibility by 3. Of course it won't: those are two different rules. The "Both me and Beth" example is wrong in two ways. The rule of thumb of removing the extra compound word would produce "Both I and Beth", which is only wrong in one way (the order, which breaks a different rule). That doesn't diminish the usefulness of the rule. – rmunn Sep 28 '17 at 1:58

you should use he in this case. because here in the sentence Lily is the subject who does the action so you have to use a subject pronoun you can not use the object pronoun.

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    Please explain. I don't think this is correct, though I can see some logic. To me "him" sounds better, but both are awkward. – James K Sep 26 '17 at 17:50
  • I second James K's statement - I guess him is the better choice. – Jochen Sep 26 '17 at 17:55
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    No, don't apologize, Jochen. He is definitely correct. Consider this: He explained that ___ had planned the party. Obviously only he works there, so there's no reason it should suddenly morph into "him" because of "Lily and not". – stangdon Sep 26 '17 at 21:35

He explained that Lily, not him, had planned the party.

You'll need to use 'he' if the personal pronoun refers to the subject of the sentence. You'll need to use 'him', if the personal pronoun refers to the object. I guess in that case the subject is Lily so 'him' is correct.

Note: I am neither a native speaker nor an expert - I am just trying to help.

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    It's not entirely clear that "him" can be considered an object here. I definitely prefer to use "him" here, but traditional prescriptive gramar would dictate that the pronoun should be "he" (as in "he had planned the party"; "Lily and he had planned the party"; "Lily, not he, had planned the party"). In formal writing I would solve the problem by re-wording ("He explained that the party had been planned by Lily, not by him"). – rjpond Sep 26 '17 at 18:01
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    If Lily is the subject (of the dependent clause), why is he/him an object? hint: object of what verb? – eques Sep 26 '17 at 18:15

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