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Example sentence:

They sat across from each other, he/him on the chair, she/her on the bed.

Should it be he/she or him/her? And why?

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    He sat on the chair. She sat on the bed. Both are subjects, not objects. Dec 9, 2021 at 16:18
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    People who are into Latin grammar will doubtless agree with @Kate above. But I don't have any problem with the usage ...him on the left and her on the right in such contexts. Maybe it's the same as [She's a] friend of his / friend of him, I dunno. I suggest only a small minority of native speakers know or care whether they should use "nominative" or "accusative" case for pronouns in such contexts. But it's not obvious to me how He sat on the chair "explains" anything - why not "rephrase / expand" as with him sitting on the chair? Dec 9, 2021 at 17:24
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    @FumbleFingers While I (theoretically) believe that there is no "right" or "wrong" in language, and that nobody appreciates a hardliner... Maybe it's just me, but I'd argue that using him/her in the example sentence would still sound wrong. And, yes, if we want to get formal, it would break grammatical validity, because the two pronouns "divide up" they and are subjects, but I don't think it's one of those "meh, it might be wrong but everybody says it" situations. Dec 9, 2021 at 17:58
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    @FumbleFingers Oddly enough, if I imagine versions with "I" and "you," I'm more receptive to "me" ("you" of course is still "you"). It's good enough for Stephen Sondheim: "Isn't it rich / are we a pair / me here at last on the ground / you in midair" ("Send in the Clowns," from A Little Night Music) Dec 9, 2021 at 19:02
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    I changed the title because both versions in the original were the same. If I changed the meaning of your question, my apologies!
    – stangdon
    Dec 9, 2021 at 19:02

3 Answers 3

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Pronouns as subject of a verb (basically, "someone does something to anything"):

 He/She sits on a chair. I/You/They sit on a chair.

Pronouns as object of a verb (basically, "something happens to someone"):

 The chair belongs to him/her/me/them.

It might sound OK to use the wrong pronoun form, but not really, because in the back of my mind, an object pronoun reverses the receiver of the action, so it sounds like this:

They sat across from each other, the chair holding him, the bed supporting her.

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  • Thanks for the explanation. But sorry, so you're saying that the he/she or him/her version is the correct one?
    – wyc
    Dec 10, 2021 at 7:55
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    For the sentence in the question, use "he" and "she" sat on the chairs. You would only use "him" and "her" if the chairs sat on them (which would be very strange).
    – user8356
    Dec 10, 2021 at 17:25
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You might be able use either "he" or "him", but to my ears "him" is better.

This is because of the lack of an explicit verb in these phrases. Without a verb there is no unambiguous subject, and so the pronouns default to their object forms.

I don't accept an argument that says it should be "he" because "he on the bed" is really short for "he sat on the bed". It could be understood like this, but the phrase "he/him on the bed" really doesn't have a verb. It could equally be understood as "There was him on the bed".

No verb -> no subject -> use him.

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    Sorry, but 1) if there were in fact no verb, then one could argue that there should be no object, and 2) yeah, there's a verb. I'm not sure, tbh, whether it's more accurate to argue that sat "projects" itself into the later phrases, or to say that the phrases "restate" the initial one, and simply "divide up" the pronoun they, but either way, nobody's getting sat upon but the chair. Like our last encounter, the question of whether one would prefer to be right or idiomatic is separate (see my confusion in the comments), but there's definitely a "proper" way. Dec 9, 2021 at 20:50
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    And yet, to my judgement, "he on the chair" simply sounds wrong. So whatever the "rule" is, it had better say that "him" is the correct pronoun in this case.
    – James K
    Dec 9, 2021 at 21:03
  • I think it could also be understood as "with him on the bed"?
    – wyc
    Dec 10, 2021 at 8:02
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They sat across from each other, he/him on the chair, she/her on the bed.

To resolve the absence of verbs in the two phases, we could consider ellipsis.

They sat across from each other; he, on the chair; she, on the bed.

The gapping commas indicate the verb omissions.

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