What Is the Subjective Case? (with Examples)

by Craig Shrives

Subjective Case

The subjective case is the case used for a noun or pronoun that is the subject of a verb. For example (subjective case shaded):
  • The boy eats pies.
  • (The noun "boy" is the subject of the verb "eats." "Boy" is in the subjective case. In English, nouns do not change in the different cases. Pronouns, however, do.)
  • He eats pies.
  • (The pronoun "he" is the subject of the verb "eats." "He" is in the subjective case. In the objective case (i.e., if "he" were not the subject of a verb), this would be "him." For example, "The cannibals ate him.")
  • They eat pies.
  • (The pronoun "they" is the subject of the verb "eats." "They" is in the subjective case.)
  • They eat them.
  • (Here, "they" is in the subjective case, but "them" is the objective case.)
subjective case


The subjective case is also used for a subject complement. For example:
  • Lee is an editor.
  • (Here, "Lee" is in the subjective case because it's the subject of "is," and "editor" is in the subjective case because it's a subject complement; i.e., it renames the subject.)
  • It was I.
  • (Here, "it" is in the subjective case because it's the subject of "was," and "I" is in the subjective case because it's a subject complement; i.e., it renames the subject.)

Only Pronouns Change Their Forms

In English, nouns do not change their forms in any of the cases (other than the possessive case). For example:
  • The man saw the dog.
  • (Here, "man" is in the subjective case because it's the subject of "saw.")
  • The dog saw the man.
  • (This time, "man" is in the objective case, but there has been no change in spelling.)
Pronouns, however, do change their forms depending on their case. The subjective pronouns are "I," "you," "he," "she," "it," "we," "they," "who," and "whoever." Look at this example:
  • I saw the dog. The dog saw me.
  • ("I" is the subject of the verb "saw." It is a subjective pronoun. However, it changes to "me" when it is not in the subjective case; i.e., when it's not the subject of a verb or a subject complement.)

Subjective Pronouns

Here is a list of subjective pronouns and objective pronouns:
Subjective PronounObjective PronounComment
Ime 
youyouThere is no change.
hehim 
sheher 
ititThere is no change.
weus 
theythem 
whowhomRead more on who & whom.
whoeverwhomever 

Why Should I Care about the Subjective Case?

Here are five good reasons to care about the subjective case.

(Reason 1) Ensure subject-verb agreement.

A noun in the subjective case governs a verb, i.e., it determines how the verb changes (or how the verb "conjugates" as they say). In other words, a subjective case noun or pronoun must agree in number with its verb. This sounds complicated, but it just means that we must say "The dog is" and not "The dog are." When we get this right, it's called subject-verb agreement.

As a rule, native English speakers are brilliant at subject-verb agreement, but there are some traps. The most common mistake that people make is treating a modifier as the subject. Look at this example:
  • A box of knives were found on the back seat.
  • (This is wrong because the noun in the subjective case is "box," which is singular. The phrase "of knives" is just a modifier. It doesn't govern the verb.)
  • A box of knives was found on the back seat.
There are lots of other traps too. You can read about them on the page about subjects or the page about subject-verb agreement.

(Reason 2) You must know the cases if you're learning a foreign language.

The subjective case (also called the "nominative case") is the first case that language learners tackle. It is the version of the word that appears in the dictionary. It is the version of the word for the subject of your sentence. In other words, it's the main case. Any changes that occur in the other cases (called "the oblique cases") can be considered as changes to the subjective-case version. In other words, the subjective case is the baseline. So, if you are learning a foreign language or teaching English, you must know the subjective case well. It's the first thing you'll learn or teach.

(Reason 3) Don't use "I" as the object of a verb or the object of a preposition.

"I" is a pronoun in the subjective case. It must be used as the subject of a verb. You can't use it as an object of a verb (e.g., She knows I ) or as the object of a preposition (e.g., with I , near I ). This includes when "I" features in terms like "my wife and I" and "between you and I." For example:
  • They knew my wife and I.
  • (The subjective pronoun "I" must be the subject of a verb. Here, it's the direct object of the verb "knew." It should read "They knew me and my wife." Of note, the word order "my wife and me" sounds awkward to most native English speakers, who prefer "me and my wife." This is also contributes to writers saying "my wife and I.")
  • I sent a card from my wife and I.
  • ("I" cannot be the object of a preposition. This should be "...from me and my wife.")
  • My wife and I sent a card.
  • (This time, "I" is fine. It's the subject of the verb "sent.")
  • Between you and I, I think she's annoyed.
  • (The term "between you and I" is always wrong. It should be "between you and me.")

(Reason 4) Don't use "myself" with an order.

The subject of an order (i.e., an imperative sentence) is an inferred "you." For example:
  • Call me tomorrow.
  • (There is an inferred "you" in this order. In other words, "you" is the subject of an imperative verb.)
  • [You] Call me when you arrive.
  • (Even though we don't say the "you," it is inferred.)
This is relevant because you can only use "yourself" or "yourselves" with an imperative verb (i.e., an order). You can't use "myself." This is a common mistake.
  • Send any complaints to the Human Resources Department or directly to myself.
  • (You can't use "myself" with "you" (even an inferred "you" in an order). This should be "me" not "myself.")
Read more about this writing mistake on the "reflexive pronouns" page.

(Reason 5) "Who" is the subjective case. "Whom" isn't.

If you use "who," make sure it's the subject of a verb. If it isn't, use "whom." For example:
  • Who is she?
  • (Here, "who" is the subject of "is." It is correct.)
  • I know the woman who lost her dog.
  • (Here, "who" is the subject of "lost." It is correct.)
  • Who did you sit with?
  • (Here, "who" is not the subject of a verb. Therefore, it must be wrong. It should be "whom." The subject of "sit" is "you.")
Read more about "who" and "whom."
Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

See Also

What is case in grammar? What is the subject of a verb? What is a subject complement? What is the objective case? What is the possessive case? What are subjective pronouns? What are objective pronouns? Glossary of grammatical terms