Coordinate object "he" in the news

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And the referent is Newt Gingrich! Mitt Romney, on Fox and Friends today, in response to Newt calling him a liar:

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Well um uh I- I understand Newt must be very angry
and I- I don’t exactly understand why, but uh
look, I wish him well, it’s a long road ahead,
i- he's a good guy, I like he and Callista, and uh-
uh we got many months ahead of us, so
uh I’ll leave it at that [laugh].

For some background, see "Patterns of Prestigious Deviance", 10/1/2011; also Philipp Angermeyer and John Singler, "The case for politeness: Pronoun variation in co-ordinate NPs in object position in English",Language Variation and Change 15, 2003; and Frank Parker, Kathryn Riley, and Charles Meyer, "Case Assignment and the Ordering of Constituents in Coordinate Constructions", American Speech 63(3) 1988; Graham Shorrocks, "Case Assignment in Simple and Coordinate Constructions in Present-Day English", American Speech 67(4) 1992; Frank Parker, Kathryn Riley, and Charles Meyer, "Here us go again", American Speech 69(4) 1994.

My own intuitions, for what little they're worth, give a funny result in this case: "I like he and Callista" feels like an instance of hypercorrection; but "I like him and Callista" feels like something that the neighborhood prescriptivists are going to glare at me about.



  1. Theophylact said,

    January 3, 2012 @ 10:59 am

    Makes you long for case endings for proper nouns, huh?

  2. Jerry Friedman said,

    January 3, 2012 @ 11:34 am

    My own intuitions, for what little they're worth, give a funny result in this case:

    Pun intended?

    And is your intuition about prescripivists worth anything as evidence that these forms really are hypercorrections? (By the way, it looks like "get glre" is an editing error.)

    Thanks for the Angermeyer and Singler link. I hadn't realized these constructions were so old.

  3. Jerry Friedman said,

    January 3, 2012 @ 11:35 am

    Skitt's/Muphry's Law strikes!

  4. Peter said,

    January 3, 2012 @ 11:51 am


    In languages with case endings for proper nouns, is there usually the (ostensibly) logical agreement in coordinate structures, or is it still like English?

  5. Dave M said,

    January 3, 2012 @ 12:36 pm

    For Theo: Eum amo et Callistam.

    I'm not sure what's wrong with "I like him and Callista," but I guess that means I need to click those links and find out. Anyway, that's my immediate reaction.

  6. Ken Brown said,

    January 3, 2012 @ 12:54 pm

    Having looked at the links (and even understood some of them) am I right in assuming that Language Log would agree that the normal way of saying it would be "I like Callista and him"? But that "… him and Callista" is less natural in English?

  7. Ray Dillinger said,

    January 3, 2012 @ 2:03 pm

    "I like he and Callista" sounded blatantly wrong to me for standard American English. "I like him and Callista" would have been one of the standard ways of expressing it.

    "Prestigious Deviance?" Please. It's just another instance of someone speaking sloppily. Or, if enough people are doing it, just another dialect marker. Although I really like the turn of phrase, I'd apply it to activities drastically more deviant than mere word choice.

  8. E W Gilman said,

    January 3, 2012 @ 2:30 pm

    I still subscribe to the Chomsky explanation I relied on in MWDEU. I hear "to he and,,,"/ "between he and…" and the like compound objects all the time in sports broadcasting, and I am beginning to think it may be becoming very common if not universal.

  9. Pflaumbaum said,

    January 3, 2012 @ 3:03 pm

    Maybe worth a link to Thomas Grano's Stanford thesis too, which I found very helpful in teasing apart the factors of word-order and person.

  10. LDavidH said,

    January 3, 2012 @ 3:47 pm

    Isn't there some sort of trend (in English) where a personal pronoun in conjunction with a proper noun appears in the nominative, regardless of the actual case? As in "They told my sister and I", "It's for my brother and I", "Is it juss [sic] sex between him and I?" (the last example is a genuine question from Yahoo! Answers), etc – the logic presumably being that "X and Y" is a phrase that doesn't change in any circumstance? The same also seems to happen when a relative clause is involved, e.g. "We worship he who rules supreme".

  11. Rob Houck said,

    January 3, 2012 @ 4:23 pm

    I had always thought speaking a foreign language (and learning accusative, dative, even that damned ablative) would cure any American of this kind of (amazing) mistake. But no….. Missonary work apparently doesn't go into the mechanics of the foreign language.

  12. Bob McHenry said,

    January 3, 2012 @ 4:26 pm

    I blame this (and so many, many other things) on the ill-educated teachers who have drilled "he and I" into their students without knowing why, leaving the students with the impression that there's something about two people that changes the grammar of a sentence in which they appear. No one has difficulty with "I like him" or with "He likes me." But add a second party, and all is confusion.

  13. The Ridger said,

    January 3, 2012 @ 4:40 pm

    Yes, the conjunction appears to cause the second word to appear in the same case as the first one, or if it's noun + pronoun, in the nominative (as that's what the noun seems to be). Hence the ubiquitous "to Bob and I" and the almost (if not) as ubiquitous "me and him are". (This because if "I" isn't next to the verb it seems not to work well.) Or at least so it seems to me.

  14. Janice Byer said,

    January 3, 2012 @ 5:11 pm

    Maybe he couldn't say "I like him…" without gagging and only managed to spit out "he".

  15. Mr Fnortner said,

    January 3, 2012 @ 5:18 pm

    But considering the other phenomenon: "Him and me" [verb something], it seems that nominative and objective pronouns are switching places. E.g., "Him and me bought a TV for Susie and I."

  16. Brad said,

    January 3, 2012 @ 5:22 pm

    I don't know about anyone else, but I think for me this has ended up being one of those "Formal English vs. Informal English" distinctions just based on whether I had enough time to correct the mistake when I made it. But isn't that how complicated bits of the language change, though?

    You get a complicated construction like this that involves keeping track of which case a pronoun buried in a mess of other things is supposed to be and you get speakers making mistakes. Collectively, if enough people keep making those mistakes, then the mistake ends up sounding like how things are supposed to be to the next group of language users. Or the current users hear everyone else making the same mistakes often enough and decide that it's now common enough to be okay.

  17. Chris Collision said,

    January 3, 2012 @ 5:28 pm

    I have an extremely liberal ear–essentially, if a given thing can possibly be an elliptical form for something that doesn't star for me, then I will accept that given thing–but "he and Callista" just doesn't register as English to me. I'm not familiar with the above-cited literature, admittedly, but my semi-naive approach would try to parse the speaker's sentence left-to-right, hoping everything would be all right all the time*, but in this case that would give me:
    I like he
    and that's no good, and then I'd get
    I like he and Callista
    and that's not any better.

    But if the speaker's sentence ran:
    I like he and Callista makes a terrific lark's tongue in aspic
    then I'd know he just didn't know how English pronouns worked.

    Sorry: then I'd know HIM just didn't know how English pronouns worked. (This whole long blather is my response to Prof. Liberman's on-point point-out that "I like him and Callista" would get glares from prescriptivists: it would get no glares from me, b/c for me it's a transparent(ly) elliptical form of "I like him and I like Callista" which, so far as I know, raises no eyebrows unless somebody's paying by the word.)

    *And knowing sometimes you have overlook problems at point N b/c they'll be resolved by what appears at point N + X…

  18. Chris Collision said,

    January 3, 2012 @ 5:29 pm

    Brad, how is "I like X" a complicated construction? Am I missing something?

  19. Ken Micklas said,

    January 3, 2012 @ 5:55 pm

    This sounds totally wrong to me. However, I would attribute it to speaking sloppily, and I can imagine myself making the same mistake if I were talking too fast. I really can't see why any prescriptivists would have a problem with "I like him and Callista."

    As for the problem of hyper-correction with pronouns, I don't think it's that common. I certainly do hear things like "He gave it to Sarah and I" (mostly from 25-40 year olds), but it seems less common than the opposite problem: "Me and Bob went to the store."

  20. Jason Cullen said,

    January 3, 2012 @ 7:18 pm

    @ The Ridger "Yes, the conjunction appears to cause the second word to appear in the same case as the first one, or if it's noun + pronoun, in the nominative (as that's what the noun seems to be). Hence the ubiquitous "to Bob and I" and the almost (if not) as ubiquitous "me and him are". (This because if "I" isn't next to the verb it seems not to work well.) Or at least so it seems to me." But you cannot have the same case as the first constituent of the phrase since English nouns (both common and proper) do not have case! It's only the pronoun system that has it. Instead of inventing an invisible case system to justify the usage, it would be easier to understand it as a hypercorrection: Speakers learn to avoid colloquial expressions such as 'Me and Bill are goin' down to the bar' and replace it with 'Bill and I'; they then over-apply it to all coordinate NPs, regardless if they're subjects, agents, or complements (e.g. "Please vote for Al Gore and I." Bill Clinton "He did not breathe with lungs like you or I." Kenneth Branagh narrating 'Walking with Dinosaurs').

  21. Steve Morrison said,

    January 3, 2012 @ 9:13 pm

    Perhaps the "correct" form would be "I like him and Callista too"?

  22. SaL said,

    January 3, 2012 @ 10:25 pm

    @Jason Cullen: "He did not breathe with lungs like you or I" (do) – sounds right to me.

  23. Des Power said,

    January 3, 2012 @ 11:48 pm

    Another for the Headline Collection:

    "Makato Hirata, 46, turned himself into a police station in central Tokyo." (The Australian, January 2)

    Hirata was a member of the Aum Shinrikyo sect which released Sarin gas on the Tokyo subway in 1995.

  24. Kylopod said,

    January 4, 2012 @ 1:04 am

    One of the arguments I've heard against classifying examples like this as hypercorrection is that this sort of construction existed in English before the advent of prescriptivist grammar, as in Shakespeare's "All debts are clear'd between you and I" from The Merchant of Venice. I suppose you could argue that "between you and I" falls into its own idiomatic category, but I think what's really happening is that these and-constructions render the case arbitrary, rather than (as is usually assumed) a natural preference by English speakers for the objective case.

  25. JB said,

    January 4, 2012 @ 8:01 am

    The general point about case marking in coordinated NP's is valid and interesting, but I suspect that Romney simply made a mistake in this case.
    Note the hesitations and disfluency in the transcript. Speakers make mistakes in unedited, real-time language use. I'm not sure that this instance of case confusion requires explanation.

  26. Jerry Friedman said,

    January 4, 2012 @ 9:43 am

    I can't speak for Prof. Liberman, but I read his comment about his intuition differently from the way others here read it. He said his intuition tells him prescriptivists would glare at him about "I like him and Callista," not that they would glare at him, still less that they'd be right to do so. I think he knows perfectly well that prescripivists are in favor of "I like him and Callista." He just meant that his intuition is "funny".

    [(myl) Yes, exactly.]

    @Rob Houck: According to the Wikipedia article on Mitt Romney, he did his missionary work in France. That's not going to help anybody learn that conjunction doesn't affect pronoun case in standard English.

  27. Rod Johnson said,

    January 4, 2012 @ 10:23 am

    I wonder if, in languages that have lost case systems, this is the sort of thing that happened frequently during the long period of transition. Case in English is pretty marginal anyway, and it wouldn't surprise me if there was some amount of lability that is held in check in formal, composed, literate contexts but shows up in spontaneous speech or complex constructions that add some processing burden to speech production (like coordination).

  28. Arnold Zwicky said,

    January 4, 2012 @ 11:56 am

    For some background on nominative coordinate objects, bibliography, and a list of some LLog and AZBlog postings on the topic, see the "NomConjObjs" posting on my blog, here.

  29. Arnold Zwicky said,

    January 4, 2012 @ 12:01 pm

    Add to the links on NomConjObjs the posting "More notional-subject NomConjObjs", here.

  30. Bloix said,

    January 4, 2012 @ 3:56 pm

    Well, there's an ambiguity in the correct form "I like him and Callista," which can mean, "I like Newt and I like Callista," or "I like the couple Newt and Callista." The incorrect form that Romney used, "I like he and Callista," doesn't admit the first interpretation and must mean "I like the couple."

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