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AccidenceThe Table Manners of Language   117
sanly the agent, as it is in the sentence, I wrote this It becomes the
grammarian's object when we recast the same sentence in the passive
form, this was written by me It is not even true to say that the subject is
necessarily the agent when the verb is active (p. 120) as in / wrote this
The grammarian's subject is not the agent in the sentence 7 saw a flash.
Plato would have said so, because Plato believed that the eye emits the
light We, who use cameras, know better Seeing is a result of what the
flash does to my retina. It is not what 7 do to (or with) the flash.
So far as they affect our choice of the case-forms 7 or me, the only
features common to such statements are (a) if the answer to the
question constructed by putting who in front of the verb (e g. who
wrote? or who saw?) is a personal pronoun, it must have the nominative
form 7, (thou), he, she, it,we,you,Qi they, (6) if the answer to the ques-
tion formed by putting whom or what after the verb (7 wrote or saw)
(what?) is a personal pronoun, it must have the objective form me,(thee),
him, her, it, us, you, or them It gets you no further to have a word
subject for (a) and another word object for (&), as if subject and object
really had a status independent of what the verb means To say that the
subject is the nominative case-form means as much and as htde as the
converse. Neither is really a definition of what we mean by the subject,
or what the choice of the nominative involves
Only the customs of our language lead us to prefer 7 to me for A or
B in such a statement as A saw him or he saw B We have no doubt
about its meaning when a child or a foreigner offends the conventions
by using 7, as we already use it and you for A or for B Till the great
Danish linguist Jespcrsen drew our attention to the customs of Anglo-
American speech, old-fashioned pedagogues objected to that's me or it's
him, because grammarians said that the pronoun after am or is also
stands for the subject itself. They overlooked the fact that the author-
ised version of the Bible contains the question "whom say ye that I
anP" i e "I am whom, say you^"
In the time of Alfred the Great, English pronouns had four case-
forms, as Icelandic and German pronouns still have. Corresponding to
our single object or oblique case-form of the pronoun were two, an
accusative and a dative Icelandic nouns stall have four case-forms,
as have the adjectives, and there is a distinct dative ending of plural
German nouns placed in the neuter and masculine gender classes. In
Old English, in German, or m Icelandic the choice of the accusative or
dative case-form depends partly on which preposition accompanies the
noun or pronoun When no preposition accompanies a noun or pro-