Re: pronoun/antecedent agreement

From: Philip L. Graber (
Date: Wed Jun 05 1996 - 13:50:27 EDT


> In this discussion I asked about the subject of a
> finite verb. I contended that it must be in the nominative case. I was
> corrected by several who pointed out that the true subject was the ending
> of the verb (which functions as a pronoun).

This is not correct. The verb ending is not a pronoun, nor does it have
case. The verb ending does indicate person and number, which helps to
identify the subject in case it is not made explicit, which, unlike
English, often happens. You were correct that the subject of a finite
verb is in the nominative case WHEN THERE IS AN EXPLICIT SUBJECT.

> I then asked if this ending
> was truly a pronoun (some said "yes" some said "maybe" and some said "no").
> I cited a couple of grammar books that said something like "the subject of
> a finite verb is in the nominative case" and asked if this pronoun (the one
> attached to the verb, i.e. the ending of the verb) was that which is in the
> nominative case. Some said "yes" and some said "no."

The correct answer is that the verb ending is NOT a pronoun and it has no

> I stated that I had been taught that the subject of a finite verb was in
> the nominative case, the subject of an infinitive was in the accusative
> case {accusative of general reference}, and noted the "genitive absolute"
> construction (a genitive substantive with a genitive participle).

You are correct according to much traditional usage. I would add that,
technically speaking, non-finite verbs (such as infinitives and genitive
absolute constructions) do not have subjects. This terminological
sloppiness probably arises from the fact that these constructions are
normally translated by finite verbs with subjects. I would argue that
the accusative "subject" of the infinitive and the genitive absolute both
derive their cases from their relation to a finite verb.

> I was
> corrected for some of my terminology in these posts. This is the
> background of this discussion. In response to my posts several passages
> were cited which were used to prove that the subject of a finite verb is
> "NOT ALWAYS" in the nominative case. {Randy Leedy introduced Matthew 1:18
> (5-16-96),Carlton Winberry introduced Romans 8:28 (5-15-96), and some
> others introduced other passages (by private E-mail).}

As I recall, what these replies were intended to illustrate was not that
the subject of a finite verb is not always in the nominative case, but
that the antecedent of a pronoun is not always in the nominative case.
The confusion obviously arose from the mistaken identification of finite
verb endings with pronouns. A nominative case substantive is NOT the
antecedent of a finite verb ending and the latter is NOT a pronoun. The
subject of a finite verb is indeed nominative, when there is an explicit


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