To anticipate an objection: yes, language evolves but language also has a fixed core. There is a connection between language and the nature of things. There is a distinction in nature between the subject and the object. The languages with which I am familiar signal, in one way or another, a distinction between the subject and the object. In modern, colloquial American usage and perhaps in some British contexts, however, the distinction between the grammatical subject and the grammatical object is being blurred.
Such blurring has two unhappy consequences: 1) it makes communication more difficult because blurring the subject and object is inherently confusing; 2) it makes the speaker or writer appear to be ignorant. The late-modern dark ages has not swallowed everyone. There are still decision makers (e.g., employers, supervisors, teachers) who know what is correct, who will notice if you speak or write poor English. As the old commercial said, “people judge you by the words you use.”
The good news is that this error is easily remedied and when you distinguish between the subject and object of the verb you will instantly appear to be more intelligent than those who do not.
In grammar, the subject is the noun (e.g., person or thing) doing the action. “Billy threw the ball.” Billy is the subject. The direct object is the ball. Billy, the subject, is acting upon the ball. The ball is the direct object of Billy’s action. Now, substitute a pronoun. In English we have different pronouns to express the subject and the object. One should not write, “Him threw the ball.” When we substitute a pronoun for Billy, we want to substitute one that signals the same function, the subject. Thus, “He threw the ball.”
It is even more important to use the correct pronouns when there are two of them. The reader or listener is depending upon the writer or speaker to get things right. Consider this abomination: “Me and him went to the store.” There are two problems here. The first is a matter of politeness. When there is a compound subject, it is impolite to begin the sentence with one’s self. Second, the subject of the verb “to go” (went) is he and I. This, the correct way of expressing this sentence is, “He and I went to the store.” This is not mere pedantry. There is a reason for making the distinction.
In English he is the subject form of the third person singular pronoun. I is the subject form of the first person singular. In more highly inflected languages this form is known as the “case.” In Latin and Greek the subject is usually expressed in the nominative case. The Latin word for name is nomen. The nominative case refers to the name. In our example above he replaces Billy’s name. The direct object is the accusative case. Again, the roots are in Latin. Our adjective accusative is derived the Latin noun causa (case).
Let’s say that Billy is in a really foul mood. Let’s substitute Joey for the ball. “Billy threw Joey out of the window.” Joey is the direct object of Billy’s action. Joey is also facing six weeks of physical therapy and Billy is facing 7 to 10 years grievous bodily injury but I digress. Now, substitute a pronoun for Joey. Since he is the direct object of Billy’s wrath and action then his pronoun must be in the accusative or direct object case. Thus, “Billy and Joey were arguing. Suddenly, Billy threw him out of the window.” Since the subjects were made explicit in the first sentence it is possible, perhaps even elegant, to replace their names with pronouns. Thus the second sentence can be “He threw him out of the window.” We know who threw whom because he stands for Billy and him stands for Joey.
If, however, we replace Billy with the accusative (direct object) pronoun, the sentence becomes confusing. “Suddenly, him threw him out of the window.” “Him threw he of out of the window” fails too. Who threw whom? It’s not clear. Perhaps Joey, unbeknownst to Billy, had studied Krav Maga and, using his skills, gained the upper hand and threw Billy out of the window? As the revised sentence stands we shall never know.
This gets us back to the ugly and unnecessary construction “him and me went to the store.” One may object that it is clear enough. In this case, depending upon the circumstances, it might be reasonably clear who is going to the store but it is also clear that the speaker does not know the difference between subject and object pronouns. Ordinarily, communication does not end after one sentence. If a speaker or writer is willing to ignore the distinction between subject and object pronouns here, what happens when he tries to relate the epic struggle between Billy and Joey? Can he be trusted to get the story right? Perhaps not. Further, if he knows the difference between the subject and object pronoun why doesn’t he use the correct pronouns to tell us who is going to the store?
One reason why people increasingly seem unwilling or unable to distinguish between the subject and object of a verb is because the geniuses who have controlled education for the last 60 years in the USA did not think it important for students to learn the principal language behind English, Latin. Because they lack any education in the principal language behind ours, people assume that our grammar is arbitrary and may be changed at will. As a consequence of the boneheaded decision to omit Latin from public education we may never know what happened to Billy and Joey.
Another reason is that we have become increasingly confused as a culture as to the actual distinction between subject and object. In our time the subject (I) has swallowed all. I am the sovereign reader/receiver of all texts. I get to say what they mean, even if that alleged meaning has nothing to do with what the author intended. This triumph of the subject is known as subjectivism and it is having disastrous consequences across the culture.
Finally, the loss of the subject/object distinction in ordinary speech is a small signal of what seems like a growing realization of some of the prophecies contained in the 2006 film, Idiocracy. It was not many years ago that grammar school children were expected to know the difference between he and him. Today I find myself correcting graduate students on fundamental matters of grammar. What are elementary school and middle schools teaching? One suspects that it has more to do with the subjective (e.g., feelings and self-esteem) than the objective (grammar, logic, and rhetoric).
Language changes but it must have a core or it cannot function. It must reflect the nature of things. The relation between language and nature is not purely arbitrary or nominal. If there is a subject/object distinction, and there is, then that distinction must be reflected in the language. Idiocracy might have been a prophecy but The Matrix was just a film. There is an objective reality. We are not the window and Billy is not Joey and our pronouns should reflect that reality.