A pronoun is a word that takes the place of a noun or noun phrase in a sentence. In the following sentences the bold word is a pronoun:
- You should have asked permission.
- Jack told Sally all about himself.
- Is anyone there?
Types of Pronoun
There are several types of pronoun and they are categorized as follows.
A personal pronoun is a pronoun that is used to refer back to someone or something that has already been mentioned. Of the different kinds of pronoun the personal pronouns are the most common. There are three types of personal pronoun, according to their function in the sentence.
The subject pronoun is used as the subject of a sentence; the object pronoun is used as the object of a sentence; the possessive pronoun is used to indicate that a person or thing belongs to, or is associated with, another person or thing.
In sentence 1 below, the bolded word is a personal subject pronoun, in sentence 2 the bolded word is a personal object pronoun and in sentence 3 the bolded word is a possessive pronoun.
- I looked after the children.
- The grandparents looked after her.
- That car is mine.
I and we: the first person personal pronoun: Personal pronouns are also categorized according to person. The first person personal pronoun refers to the person who is speaking or writing when referring to himself or herself.
The first person personal pronoun, in the singular form, is I and, in the plural form, we, when it acts as the subject of a sentence.
When it is the object of a sentence the singular form is me and the plural form is us.
The possessive form of the first person personal pronoun in the singular form is mine and in the plural form is ours. In the following sentences the bolded words are first person personal pronouns acting as the subject of the sentences:
- She said, ‘I am going home.’
- ‘I am going shopping,’ he said.
- ‘We have very little money left,’ she said to her husband.
- He said, ‘We shall have to leave now if we are to get there on time.’
In the following sentences the bolded words are first person personal pronouns acting as the object of the sentences:
- ‘I think he hates me,’ Jane said.
- ‘It’s obvious that she deceived us,’ said Jim.
- ‘You have been very kind to me,’ said Sue.
In the following examples the bolded words are first person personal pronouns, in the possessive form also known as possessive pronouns:
- ‘That book is mine,’ said Anne.
- ‘We won,’ said Bill, ‘and so the prize is clearly ours.’
Me and I: Many people are confused about when to use I and when to use me. It is often wrongly assumed that the use of the word me is less polite than that that of the word I. In fact, the pronoun I should be used as the subject of a sentence, as in:
- Jim and I are going on holiday together
- May Jane and I come to the party?
The pronoun me should be used as the object of a sentence, as in:
- They invited my brother and me to tea.
- They played tennis against my father and me.
Exception: Except in very formal contexts, it is now considered quite acceptable to say.
- It is me.
Although, strictly speaking, this use is ungrammatical and it should be
- It is I.
However, this sounds very stilted and it is rarely used. In the following sentences the underlined words are second person personal pronouns acting as the object of the sentences:
Between, I and Me: There is some confusion as to whether the preposition between should be followed by I or me. Because between is followed by an object, the correct answer is me, as
- The dog stood between me and the gate. or
- There is a great deal of ill feeling between my cousin and me.
It is wrongly assumed that the use of me is less polite than that of I.
You: the second person personal pronoun: The second person personal pronoun refers to the person or thing that is being addressed in the sentence.
The second person personal pronoun is you, whether it is the pronoun or object of the sentence and whether it is singular or plural. Unlike in some languages, the second person personal pronoun does not alter its form in English.
The possessive form of the second person personal pronoun is yours in both singular and plural forms.
In the following sentences the bolded words are second person personal pronouns acting as the subject of the sentences:
- You should have told me earlier, Jane.
- You, Mum and Dad, have been very generous to me.
- You all are equally to blame.
In the following sentences the bolded words are second person personal pronouns acting as the object of the sentences:
- Someone has called you.
- I blame you for what happened, Jim.
- Your mother loves you both equally.
In the following sentences the boldeded words are second person personal pronouns in the possessive form. These are also known as possessive pronouns.
- This pen is yours, Jim, is it?
- Sue and Sally, the prize is yours.
- Is this dog yours, Mr. and Mrs. Jones?
He, she, it and they: the third person personal pronoun: The third person personal pronoun refers to a third party, not to the speaker or writer of the sentence or to the person being addressed.
The third person personal pronouns are, in the singular form, he, she and it and, in the plural form, they, when the personal pronoun is the subject of the sentence.
When the third person personal pronoun is the object of the sentence it takes the form of him, her or it in the singular form and, in the plural form, them.
The possessive forms of the third person personal pronoun in the singular are respectively his, hers or its. In the plural the possessive from is theirs.
In the following sentences the bolded words are third person personal pronouns acting as the subject of the sentence:
- He left school last year.
- She is the youngest of the three sisters.
- It was the only hotel with vacancies in the area.
In the following sentences the bolded words are third person personal pronouns acting as the object of the sentence:
- Jane met him at a party.
- I drove her to the station.
- The house was charming and we loved it at first sight.
In the following sentences the bolded words are third person personal pronouns in the possessive form. They are also known as possessive pronouns.
- The stolen car is theirs.
- The fault is theirs, apparently.
- That part of the garden is theirs.
Personal pronouns and sexist language: Until fairly recently, it was very common to use a masculine personal pronoun to refer to a noun where the gender was not known, as in:
- If a student does not attend classes regularly he will be asked to leave college. or
- If the applicant is successful he will be expected to start the job next week.
When the movement towards the removal of sexist language from the English language began, this use of he was considered to be sexist and such sentences required to be rephrased.
The problem is that this is not easy to do. Where possible, the easiest way of doing this may be to turn the whole sentence into the plural, as in:
- If students do not attend classes regularly they will be asked to leave college.
Alternatively, the easiest course of action may be to use ‘he or she’ or ‘he/she’ instead of he, as
- If the applicant is successful he or she will be expected to start work next week.
This last way round the problem is felt by many people to be clumsy, particularly in spoken or informal English. The solution often used now is ungrammatical in nature. Thus, instead of using ‘he/she’ many people use ‘they’ instead, although the rest of the sentence is left in the singular form. Instead of saying
- Every student has been instructed that he/she must register for the exams by the end of December.
- Every student has been instructed that they must register for the exams by the end of December.
The use of the third person personal pronoun in plural form in such contexts is becoming more and more common, frequently being used in textbooks and dictionaries and even more so in newspapers, magazines and works of fiction.
See first person personal pronouns, second personal pronouns and third personal pronouns.
Reflexive pronouns end in –self or –selves. The following is a list of reflexive pronouns: myself, ourselves, yourself, yourselves, himself, herself, itself, themselves.
In the following sentences the bolded words are reflexive pronouns:
- I cut myself with the breadknife.
- You will have to wash yourself in cold water.
- He sees himself becoming a lawyer.
- The cat was licking itself.
- The town’s inhabitants braced themselves for the storm.
Reflexive pronouns can also be used to indicate that someone has done something alone without the help of anyone else, as in:
- The bride made that beautiful dress herself.
- The young couple are planning to build the house themselves.
- I’m sure that he did not write that book himself.
Reflexive pronouns can also be used for emphasis, as in the following sentences:
- The town itself is not very attractive, but the surrounding countryside is beautiful.
- The headmaster himself decided on the boys’ punishment.
- We ourselves must provide the funding for the project.
Reflexive pronouns which are used, as above, for emphasis are sometimes known as emphatic pronouns.
Reciprocal pronouns are pronouns which are used to indicate a two-way relationship or to convey the idea of reciprocity. The reciprocal pronouns are each other and one another. In the following sentences the bolded words form reciprocal pronouns:
- The two sisters have hated each other from childhood.
- It is important to help each other as much as possible.
- The children are always calling one another unpleasant names.
- The friends helped one another with their geography homework.
Demonstrative pronouns are used to indicate or point to things or people. The demonstrative pronouns are this, that, these and those.
The demonstrative pronouns this and these are used to refer to something or someone close to the writer or speaker, while that and those are used to refer to something further away.
In the following sentences the bolded words are demonstrative pronouns:
- I’m sure this is my book.
- This is my father.
- That is definitely Dad’s car.
- That is my cousin.
- These are my nephews, Jim and John.
- Those are very expensive houses.
Indefinite pronouns are pronouns that are used to refer to people or things without specifying exactly who or what they are.
The following is a list of the indefinite pronouns: anyone, anybody, anything, everyone, everybody, everything, someone, somebody, something, no one, nobody, nothing.
In the following sentences the bolded words form an indefinite pronoun:
- Is anyone there?
- I don’t know anybody here.
- I didn’t buy anything.
- Does everyone have a drink?
- Nothing matters now.
Some other pronouns are sometimes classified as indefinite pronouns. See distributive pronouns below.
Some pronouns were traditionally known as distributive pronouns but are now also variously known as indefinite pronouns (see above) or universal pronouns. Often such pronouns are followed by an ‘of’ construction.
The following is a list of such pronouns: all, both, each, either, neither, more, most, some.
In the following sentences the underlined words are distributive/indefinite/universal pronouns:
- We thought a few workers would be declared redundant, but, in the end, all kept their jobs.
- All of the victims of the crash survived.
- The three boys were involved in the crime and each deserves to be punished.
- Each of the girls stands a chance of winning the competition.
Interrogative pronouns are pronouns which are used to ask questions. They are among words sometimes called wh-words because they all begin with the letters ‘wh-’. The following is a list of interrogative pronouns: who, whom, to whom, whose, which, what.
In the following sentences the bolded words are interrogative pronouns:
- Who has got the job?
- Whom did she blame?
- Whom did he appoint as his heir?
Relative pronouns are pronouns that introduce a relative clause. The relative pronoun refers back to a noun or noun phrase in the main clause, called the antecedent.
In each case the antecedent is the word immediately before the relative pronoun. The following is a list of relative pronouns: who, whom, whose, which, that. In the following sentences the bolded words are relative pronouns:
- There’s the man who stole the car.
- She was the only person whom I could trust.
- That’s the man whose permission we need for the project to go ahead.
- This is the last house which he built.
- The dress that I would like is too expensive.
Who is used as the subject of an interrogative sentence, while the object in formal or written English is whom. In informal or spoken English the object of an interrogative sentence is often who. The interrogative pronoun to whom is confined to formal or written English.
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