Grammar Made Easy

Subtitle

Pronoun

What is a Pronoun?

A pronoun can replace a noun or another pronoun. You use pronouns like "he," "which," "none," and "you" to make your sentences less cumbersome and less repetitive.

Grammarians classify pronouns into several types, including the personal pronoun, the demonstrative pronoun, the interrogative pronoun, the indefinite pronoun, the relative pronoun, the reflexive pronoun, and the intensive pronoun.

Personal Pronouns

A personal pronoun refers to a specific person or thing and changes its form to indicate person, number, gender, and case.

Personal Pronouns

A personal pronoun can refer to the person or people speaking ("first person"),

spoken to ("second person") or spoken about ("third person").

Personal pronouns have distinct forms for each of these three "persons",

as well as for singular and plural:

 

 

Singular

Plural

first person
(the person speaking)

subject:

I

we

 

object:

me

us

second person
(the person spoken to)

subject:

you

you

 

object:

you

you

third person
(the person spoken about)

subject:

he, she, it

they

 

object:

him, her, it

them

 

Example:    I wanted to give it to him, but you wouldn't let me.

        I   = first person singular

        him = third person singular

        you = second person singular or plural

        me  = first person singular

 

Possessive Pronouns

Like nouns, personal pronouns can be possessive. Possessive determiners are possessive forms of personal pronouns which must have a following noun. Possessive pronouns function independently.

 

 

Singular

Plural

first person

determiner:

my (book)

our (book)

 

pronoun:

mine

ours

second person

determiner:

your (book)

your (book)

 

pronoun:

yours

yours

third person

determiner:

is, her, its (book)

their (book)

 

pronoun:

his, hers, its

theirs

Example:    You can borrow my book as long as you remember that it's not yours.

The possessive "my" is a determiner which depends on the noun "book."

The possessive "yours" is a pronoun which stands in the place of "your book".

        When you drive to Manitoba, will you take your car or theirs?

The possessive determiner "your" depends on the noun "car."

The possessive pronoun, "theirs," stands in the place of the noun phrase, "their car."

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Indefinite Pronouns

Indefinite pronouns have no specific antecedents. Although an indefinite pronoun may refer to someone or something identifiable, it refers to them in general with the notion of all, some, any, or none.

Some common indefinite pronouns are:

Singular:

     another     both              everything    nothing

     any            each             neither         one

     anybody    either            nobody        somebody

     anyone      everybody    none            someone

     anything    everyone      no one         something

Plural:

     all          few             more         much        several

     both       many         most          plenty       some

Examples:

singular - Somebody was stealing my car. 

plural   - Many were saying that they liked the book.


Indefinite pronouns can only be classified as pronouns if they are used alone. If they are used with a noun, then they become indefinite adjectives.

 Examples:

pronoun:   Both agreed that surgery was the only solution.

adjective: Both doctors agreed that surgery was the only solution.

"Both" becomes an indefinite adjective in the second sentence because it modifies the noun "doctors."

 pronoun:   Several have marvelled at the Eiffel Tower.

adjective: Several tourists have marvelled at the Eiffel Tower.

"Several" becomes an indefinite adjective in the second sentence because it modifies the noun "tourists."

Pronouns are words which can be used in the place of nouns. The personal pronouns in the following sentences are underlined.
e.g. She will do the work herself.
      They gave it to him.
      We want to know who was there.

In the following examples, pronouns are used in the place of nouns, instead of repeating the nouns.
e.g. I saw a boy on the steps. He seemed to recognize me.
      My friend and her brother like to ski. They ski whenever they can.
In the first example, the pronoun he is used instead of repeating the noun boy. In the second example, the pronoun they is used instead of repeating the nouns friend and brother.

1. The subjective case


The following English personal pronouns were listed in Chapter 1. They are usually referred to as indicated below:

 

Singular

Plural

  First Person

  I

  we

  Second Person

  you

  you

  Third Person

  he, she, it

  they


Thus, I is referred to as the first person singular; we is referred to as the first person plural; you is referred to as the second person; he, she and it are referred to as the third person singular; and they is referred to as the third person plural.

These pronouns are said to be in the subjective case, because they can each be used as the subject of a verb. In the following examples, the personal pronouns in the subjective case are underlined.
e.g. I am ready.
      He is fortunate.
      She is a teacher.
      It is raining.
      We are coming.
      You are right.
      They are determined.

The agreement of verbs with subjects which are personal pronouns has been discussed in previous chapters.



2. Agreement of personal pronouns with their antecedents


The pronoun I is used to refer to the speaker or writer. The pronoun you is used to refer to one or more persons or things which are being addressed by the speaker or writer. The pronoun we is normally used to refer to the speaker or writer together with one or more other people.

When a pronoun stands for a noun which has already been mentioned, the noun is sometimes referred to as the antecedent of the pronoun.

e.g. The apples are cheap, but they are not ripe yet.
In the preceding example, the noun apples is the antecedent of the pronoun they.

The antecedents of pronouns usually precede the pronouns. However, a pronoun may also stand for a noun which follows the pronoun, provided that it is obvious to what the pronoun is referring.
e.g. Because they are sour, the apples will be used for cooking.
In this example, the pronoun they stands for the noun apples, which occurs later In the sentence.

a. Male and female antecedents
The third person singular pronouns he and she are the only pronouns in the subjective case which are differentiated with respect to gender. The pronoun he is used to refer to male antecedents, and the pronoun she is used to refer to female antecedents.
e.g. A girl was sitting on the steps. She was waiting for her friend.
      A boy was delivering papers. He seemed to be in a hurry.
In the above examples, the pronoun she agrees with the female antecedent girl, and the pronoun he agrees with the male antecedent boy.

b. Singular and plural antecedents
English third person pronouns are also differentiated with respect to number. If the antecedent of a pronoun is singular, a singular pronoun must be used. If the antecedent of a pronoun is plural, a plural pronoun must be used.

e.g. I have one watch. It is quite accurate.
      I have two watches. They are quite accurate.

      This is my sister. She is younger than I am.
      These are my sisters. They are younger than I am.

      This is my brother. He is older than I am.
      These are my brothers. They are older than I am.

In the above examples, the singular pronouns it, he and she agree with the singular antecedents watch, sister and brother. The plural pronoun they agrees with the plural antecedents watches, sisters and brothers.

As illustrated above, the third person plural pronoun they can be used to stand for either male or female antecedents.
e.g. The men liked to play cards. They took turns keeping score.
      The women came, but they did not stay long.
      The men and women greeted each other. They all knew one another.

c. Human and non-human antecedents
The third person singular pronouns he, she and it usually distinguish between antecedents which refer to human beings, and antecedents which refer to things which are not human. The pronouns he and she usually refer to human beings. However, he or she may also be used to refer to an animal, if the gender of the animal is known to the speaker or writer.

e.g. My aunt is very intelligent. She has a degree in philosophy.
      His brother was not there, because he had to work late.
      Your dog is well trained. He is a good guard dog.

In the first two examples, he and she are used to refer to human beings. In the third example, he is used to refer to an animal.

If a third person singular antecedent does not refer to a human being, the pronoun it is usually used. However, when the thing named by the antecedent is referred to as if it had human qualities, the pronoun he or she may be used. For instance, ships and countries are sometimes referred to as she.

e.g. There is a robin on the lawn. It has a nest in that tree.
      This is a good book. It is interesting and well-written.
      The Bonnie Belle is a sailing ship. She is very seaworthy.

In the first two examples, it is used to refer to things which are not human. In the third example, she is used to refer to a thing which is not human.

The third person plural pronoun they can stand for either human or non-human antecedents.

e.g. The children bought ice cream, because they felt hungry.
      The umbrellas are popular, because they are inexpensive.

In the first example, they stands for the human antecedent children. In the second example, they stands for the non-human antecedent umbrellas.

The main rules for the agreement of the third person pronouns he, she, it and they with their antecedents can be summarized as follows:

Agreement of Third Person Pronouns with their Antecedents

Pronoun

Antecedent

  he

  singular, male, usually human

  she

  singular, female, usually human

  it

  singular, non-human

  they

  plural



See Exercises 1 and 2.

A pronoun should not be used to stand for a noun, unless it is obvious to which noun the pronoun is referring. For instance, in the following examples, it is not clear to which nouns the underlined pronouns refer.

e.g. My friend was there with her mother. She was wearing a blue dress.
      The children stared at the horses. They were ready to start.

In the first example, the pronoun she could stand either for the noun friend or for the noun mother. Similarly, in the second example, the pronoun they could stand for either children or horses.

In written English, when it is not obvious to which antecedent a pronoun refers, the relevant sentence should be corrected. This can be done either by repeating the noun, instead of using a pronoun; or by rewriting the sentence to make the meaning clear. For instance, the preceding examples could be corrected as follows. It will be assumed that she refers to friend, and that they refers to horses.

e.g. My friend was there with her mother. My friend was wearing a blue dress.
  or My friend, wearing a blue dress, was there with her mother.

      The children stared at the horses. The horses were ready to start.
  or The children stared at the horses, which were ready to start.

See
Exercise 3
 

3. Special uses of It


The pronoun it can be used without an antecedent in sentences referring to general conditions such as the weather or the time.

e.g. It is raining.
      It has been a wet summer.
      It is too hot here.
      It is the twenty-fourth of April.
      It is seven o'clock.
      It is Friday.

The pronoun it can also be used in expressions such as the following.

e.g. It would be a good idea to attend the meeting.
      It is not necessary to buy tickets in advance.
      It will be easy to find the right house.
      It was clever of you to think of that.

In these sentences, it can be thought of as standing for the infinitive which follows the verb. The ideas expressed in such sentences may be expressed without the use of it by changing the infinitive to a gerund, which is placed before the verb.

For instance, the preceding sentences can be rewritten as follows:
      Attending the meeting would be a good idea.
      Buying tickets in advance is not necessary.
      Finding the right house will be easy.
      Thinking of that was clever of you.

See
Exercise 4.



4. The objective case


Objects of verbs have already been discussed in the chapter on transitive and intransitive verbs. When a personal pronoun is the object of a verb, the pronoun must be in the objective case. In the following sentences, the pronouns in the objective case are underlined.

e.g. They need me.
      We like you.
      They understand him.
      I wanted her to help them.
      We mended it yesterday.

As shown in the following table, each personal pronoun in the subjective case has a corresponding form in the objective case.

Personal pronouns in the subjective and objective cases

 

Subjective Case

Objective Case

  I

  me

  you

  you

  he

  him

  she

  her

  it

  it

  we

  us

  they

  them


It can be seen that only the personal pronouns you and it have the same form in the objective case as in the subjective case.

When a personal pronoun is the subject of a verb, the subjective form of the pronoun must be used.

e.g. I understand what you mean.
      He saw the comet.

In these sentences, the underlined pronouns are the subjects of the verbs understand and saw; therefore, the subjective forms I and he must be used.

When a personal pronoun is the object of a verb, the objective form of the pronoun must be used.
e.g. My friends understand me.
      We saw him last night.
In these sentences, the underlined pronouns are the objects of the verbs understand and saw; therefore, the objective forms me and him must be used.

The rules for the agreement of pronouns with their antecedents are the same for pronouns in the objective case as for the corresponding pronouns in the subjective case.

e.g. When your son won the prize, we congratulated him.
      Your daughter thinks we have not noticed her.
      When the letter arrived, we answered it immediately.
      He and I were right, but no one believed us.
      Because the boats were barely moving, we overtook them easily.

In the preceding sentences, the pronouns him, her, it, us and them agree with the antecedents son, daughter, letter, he and I and boats, respectively.

See
Exercises 5, 6 and 7.

It should be noted that the verb to be does not take an object. In formal, written English, when the verb to be is immediately followed by a personal pronoun, the pronoun must usually be in the subjective case. In the following examples, the pronouns following the verb to be are in the subjective case.

e.g. It is I.
      That was he.
      This is she.
      Those are they.

However, in informal English, this rule is usually ignored. In informal English, when a pronoun immediately follows any verb, including the verb to be, the objective form of the pronoun is usually used. Thus, in informal English the sentence It is I would usually be expressed It is me, and the sentence That was he would usually be expressed That was him.

See
Exercise 8.

As well as being used as the objects of verbs, personal pronouns in the objective case are used as objects of prepositions. Prepositions are words such as at, in, on, to and with. A preposition links the words immediately following it to the rest of the sentence.

A noun or pronoun which forms part of a prepositional phrase is said to be the object of the preposition. For instance, the underlined pronouns in the following examples are objects of prepositions.

e.g. Please give the book to me.
      We have heard a great deal about you.
      They went with him.
      I bought a present for her.
      He walked across it.
      The cake was made by us.
      Here is a letter from them.

In the preceding examples, the underlined pronouns are the objects of the prepositions to, about, with, for, across, by and from.

See
Exercises 9 and 10.



5. Possessive personal pronouns


Each of the personal pronouns has forms which indicate possession. For instance, in the following sentences, the underlined words are the possessive forms of personal pronouns.

e.g. This is your book.
      This book is yours.
      His apartment is large, but mine is small.
      Their marks are higher than ours.

The subjective, objective and possessive forms of the English personal pronouns are shown in the following table.

Subjective Case

Objective Case

Possessive Form used before a Noun

Possessive Form used Independently

  I

  me

  my

  mine

  you

  you

  your

  yours

  he

  him

  his

  his

  she

  her

  her

  hers

  it

  it

  its

  [its]

  we

  us

  our

  ours

  they

  them

  their

  theirs


a. Possessive adjectives
As shown in the preceding table, the personal pronouns have two possessive forms. One form shows possession by preceding a noun. A personal pronoun in this form may be referred to as a possessive adjective, since, like an adjective, it describes the thing to which the noun refers.

In the following sentences, the possessive adjectives are underlined.

e.g. My bicycle is new.
      Does your uncle play hockey?
      His answer was correct.
      Her father is not here.
      The tree has lost two of its branches.
      He is our friend.
      Their house is one block from the school.

The rules for the agreement of personal pronouns with their antecedents also apply to the corresponding possessive adjectives. In languages such as French and Spanish, possessive adjectives agree with the nouns they precede. However, in English, possessive adjectives agree with their antecedents, as illustrated in the following table.


Agreement of English Possessive Adjectives with their Antecedents

 

Antecedent

Possessive Adjective

Example

  boy

  his

  The boy obeys his mother.

  girl

  her

  The girl likes her brothers.

  bird

  its

  The bird sat on its nest.

  cows

  their

  The cows have lost their way.


In the preceding examples, the antecedents are underlined, and the possessive adjectives are printed in bold type.

See
Exercise 11.

i. Possessive adjectives used with gerunds
In formal English, when a gerund is preceded by a personal pronoun, the pronoun must usually be in the form of a possessive adjective. In the following examples, the gerunds are underlined, and the possessive adjectives are printed in bold type.

e.g. The boy said that his skating had improved.
      The girl entertained the guests with her singing.
      We think our lobbying for new street lights will be effective.

See
Exercise 12.

b. Possessive pronouns
The possessive form of a personal pronoun which can be used independently can be referred to as a possessive pronoun, since it can be used in the place of a noun. In the following sentences, the possessive pronouns are underlined.

e.g. He did not bring his coat, but I brought mine.
      Our mail has been delivered, but theirs has not.

In the above examples, mine stands for my coat, and theirs stands for their mail.

The following table compares the possessive pronouns with the possessive adjectives. It can be seen that only his and its have the same form when used as pronouns as when used as adjectives. The possessive pronoun its is seldom used.

Possessive Adjective

Possessive Pronoun

  my

  mine

  your

  yours

  his

  his

  her

  hers

  its

  [its]

  our

  ours

  their

  theirs


Except for the pronoun mine, all of the possessive pronouns end in s. However, it should be noted that, unlike possessive nouns, the possessive personal pronouns are not spelled with an apostrophe. Care should be taken not to confuse the possessive form its with the contraction it's, which stands for it is or it has.

In the following sentences, the possessive personal pronouns are underlined.

e.g. That book is mine.
      Are these gloves yours?
      The red bicycle is his.
      Because I forgot my umbrella, she lent me hers.
      Their teacher is stricter than ours.
      Our teacher is relaxed, but theirs is short-tempered.

See
Exercises 13 and 14.


 

6. Reflexive Pronouns


Reflexive pronouns are often used when the action described by the verb is directed toward the thing referred to by the subject of the verb. This use of reflexive pronouns is illustrated in the following examples. The reflexive pronouns are underlined.

e.g. I washed myself thoroughly before putting on clean clothes.
      Did you hurt yourself?

Reflexive pronouns can also be used when it is desired to emphasize a personal pronoun. The reflexive pronouns in the following examples are underlined.
e.g. I myself saw what happened.

      Did he solve the problem himself?
      She did the work herself.

In these examples, the reflexive pronouns myself, himself and herself are used to emphasize the personal pronouns I, he and she.

The reflexive personal pronouns are listed below.

Subjective Case

Reflexive Pronoun

  I

  myself

  you

  yourself

  he

  himself

  she

  herself

  it

  itself

  we

  ourselves

  you

  yourselves

  they

  themselves


It can be seen that in the second person, a differentiation is made between yourself, which agrees with singular antecedents, and yourselves, which agrees with plural antecedents.

It should be noted that the first and second person reflexive pronouns are formed from the corresponding possessive adjectives, whereas the third person reflexive pronouns are formed from the corresponding pronouns in the objective case. This is illustrated in the following table.

Objective Case

Possessive Adjective

Reflexive Pronoun

  me

  my

  myself

  you

  your

  yourself

  him

  his

  himself

  her

  hers

  herself

  it

  its

  itself

  us

  our

  ourselves

  you

  your

  yourselves

  them

  their

  themselves



See Exercise 15.