PRONOUNS: What are they?

What are pronouns?

In English, pronouns are words that replace nouns.

Normally, pronouns replace single nouns, but did you know they can also replace multi-word nouns and noun clauses? Let’s consider the following sentences.

1. We use it to replace a single-word noun.

For example:

Playful and adorable, dolphins like to play with balls, and they often use them as a prop to entertain guests in theme parks.

(In the sentence, the pronouns “they” and “them” replace the single-word nouns “dolphins” and “balls.”)

2. We use it to replace a noun phrase or a multi-word noun.

For example:

The camel drinks the most water than most animals on Earth. It can drink up to 30 gallons in one go when it finds water.

(Here, the pronoun “it” replaces the noun phrase “the Arabian camel.”)

3. We use it to replace a noun clause.

In English grammar, a noun clause is a multi-word noun with its own subject and verb.

For example:

We understand why Arabian Camels survive in arid deserts. It is because an Arabian Camel can drink 30 gallons of water and re-hydrates faster than any other mammal.

(Here, the pronoun “it” replaces the noun clause “why Arabian Camels survive in arid deserts.”)

Apart from replacing nouns, pronouns also help to avoid making English sentences repetitive, lengthy, and awkward.

Do you like reading or listening to someone saying this?

Mary is such an adorable girl who always does her best in everything she could do. Mary likes to draw and Mary likes to sing. Despite being just 8-years old, Mary can play the piano very well and Mary can also the guitar well enough. At Mary’s school, Mary has a lot of friends because Mary is very friendly. Mary’s teacher always considers Mary as the role model in the class.

With the use of pronouns, the sample paragraph about Mary reads more naturally:

Mary is such an adorable girl who always does her best in everything she could do. She likes to draw and sing. Despite being just 8-years old, Mary plays the piano very well, and she also plays the guitar well enough. At her school, she has a lot of friends because she is very friendly. Her teacher always considers her as a role model in the class.

The pronoun she takes the place of the proper noun Mary. This makes Mary the antecedent of the pronoun. The antecedent is the noun or pronoun that’s being replaced by a pronoun.

There are six types of pronouns in the English language.

1. Personal

2. Reflexive

3. Indefinite

4. Relative

5. Possessive

6. Demonstrative

PERSONAL PRONOUNS

While nouns refer to specific persons, places, or things, personal pronouns also refer to specific persons, places, or things. Pronouns have characteristics called number, person, and case.

In English, the number refers to the plurality and singularity of the noun. For example, “her” is singular, or “them” is plural. Thus Mary becomes she or her, while Mary’s friends become they or them.

Person is a little more abstract. When we say the first person, we normally use the pronoun I or we – the person speaking. For example, “I visited China last year” is in the first person.

The second person is the one being spoken to–you. For example, “You must take these papers to John as soon as possible.”

The third person is being spoken of-he, she, it, they, them. Consider this sentence: “He visited Thailand last year.”

N.B. It is very important to make sure that the pronoun matches (agree with) its antecedent in person as well as number.

Case, on the other hand, refers to what job a pronoun can legally perform in a sentence. Some pronouns can be subjects and others cannot. For instance, it’s okay to say “I expect to finish this course soon,” but we are not allowed to say “Me expect to finish this course soon.”

Pronouns that may be subjects are in the subjective case; they are subject pronouns. However, some pronouns cannot be subjects; rather, they are used as direct objects, indirect objects, or objects of prepositions. They are in the objective case; they are object pronouns: “Her aunt employed her after graduation.” “Miss Mary gave her a job, too.” “Without them, she would have been unemployed.”

First person

Subjective

I, we

Objective

me, us

Second person

Subjective

you

Objective

you

Third person

Subjective

he, she, it, they

Objective

him, her, it, them

Subject pronouns also are used after linking verbs, where they refer back to the subject: “The singer was he.”

INDEFINITE PRONOUNS

An indefinite pronoun refers to a person or a thing without being specific. Additionally, they all are third-person pronouns and can be used as subjects or objects in sentences. In English, the most common indefinite pronouns are:

any

anyone

anything

each

everybody

everyone

everything

few

many

no one

nobody

none

several

some

somebody

someone

Several indefinite pronouns seem to refer to groups. Because of this, these pronouns are often mistakenly treated as plurals For example, “Everybody enjoyed their meal.” Contrastingly, any indefinite pronoun that ends in -one, -body, -thing is singular: “Everybody enjoyed his (or her) meal.”

Moreover, the following indefinite pronouns are usually singular; if one of these words is the antecedent in a sentence, the pronoun that refers to it must also be singular. Therefore, we must write, “Does anyone remember,” rather than “Do anyone remember”; “Each of them prepares,” rather than “Each of them prepare”;

Indefinite pronouns, singular

anyone

anybody

anything

either

each

no one

nobody

nothing

another one

someone

somebody

something

any

everyone

everybody

everything

On the other hand, some indefinite pronouns are plural:

Indefinite pronouns, plural

both

few

many

several

Clearly, when using plural indefinite pronouns, you must always remember this very important rule: Always take plural verbs and plural pronouns.

For example:

-Both were praised for their excellent job.

-Several watched the show despite the expensive tickets.

A few indefinite pronouns can be either singular or plural, depending on the context.  Indefinite pronouns that can be used as singular or plural are:

most

any

all

none

some

neither

Therefore, it’s okay to write, “All is well,” (singular) in reference to the general condition of things, or “All are attending,” (plural) in reference to individuals.

N.B. Some indefinite pronouns can also function as adjectives. In “Many left their trash on the campsite,” many is a pronoun replacing campers. In contrast, in “Many hikers went camping on the campsite,” many is an adjective modifying hikers.)

Possessive Pronouns

Possessive pronouns are types of pronouns that replace possessive nouns. Therefore, Kurt’s coat becomes his coat. We never take apostrophes when we use these pronouns.

Here’s the list of the possessive pronouns in English. 

my

our

your

his

her

its

their

whose

mine

ours

yours

his

hers

theirs

Consider the following examples with possessive pronouns below:

-The red shoes are his while the white ones are mine.

-These books are theirs.

-These English books are ours.

Reflexive pronouns

Reflexive pronouns are pronouns ending in -self or -selves, which primary function is adding emphasis to the noun or personal pronoun they follow. In addition, these types of pronouns do not appear alone in a sentence.

For example:

-Johnny himself delivered the documents to the next building.”

-He delivered the documents to the next building himself.

The meaning is that he, and no one else, delivered the documents, and the emphasis is on the independence of his action.

The reflexive pronouns in English are:

myself

ourselves

yourself

yourselves

himself

herself

itself

themselves

N.B. Although these words are flexible, always bear in mind that you can’t replace the subject of a sentence with a reflexive pronoun.

For example:

-Hana and myself love rock climbing. (WRONG)

Instead, we use a personal pronoun to make the sentence grammatically correct.

For example:

-Hana and I love rock climbing. (RIGHT)

Also, take note that there’s no theirself or theirselves in English. We only have “themselves”.

Relative pronouns

A relative pronoun begins a clause that modifies a noun. (The clause is called an adjective clause.) A relative pronoun functions as an adjective clause marker. Adjective clauses provide information necessary to identify their nouns without using commas.

In English, the Relative Pronouns are:

that

who

whoever

whose

which

whom

whomever

what

For example:

– Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. (President of South Africa Nelson Mandela)

– Sheila is the English tutor that knows the most about grammar.

Moreover, also remember that “who” is a subject pronoun; it can be the subject of a sentence: “Who was talking inside?” Whom is an object pronoun. It cannot be the subject of a sentence, but it can be a direct or indirect object or the object of a preposition: “Never lend your car to anyone whom you have given birth to. (Author Erma Bombeck)”

Grammatically, who and whom often appear in questions where the natural word order is inverted and where the words you see first are the pronouns who or whom, followed by part of the verb, then the subject, then the rest of the verb.

For instance, we can say:

-Who gave you that present?

-Whom did you talk with last night?

For example, if you are using he, a subject pronoun, the use of who—another subject pronoun is right. However, if you are using “him,” an object pronoun is correct, then the right choice you should use is whom—another object pronoun.

Demonstrative pronouns

In English, demonstrative pronouns are “this,” “that,” “these,” and “those.” These types of pronouns refer to something previously mentioned or to something in the speaker’s surroundings (e.g., something being pointed at by the speaker). In some cases, we also use these words to refer to abstract noun ideas.

Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them…well, I have others. (Groucho Marx)

Some people get so rich they lose all respect for humanity. That is how rich I want to be. (Comedian Rita Rudner)

Just like indefinite pronouns, demonstrative pronouns can also function as adjectives.

Consider the following examples:

THAT band started out playing local Chico clubs. (Here, the word that describes the noun “band.”)

THOSE girls set the dancefloor on fire! (Here, the word those describes the noun “girls.”)

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