Updated: Mar 5
Personal Pronouns / Subject Pronouns / Object Pronouns / Reflexive Pronouns / Possessive Pronouns / Relative Pronouns / Reciprocal Pronouns / Demonstrative Pronouns / Indefinite Pronouns / Interrogative Pronouns / Dummy Pronouns
Pronouns are the words we use to avoid repeating nouns. There are different types depending on the function they perform.
These small words are very important to English, partly because there is so little conjugation of verbs in English, the pronouns are critical to understanding who is doing an action and who is receiving it.
Pronouns can be classified in various ways:
Subject pronouns - I, you, he, she, it, we, they : personal pronouns used as the subject of a verb.
The subject is the person or thing that does the action (verb) in a sentence and normally comes before the verb, with the exception of a passive structure.
I like dogs
Object pronouns - me, you, him, her, it, us, them: personal pronouns used as the object of a verb.
The object is the person or thing that receives the action (verb) in a sentence and normally comes after the verb, with the exception of a passive structure.
Dogs don't like me
Object pronouns can also be used as a second subject in informal speech:
Ben and me are going to the pub instead of Ben and I are going to the pub
This is often considered incorrect but should really be considered inappropriate in formal contexts. If anyone attempts to correct you by stating that you should say "Ben and I", you could respond by explaining that object pronouns as a secondary subject have been accepted in common use for hundreds of years. There are examples of Jane Austen using object pronouns as second subjects in her writing. It is however an informal style of use and in formal speech and writing use a subject pronoun.
Personal Pronouns cannot be excluded
Because English does not have very much in the way of conjugation of verbs, pronouns are vital parts of English grammar. In reflection of this importance, we cannot exclude personal pronouns in English structures.
It's snowing in Spain not Is snowing in Spain
Would you like some tea?
No, I don't like it NOT No, I don't like
Like so many principles in English grammar there are some exceptions to this principle which will be explored at a later date.
Gender and neutral language
English does not have a singular pronoun that represents both genders, but to a degree that is not required. Some people use she/he or s/he but this is rather awkward and not as elegant as the simple solution which is to use the third person plural pronouns. They/them/themselves/their
Reflexive pronouns - myself, oneself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves : These are used when the subject and object of the verb are the same noun.
These pronouns are created by adding self or selves to the basic pronoun. They are used when the subject and the object are the same person.
I cut myself shaving NOT I cut me
English does not have a reflexive tense therefore reflexive pronoun is often unnecessary in English because it is clear the subject is performing a reflexive action. Sometimes a reflexive pronoun is used to make it clear an action is reflexive or to aid clarity for the context
My daughter is now old enough to dress herself
Did you really write the whole opera yourself?
Notice in this first sentence it is not clear why the coach is pleased:
Juan did really well in the football match. His coach was pleased
In the following versions we can see the context is clarified:
Juan did really well in the football match. His coach was pleased with him (pleased with Juan)
Juan did really well in the football match. His coach was pleased with himself (the coach was pleased by his own actions)
Because they are not as common in use as Latin languages, they have developed an emphatic power. Therefore using a reflexive pronoun can emphasise the role of the subject or the significance of an action.
I will go and speak to him myself if I must!
Possessive pronouns - mine, yours, his, hers, ours, theirs : these indicate possession or ownership.
Possessive pronouns indicate who owns something. They also replace a noun.
I have a car - It is mine
Possessive adjectives are sometimes referred to as weak possessive pronouns (my, your, his, her, its, our, your, and their). They function as determiners and are placed in front of a noun to clarify who something belongs to.
I have a car - It is my car
We do not use articles with mine etc.
Can you lend me your keys? I can't find mine NOT I can't find the mine
its and one's
There are two other lesser known possessive pronouns its and one's which are not commonly used. As a general rule things cannot own things but its can be used to express qualities possessed by organisations or groups.
The team can be proud of its work rate today
One's is often considered rather formal. It is widely believed that the Royal family use One's instead of Mine or Ours. It is a possessive pronoun of the first, second and third person singular, meaning belonging to one person.
One does not like to blow one's own trumpet
Possessive pronouns do not use apostrophes. It is a very common error to spell its with an apostrophe it's. It is hardly surprising as the apostrophe s is used to reflect possession with what are often called proper possessive nouns. It's is a contraction of it is
The Librarian says its book is missing ! No, it's not a library book! It's Michael's.
Relative pronouns - who, what, whom, that, whose, which are used to introduce a relative clauses.
A relative clause provides fundamental or extra information, depending on whether it is a non-defining or a defining relative clause. Relative pronouns and relative clauses will be covered in a separate article.
Reciprocal pronouns - each other and one another: used when two or more people are in a mutual activity of benefit together.
each other and one another are the only reciprocal pronouns. They describe a mutual action or relationship.
each other is used when there are two parties in the relationship
Rangers and Celtic fans hate each other. (Rangers fans hate Celtic fans. Celtic fans hate Ranger fans. The feeling is mutual)
They hate each other's guts (Note it is treated as a singular and a possessive apostrophe 's is applied)
one another is used when there are two or more parties in the relationship
Rangers, Celtic and Aberdeen fans all hate one another
They hate one another's guts (Note it is treated as a singular and a possessive apostrophe 's is applied)
Even though a reciprocal pronoun refers to two or more things (called its antecedent), the possessive form is created by adding 's (i.e., like creating the possessive form of a singular noun). Some people, aware of the plural concept of a reciprocal pronoun, feel an urge to place the apostrophe after the s, creating the possessive form of a plural noun. This is incorrect.
Demonstrative pronouns - this, that, these, those: These words replace a noun or noun phrase, activity or situation. Their meaning is specific to context.
These words are the same as Demonstrative determiners but used in a different way. They take the place of a noun that has been established in context.
- "When I came home from work I discovered my wife had arranged a birthday party for me"
- "That must have been a nice surprise"
-"I had a wonderful ice cream from the shop on the corner the other day"
-"Oh, those ones with the flake?"
Indefinite pronouns - another, any, everybody, everyone, nobody, nothing, someone, somebody etc: when we do not want or are unable to specify who or what we are talking about.
There are many indefinite pronouns in English, the key point to remember is that most are singular or plural, but some can be used in both forms depending on context. Verbs and nouns must agree with the singular or plural indefinite pronoun.
The consultation period has finished and many have expressed their views
Some people believe that "none" should take a singular verb, even when talking about countable nouns (eg. seven players). The theory being that "none" means "no one", and "one" is obviously singular. They say that "I invited seven players but none has come" is correct and "I invited seven players but none have come" is incorrect. Historically and grammatically there is little to support this view. "None" has been used for hundreds of years with both a singular and a plural verb, according to the context and the emphasis required.
Interrogative pronouns - take the place of a noun in a question
The primary interrogative pronouns are what, which, who, whom and whose
Who - for people, the subject of the verb
Who will be at the party?
Whom - for people, the object of the verb or preposition
Whom did you speak to?
Whose - for people, possession
Whose shoes are these?
Which/What - for people, animals or things
Which train do you catch?
What do you want for dinner?
Less common interrogative pronouns are the same as the ones above but with the suffix "-ever" or "-soever" (e.g., whatever, whichever, whatsoever, whichsoever).
Sentences need subjects, but it is very common to use the words 'it' or 'there' to force a subject in a sentence that does not really have one. They do not mean anything and do not replace nouns but they are very common.
it - this dummy pronoun can be used in sentences about times, dates, the weather and distance:
It's 4 o´clock in the afternoon (the time is 4 o´clock)
It is March the 4th (today the date is Match the 4th)
Surprise, surprise, it is raining (the weather is rain)
How far is it to Birmingham? (how far is the distance to Birmingham?)
We can also use it to emphasize something:
It was her who broke my heart
It was that horrible boy who threw mud a the puppy
It can also be used in place of an infinitive or gerund subject. This is very common in native speaking:
instead of : doing this maths exercise is really difficult
it is really difficult to do this maths exercise
instead of: to spend the evening with your partner is lovely
it is lovely to spend the evening with your partner
there - as a dummy pronoun this word behaves as a subject to say a situation exists. 'There' does not refer to anything specific like it. There simply states a situation is true.
There are plenty of people at the party
There is some left over curry in the fridge
There is still hope!
We can use there to talk about time or place, number and amount:
There will be a match tomorrow
There are now fifty thousand dollars in the pot
TAKE NOTE: Do not confuse there as an adverb with there as a dummy pronoun.
I was at the funeral but I didn't see you there
There replaces the adverbial phrase "at the funeral"
Stay there until I return
There refers to a specific place
There is a cockroach over there.
In this case the first there is a dummy pronoun and the second refers to a place.