Pronouns


Introduction

When I arrived at their house, the big dog, which was called Rover, was barking loudly because it was lonely.

Pronouns are words like I, it, which, who, that, his, herself. They are used 'in place of' (Latin: pro) a noun or a noun phrase. To avoid repetition, we use a pronoun for the second and subsequent mentions of the same person or thing:

I saw the dog, I think it was chewing your shoe.

A pronoun can be used wherever a noun or a noun phrase can be used in a sentence:

  • As the subject of a verb:

    The dog was barking. It was barking.

  • As the object of a verb:

    I heard the fire alarm. Did you hear it?

  • As the object of a preposition:

    I was thinking about a quick snack. I was thinking about that, too.

There are several different kinds of pronoun, with different functions:


Personal pronouns

I, me, you, he, her, them are called personal pronouns, because they cover the full range of grammatical persons:

    • the first person (I, we)
    • the second person (you)
    • the third person (he her them).

Personal pronouns are almost the only place in English grammar where 'case' is relevant.

In languages such as German, several of the words in a noun phrase have distinct inflections to show the phrase's grammatical function in the sentence - for example, whether it is being used as the subject or object of a verb.

In English, only the personal pronouns have different forms or cases which show whether they are subjects or objects:

 

1st singular

2nd

3rd singular

1st plural

3rd plural

subject

I

you

she, he, it

we

they

object

me

you

her, him, it

us

them

 

How to use personal pronoun cases as a test for subjects and objects.

 


Relative pronouns

"When I arrived at their house the big dog, which was called Rover, was barking loudly because it was lonely."

In our example sentence the pronoun which refers back to the noun phrase the big dog.

 

The main relative pronouns are: who, whom, whose, which and that.

Their function is to link a relative clause to a preceding noun:

The man who had fixed the leak had left his spanner.

I enjoyed the film about scuba diving that we saw.

The boy who I saw earlier whose key has been lost ...

 


Interrogative pronouns

who, whom, whose, which, what, whoever, whichever, whatever

Interrogative pronouns are used in main clauses, to form a question:

  • Who did it?
  • What did he say?
  • Whose pizza is this?

 

They can also be used to introduce a subordinate clause:

  • I wonder who did it?
  • I asked him what he said.
  • I'm trying to find out whose pizza this is.

Possessive and demonstrative pronouns

Possessive pronouns match the personal pronouns.

Their function is like that of the possessive determiners.

Personal pronouns:

Me

you

her

him

it

we

you

they

 

Possessive pronouns:

mine

yours

hers

his

its

ours

yours

theirs

 

Possessive determiners

my

your

her

his

its

our

your

their

 

Possessive determiners introduce a noun or a noun phrase.

Possessive pronouns stand instead of the noun or noun phrase.

Demonstrative pronouns, like possessive pronouns, are very similar to determiners, and like demonstrative determiners, they have distinct singular and plural forms:

this - these

that - those

I like this [determiner] book more than that [pronoun]

I like these books more than those.


Reflexive and Reciprocal Pronouns

Reflexive pronouns match the personal pronouns. They combine a personal or possessive pronoun with the morpheme self (or selves):

myself, yourself, herself, himself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves

Their special function is to refer back to a noun phrase earlier in the same clause. For example:

The children dressed themselves.

In this case the personal pronoun them would not do, as it would refer to people other than the children:

The children dressed them.

Reciprocal pronouns are the word groups each other and one another.

They also refer back to a noun phrase earlier in the same clause, but in a more complex way.

The children dressed each other.

The brothers used to fight with one another.


How to use personal pronoun cases as a test of whether a word is subject or object of a verb.

For example, which word is the subject of this sentence?

Who is that boy?

Word order doesn’t help, because of the special rules for questions, so replace that boy by a pronoun ...

Who is he? (NOT Who is him?)

In this case it is clear that he is the subject, so that boy is the subject of the first sentence.


Self-assessment on pronouns

1. Find the pronouns in the sentence below and classify them as:

  • personal
  • possessive
  • demonstrative
  • relative
  • interrogative
  • reflexive
  • reciprocal

As usual, some non-pronouns are underlined as decoys.

An actor's a guy who, if you ain't talking about him, ain't listening. (Marlon Brando)

Now decide who or what each pronoun refers to (i.e. names).

An actor's a guy who, if you ain't talking about him, ain't listening.

2. As in question 1, classify the pronouns in the extract below as:

  • personal
  • possessive
  • demonstrative
  • relative
  • interrogative
  • reflexive
  • reciprocal

"You should be ashamed of yourselves for being influenced by John," said the head. "I've told you before not to listen to him, and never to argue with one another in class like that."