What is a Pronoun?
A pronoun is defined as a word or phrase that is used as a substitution for a noun or noun phrase, which is known as the pronoun’s antecedent. Pronouns are short words and can do everything that nouns can do and are one of the building blocks of a sentence. Common pronouns are he, she, you, me, I, we, us, this, them, that. A pronoun can act as a subject, direct object, indirect object, object of the preposition, and more and takes the place of any person, place, animal or thing. So coffee becomes it, Barbara becomes she, Jeremy becomes he, the team becomes they, and in a sentence, Barbara drinks a cup of coffee every afternoon could become she drinks a cup of it every afternoon, or even she drinks it every afternoon, where the it would substitute the cup of coffee, not just the coffee.
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Without pronouns, we’d constantly have to repeat nouns, and that would make our speech and writing repetitive, not to mention cumbersome. Without pronouns, Barbara drinks a cup of coffee every afternoon, she likes to have it before dinner would be Barbara drinks a cup of coffee every afternoon, Barbara likes to have the cup of coffee before dinner. Using pronouns helps the flow of sentences and makes them more interesting
Pronoun examples in the following sentences are in bold for easy identification.
- Billy, Caren, and I were playing poker with friends -> We were playing poker with friends.
- Ellie loves watching movies. -> She loves watching movies, especially if they are comedies.
- Will Daniel be going to the circus with Sarah? -> Will he be going there with her?
As mentioned, pronouns are usually used to replace nouns, however they can also stand in for certain adverbs, adjectives, and other pronouns. Almost anytime you refer to a person, animal, place or thing, you can use pronouns to add interest and make your speech or writing flow better.
In nearly all cases, a pronoun must follow an expression called an antecedent. This basically means that a pronoun can only really be understood in the context of prior information about the noun. For example, if we use the pronoun she in a sentence, we will only be able to understand it if we know who she is, thus an antecedent, perhaps giving the person’s name, is usually supplied first. In the example above Barbara drinks a cup of coffee every afternoon, if we had never mentioned Barbara or what she drinks, it would be unclear if we said, She drinks it every afternoon. Your reader would be confused and wonder who she is and what does she drink, wine, water, lemonade?
Once Barbara has been mentioned, we would use the pronouns she and her later in the writing in order to stop repeating the proper noun Barbara and possessive proper noun Barbara’s.
Barbara went to the restaurant for dinner with her (Barbara’s) friends. She (Barbara) was very hungry, but her (Barbara’s) friends would not stop chatting. Eventually, Barbara decided to take matters into her (Barbara’s) own hands and she (Barbara) demanded that they (Barbara’s friends) stop talking.
Imagine how that sentence would read if it kept repeating Barbara and Barbara’s. Pronouns have acted to make the writing tighter and, arguably, much more elegant. This is just a basic example of the use of pronouns, they act in many ways to help make speech and writing more lucid and dynamic.
Types of Pronouns
Pronouns can be divided into numerous categories including:
- Indefinite pronouns – those referring to one or more unspecified objects, beings, or places, such as someone, anybody, nothing. Notice in the examples below that there is no set position for where an indefinite pronoun will appear in a sentence.
Indefinite pronoun examples:
Indefinite pronoun examples in the following sentences are in bold for easy identification.
- Would anyone like a coffee?
- Take whatever you like. Jamie took one cookie and Ben took the other.
- Whoever owns this is in big trouble! I want someone to move this now.
Indefinite pronouns can also be used to create sentences that are almost abstract. Examples could include: this, all, such and something.
- All was not lost.
- Such is life.
- Something tells me this won’t end well.
- Personal pronouns – those associated with a certain person, thing, or group; all except you have distinct forms that indicate singular or plural number. Personal pronouns are always specific and are often used to replace a proper noun (someone’s name) or a collective group of people or things. Personal pronouns have two main groups, one referring to the subject of the sentence and one to the object.
The first is used to replace the subject of the sentence: I, you, he, she, it, we, you and they. Notice that you is repeated as you can be singular, addressing one person, or plural, addressing a group of people.
Personal pronoun examples in the following sentences are in bold for easy identification.
- Jack and David are friends. They play basketball together.
- I have more money than he
- We will be late if you don’t hurry up.
The second group of pronouns replaces the object of the sentence: me, you, him, her, it, us, you, them. Consider the sentence again:
We will be late if you don’t hurry up.
In the above example, we is the subject of the sentence, but you is the object. Other examples of pronouns replacing the object:
- Peter sang the song to me.
- Missing the train will cause us to be late.
She packed them tightly in the suitcase.
- Reflexive pronouns – those preceded by the adverb, adjective, pronoun, or noun to which they refer, and ending in –self or –selves. Reflexive pronouns are used to refer back to the subject or clause of a sentence. The list of reflexive pronouns includes: Myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves.
Reflexive pronoun examples in the following sentences are in bold for easy identification.
- Count yourselves
- Annie only had herself to blame.
Peter and Paul had baked themselves cakes.
- Demonstrative pronouns – those used to point to something specific within a sentence. There are only four demonstrative pronouns – this, that, these, those – but the usage can be a bit tricky at times. This and that are singular, whereas these and those are plural. As you may have noticed, there can be some crossover with indefinite pronouns when using this and that.
Demonstrative pronoun examples in the following sentences are in bold for easy identification.
- I prefer this.
- These are beautiful, but those belong to Danny.
- Did you see that?
While it can be confusing, this, that, these and those can sometimes be used as demonstrative adjectives. The difference between the two is that a demonstrative pronoun replaces the noun and a demonstrative adjective qualifies the noun.
I prefer this photo. These flowers are beautiful, but those vases belong to Danny. Did you see that rainbow?
It should be clear that this, that, these and those in the example above are not pronouns because they are being used to qualify the noun, but not replace it. A good trick for remembering the difference is that a demonstrative pronoun would still make sense if the word one or ones followed it in the sentence.
I prefer this (one). These (ones) are beautiful. Did you see that (one)? Those (ones) belong to Danny.
- Possessive pronouns – those designating possession or ownership. Examples include: mine, its, hers, his, yours, ours, theirs, whose. Consider the example:
- This cat is mine.
Mine is indicating possession, that the cat belongs to me. Incidentally, this in the sentence is not a pronoun but demonstrative adjective as it qualifies the noun cat. You will find that possessive pronouns often follow phrases that contain demonstrative adjectives.
Possessive pronoun examples in the following sentences are in bold for easy identification.
- Are these bananas yours?
- This money is ours.
Is the fault theirs or yours?
- Relative pronouns –those which refer to nouns mentioned previously, acting to introduce an adjective (relative) clause. They will usually appear after a noun to help clarify the sentence or give extra information. Examples include: who, which, that, whom, whose. Consider the following sentence:
The man who stole the car went to jail. The relative pronoun who acts to refer back to the noun man. It acts to open a clause by identifying the man as not just any man, but the one who stole the car.Relative pronoun examples in the following sentences are in bold for easy identification.
- The table, which sits in the hallway, is used for correspondence.
- The car that crashed into the wall was blue.
- This is the woman, whose key you found.
- Interrogative pronouns –Those which introduce a question. Examples include: who, whom, whose, what, which. We can usually identify an interrogative pronoun by the fact that they often appear at the beginning of a question.
Interrogative pronoun examples in the following sentences are in bold for easy identification.
- Who will come to the party?
- Which do you prefer?
- What do you need?
- Whose clothes are on the floor?
- Whom did you tell?
Whom and who are often confused, and even native speakers will use them incorrectly. Who will replace the subject of a sentence, whereas whom will replace the direct or indirect object. A good tip for deciding which to use is that you can replace who in the sentence with a personal pronoun and it will still make sense. Who will come to the party? I will come to the party. The same system would not work for Whom did you tell? I did you tell.
- Reciprocal pronouns –Those expressing mutual actions or relationship; i.e. one another.
There are just two reciprocal pronouns in English: one another and each other. They are mainly used to stop unnecessary repetition in a sentence, but also to reinforce the idea that collective and reciprocal actions are happening to more than one person or thing.John and Mary gave each other gifts. Using each other allows us the sentence to be more efficient than: John gave Mary a gift and Mary gave a gift to John. The countries worked with one another on national security. In this example, one another works to suggest that the action of working is being reciprocated back and forth by more than one country.
Reciprocal pronoun examples in the following sentences are in bold for easy identification.
- The boxers punched each other
The couple love one another deeply
- Intensive pronouns – those ending in –self or –selves and that serve to emphasize their antecedents. These are almost identical to reflexive pronouns, but rather than just referring back to the subject of the sentence they work to reinforce the action. In many cases, the sentence would still make sense without the intensive pronoun.
Intensive pronoun examples in the following sentences are in bold for easy identification.
- I will do it myself.
- We made this pie ourselves.
- A nation speaks for itself through elections.
Notice how the intensive pronoun is working to emphasize the statement. The sentence would still technically be correct without the intensive pronoun, but it adds some important context to its meaning.
There are a few important rules for using pronouns. As you read through these rules and the examples in the next section, notice how the pronoun rules are followed. Soon you’ll see that pronouns are easy to work with.
- Subject pronouns may be used to begin sentences. For example: We did a great job.
- Subject pronouns may also be used to rename the subject. For example: It was she who decided we should go to Hawaii.
- Indefinite pronouns don’t have antecedents. They are capable of standing on their own. For example: No one likes the sound of fingernails on a chalkboard.
- Object pronouns are used as direct objects, indirect objects, and objects of prepositions. These include: you, me, him, her, us, them, and it. For example: David talked to her about the mistake.
- Possessive pronouns show ownership. They do not need apostrophes. For example: The cat washed its
Examples of Pronouns
In the following examples, the pronouns are italicized.
- We are going on vacation.
- Don’t tell me that you can’t go with us.
- Anybody who says it won’t be fun has no clue what they are talking about.
- These are terribly steep stairs.
- We ran into each other at the mall.
- I’m not sure which is worse: rain or snow.
- It is one of the nicest Italian restaurants in town.
- Richard stared at himself in the mirror.
- The laundry isn’t going to do itself.
- Someone spilled orange juice all over the countertop!
The following exercises will help you gain greater understanding about how pronouns work. Choose the best answer to complete each sentence.
- This is __________ speaking.
- He john
- Greg is as smart as __________ is.
- The dog chewed on __________ favorite toy.
- it is
- It could have been __________ .
- more difficult
- Terry is taller than __________ am.
- B. This is he speaking.
- C. Greg is as smart as she is.
- D. The dog chewed on its favorite toy.
- B. It could have been anyone.
- A. Terry is taller than I am.
List of Pronouns
As you read through this list of pronouns, remember that each one of these pronouns is a word that can be used to take the place of a noun. Think about ways to use the pronouns on this list in sentences, as this will increase your understanding.