WHAT IS A PRONOUN IN ENGLISH?
Table of contents
1. What is a Pronoun?
Pronouns make up a small subcategory of nouns. The distinguishing characteristic of pronouns is that they can be substituted for other nouns. For instance, if you’re telling a story about your sister Sarah, the story will begin to sound repetitive if you keep repeating “Sarah” over and over again.
Sarah has always loved fashion. Sarah announced that Sarah wants to go to fashion school.
You could try to mix it up by sometimes referring to Sarah as “my sister,” but then it sounds like you’re referring to two different people.
Sarah has always loved fashion. My sister announced that Sarah wants to go to fashion school.
Instead, you can use the pronouns she and her to refer to Sarah.
Sarah has always loved fashion. She announced that she wants to go to fashion school.
2. Personal Pronouns
There are a few different types of pronouns, and some pronouns belong to more than one category. She and her are known as personal pronouns. The other personal pronouns are I and me, you, he and him, it, we and us, and they and them. If you learned about pronouns in school, these are probably the words your teacher focused on. We’ll get to the other types of pronouns in a moment.
Pronouns are versatile. The pronoun it can refer to just about anything: a bike, a tree, a movie, a feeling. That’s why you need an antecedent. An antecedent is a noun or noun phrase that you mention at the beginning of a sentence or story and later replace with a pronoun. In the examples below, the antecedent is highlighted and the pronoun that replaces it is bolded.
My family drives me nuts, but I love them. The sign was too far away for Henry to read it. Sarah said she is almost finished with the application.
In some cases, the antecedent doesn’t need to be mentioned explicitly, as long as the context is totally clear. It’s usually clear who the pronouns I, me, and you refer to based on who is speaking.
It’s also possible to use a pronoun before you mention the antecedent, but try to avoid doing it in long or complex sentences because it can make the sentence hard to follow.
I love them, but my family drives me nuts.
4. Subject pronouns
A subject pronoun is exactly what it sounds like: a pronoun that takes the place of a noun as the subject of a sentence. Remember, a sentence’s subject is the person or thing that performs the action of a verb. When you take an even closer look, you’ll see that a subject pronoun is used as the subject of a verb, while an object pronoun is usually used as a grammatical object.
Subject pronouns can be singular or plural, and they can be masculine, feminine, or gender neutral. The masculine or feminine subject pronoun is used when gender is known; when referring to an inanimate object, the gender-neutral form “it” is used. The subject pronoun “it” can be used to refer to animals of unspecific gender, and it is also appropriate to use the subject pronoun “it” to describe a baby of unknown gender. “It” is also used to talk about the weather, temperature, or time.
Here are a few sentences using subject pronouns. The subject pronoun is highlighted in bold.
- I wanted to go to the party. He wanted to stay at home.
- The puppies are cute, but sometimes they act crazy.
- You can go to the game, as long as you finish the dishes.
- It just isn't possible.
- Will they be leaving for Spain this summer?
- I love that dress!
5. Complement pronouns
Complement pronoun can be known as “Pronoun as Subject Complement”
Traditional grammars define nouns as naming people, places, things, and ideas. Noun phrases consist of a noun including a pronoun and any modifiers, complements, and determiners that provide more information about the noun or pronoun. A pronoun is word that takes the place of a noun, noun phrase, noun clause, or other nominal form. Pronouns are a subcategory of nouns.
In grammar, a subject complement is a word, phrase, or clause that follows a copular, or linking, verb and describes the subject of a clause. A noun that performs the grammatical function of subject complement is also called a predicate nominative or predicate noun. In addition to nouns, pronouns may also perform the function of subject complement.
As the object of the sentence, they are:
- Please don't sit beside me.
- Go talk to her.
- Mary put the gift under it.
- Don't look at them.
6. Possessive pronouns
Possessive pronouns come in two flavors: limiting and absolute. My, your, its, his, her, our, their and whose are used to show that something belongs to an antecedent.
Sarah is working on her application. Just put me back on my bike. The students practiced their presentation after school.
The absolute possessive pronouns are mine, yours, his, hers, ours, and theirs. The absolute forms can be substituted for the thing that belongs to the antecedent.
Some possessive pronouns are easy to mix up with similar-looking contractions. Remember, possessive personal pronouns don’t include apostrophes.
Possessive pronouns how ownership or possession of a noun. They are:
- its (note there is no apostrophe)
- Is that my book?
- No, that's his book.
- That's its shelf.
- I'd like to see their bookshelves.
7. Reflexive pronouns
Reflexive pronouns end in -self or -selves: myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves.
Use a reflexive pronoun when both the subject and object of a verb refer to the same person or thing.
Reflexive pronouns are
- I told myself not to spend all my money on new shoes.
- You're going to have to drive yourself to the restaurant today.
- We gave ourselves plenty of extra time.
- They bought themselves a new car.
8. Intensive pronouns
An intensive pronoun is almost identical to a reflexive pronoun, but their functions differ. Intensive pronouns are used to add emphasis to the subject or antecedent of the sentence. You’ll usually find the intensive pronoun right after the noun or pronoun it’s modifying, but not necessarily.
The intensive/reflexive pronouns include myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves.
Furthermore, an intensive pronoun is defined as a pronoun that ends in “self” or “selves” and places emphasis on its antecedent.
Intensive pronouns are:
- I myself like to travel.
- He himself is his worst critic.
- She approved the marriage herself.
- We went to hear W.B. Yeats himself speak.
9. Indefinite pronouns
Indefinite pronouns are used when you need to refer to a person or thing that doesn’t need to be specifically identified. Some common indefinite pronouns are one, other, none, some, anybody, everybody, and no one.
Everybody was late to work because of the traffic jam. It matters more to some than others. Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen.
When indefinite pronouns function as subjects of a sentence or clause, they usually take singular verbs.
Indefinite pronouns are:
- Most wealth is held by a select few.
- Everyone is here already.
- I don't have any paper napkins. Can you bring some?
- He's nobody.
10. Relative pronouns
Relative pronouns make up another class of pronouns. They are used to connect relative clauses to independent clauses. Often, they introduce additional information about something mentioned in the sentence. Relative pronouns include that, what, which, who, and whom. Traditionally, who refers to people, and which and that refer to animals or things.
The woman who called earlier didn’t leave a message. All the dogs that got adopted today will be loved. My car , which is nearly twenty years old, still runs well.
Whether you need commas with who, which, and that depends on whether the clause is restrictive or nonrestrictive.
Relative pronouns are:
- The driver who ran the stop sign was careless.
- I don't know which pair of shoes you want.
- Take whichever ones you want.
- No, not that one.
11. Demonstrative pronouns
That, this, these and those are demonstrative pronouns. They take the place of a noun or noun phrase that has already been mentioned.
This is used for singular items that are nearby. These is used for multiple items that are nearby. The distance can be physical or metaphorical.
Here is a letter with no return address. Who could have sent this? What a fantastic idea! This is the best thing I’ve heard all day. If you think gardenias smell nice, try smelling these.
That is used for singular items that are far away. Those is used for multiple items that are far away. Again, the distance can be physical or metaphorical.
Demonstrative pronouns are:
- These are ugly.
- Those are lovely.
- Don't drink this.
- Such was his understanding.
12. Interrogative pronouns
An interrogative pronoun is a pronoun which is used to make asking questions easy. There are just five interrogative pronouns. Each one is used to ask a very specific question or indirect question. Some, such as “who” and “whom,” refer only to people. Others can be used to refer to objects or people. Once you are familiar with interrogative pronouns, you’ll find that it’s very easy to use them in a variety of situations.
Interrogative pronouns can also be used as relative pronouns, which may be found in questions or indirect questions. You’ll know for certain that a pronoun is classified as an interrogative when it’s used in an inquiring way, because interrogative pronouns are found only in question and indirect questions.
The five interrogative pronouns are what, which, who, whom, and whose.
Interrogative pronouns are:
- What – Used to ask questions about people or objects.
- Which – Used to ask questions about people or objects.
- Who – Used to ask questions about people.
- Whom – This interrogative pronoun is rarely seen these days, but when it shows up, it is used to ask questions about people.
- Whose – Used to ask questions about people or objects, always related to possessions.
- Who is going to arrive first?
- What are you bringing to the party?
- Which of these do you like better?
- Whatever do you mean?
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