Choosing the Proper Pronoun

What is a pronoun? Chances are you use these while discussing people and things. In this article, you’ll learn an easy to understand pronoun definition and a few rules that will quickly improve your English skills.

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A Pronoun Definition

In the English language you don’t repeat a noun or noun phrase every time you reference it. If you did, your sentences would be repetitive. Instead, you use a pronoun.

The yellow car stopped at the light before the yellow car made a right turn.

*Note that ‘yellow’ is an adjective describing the noun ‘car’.

Pretty redundant, right? Instead of saying ‘the yellow car’ a second time, you can simply use a pronoun.

The yellow car stopped at the light before it made a right turn.

As you see, pronouns substitute and take the place of nouns. Before moving on, here’s a useful link on substitution words.

Substitution Word Chart

Person Subject Object Possessive Reflexive
1st Person I Me Mine Myself
1st Person (plural) We Us Ours Ourselves
2nd Person You You Yours Yourself
2nd Person (plural) You You Yours Yourselves
3rd Person (male) He Him His Himself
3rd Person (female) She Her Hers Herself
3rd Person It It (N/A) Itself
3rd Person (plural) They Them Theirs Themselves

What is a Pronoun? The Many Variations

There are many subclasses of replacement words. This detailed book on grammar describes them all in detail. Let’s look at each subclass and how they’re different.

Personal Words

First there are personal words. There are three categories: subject words, object words, and possessive words.

I, you, he, she, it, we, and they are subject words. These words describe a noun that’s doing something or being something.

Me, you, him, her, it, us, and them are object words. When a verb affects the noun, it’s known as the object.

Mine, yours, his, hers, its, ours, and theirs are possessive pronouns. Possessive words indicate ownership of a noun.

We (subject) were walking down the street when a car that almost hit us (object). Minutes later, we realized the car that almost hit us was mine (possessive).

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Reflexive and Intensive Words

Next, we have reflexive and intensive words. These words end in -self or -selves.

Reflexive words explain that a noun who takes an action benefits from that same action.

Lisa baked herself a cake. (Reflexive)

Intensive words are simply there to add emphasis.

Lisa baked a cake herself. (Intensive)

Removing a reflexive word changes the whole sentence.

Lisa baked a cake. (Who was the cake for?)

However, removing an intensive word from a sentence doesn’t change the meaning.

Demonstrative Words

Demonstrative words point to specific people or things. This (singular) and these (plural) point to things near. That (singular) and those (plural) point to things farther away in time or distance.

Can I have that, please?

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Indefinite Words

Indefinite words include distributive, negative and impersonal words. This group also includes the compounds words something, anyone, nothing, everyone, somebody, anybody, and anything.

Everybody loves somebody.

Interrogative Words

The main interrogative pronouns are who, whom, whose, which, and what. You ask questions with these words.

Oh no! Who ate the last piece of cake?*

The above should not be confused with interrogative adverbs like why, where, how, and when.

*In case you were wondering, “Oh no” is an interjection.

Reciprocal Words

The two reciprocal words are each other and one another. They refer to people receiving the benefits or consequences of an action.

They despise one another.

Relative Words

The relative words who, whom, whose, what, which and that help identify people or things.

My brother, who is only 5 years old, can write in complete sentences.

So, in conclusion, here are three rules to remember.

  • Subject words come before the verb at the beginning of a sentence.
  • Object words receive the action and follow the verb at the middle or end of the sentence.
  • Possessive pronouns his, hers, ours, theirs, and yours show ownership and do not need apostrophes.

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