Pronoun Usage

As Bill Waterson once said, a pronoun is simply a noun that’s lost its amateur status. In reality, pronouns are words that stand in place of nouns. Hi, and welcome to this video on pronoun usage.

What exactly are pronouns? Well, they help our writing and speaking to be less repetitive, because you don’t have to repeat the name of the person or thing you’re talking about every single time you mention them. At the same time, if you’re not careful with how you use your pronouns, they can actually confuse your reader.

General Pronoun Usage

In order to use pronouns correctly, you have to match them up with their antecedent, which is the word the pronoun replaces. You must match in number and gender. Number means matching plurals and singular. Don’t forget, some things seem to be singular when they’re actually plural, like a pair of pants. As in “I like your moose. Where’d you get them?”

You must also make sure that the gender of your pronoun matches that of your antecedent. If you’re referring to a mixed or unknown-gender group or person, you may use they or their. Saying he or she is also acceptable, but many writers find this clunky so the grammatically-incorrect-but-better-sounding they is used more often.

There are several different main types of pronouns: personal, possessive pronouns, reflexive, demonstrative, indefinite, relative, and interrogative.

Personal Pronouns

There are three different persons in English: first, second, and third. First-person refers to the person doing the speaking, second-person to the people being addressed, and third-person refers to those other than the speaker and the person she’s addressing. Think of it this way: if a captain is addressing her squad right before a big game, the captain refers to herself in first-person, refers to her team in second-person, and to the other team in third-person—as in “we are going to destroy them.”

Possessive Pronouns

Possessive pronouns are a subset of personal pronouns. These are used in order to indicate, well, possession. These include my, mine, theirs, hers, etc.

For example:

This is my favorite band.
That’s her favorite flavor.

Reflexive Pronouns

Reflexive pronouns are pronouns that refer to a previously mentioned noun or pronoun, or when a thing acts on itself. In English, they will end in -self or -selves. Sometimes, reflexive pronouns are used to intensify what is being said. For example, a braggart might say, “I myself have built this city.” Another example might be, “He raked the leaves up all by himself.”

Demonstrative Pronouns

Demonstrative pronouns point to something, as in “I’ll have that sandwich” or “take this shovel and put it over there.” Notice here that the pronoun and the thing referred to exist in the same sentence—the pronoun doesn’t replace the noun with demonstrative pronouns.


Review

Before we finish, let’s try a few practice sentences:

  1. Abigail left ____ car keys over ____.
  2. I love these guys. They’re ____ favorite group.
  3. ____ car is faster than the one over ____.
  4. Jack fell down and hurt _____.
  5. You guys are the best. ___ will make it through.

And that’s all we’ve got for now! Hope this was helpful.

Thanks for watching and happy studying!

Frequently Asked Questions

Q

What is a pronoun?

A

A pronoun is a word that refers to either a noun that has already been mentioned or a noun that needs no specific mention. The most common pronouns are called personal pronouns, which refer to the person speaking, the person being spoken to, and the other people or things. Here are some examples with the pronouns underlined:

“John ate a late breakfast, so he was not very hungry at lunchtime.”
“Mae wants to visit her grandmother while she’s in town.”
We tried to call them over, but they were not paying attention.”

Q

What is a relative pronoun?

A

Relative pronouns introduce a dependent clause. A relative pronoun is used when answering one of the following questions: which one, how many, or what kind. Here is a list of relative pronouns and what they are used for:

  • Who is used to refer to a person as the subject
  • Whom is used to refer to a person as the object
  • Which is used to refer to an animal or thing
  • What is used to refer to a nonliving thing
  • That is used to refer to a person, animal, or thing

Relative pronouns are similar to conjunctions in that they are words that join a relative or dependent clause to an independent clause to the main clause of a sentence. The noun that is used will decide which relative pronoun to utilize. Here are some examples with the relative pronouns underlined:

“The boat that we sailed on was huge!”
“The book, which is now falling apart, was written in 1891.”
“I believe she’s the one who left me a message.”
“Justin should be able to find what you’re looking for.”
“The person to whom you have just spoken is a close friend of mine.”

Q

What is a subjective pronoun?

A

A subjective pronoun is a pronoun that is used as the subject of a sentence. The subjective pronouns are I, you, he, she, it, we, and they.

Subjective Pronouns
SingularPlural
1st PersonIwe
2nd Personyouyou
3rd Personhe/she/itthey

 
Here are some examples with the subjective pronouns underlined:

I need to review my flashcards before the exam tomorrow.”
“Did you hear the birds this morning? They were singing such a beautiful song.”
He ordered a small coffee with no sugar.”

Q

What is a personal pronoun?

A

Personal pronouns are pronouns that refer to the person speaking, the person being spoken to, and the other people or things. Personal pronouns can be used as the subject of the sentence or as the object.

Personal Pronouns (As Subjects)
SingularPlural
1st PersonIwe
2nd Personyouyou
3rd Personhe/she/itthey

 

Personal Pronouns (As Objects)
SingularPlural
1st Personmeus
2nd Personyouyou
3rd Personhim/her/itthem

Q

What is a possessive pronoun?

A

Possessive pronouns are used to indicate that something belongs to someone.

Possessive Pronouns
SingularPlural
1st Personmineours
2nd Personyoursyours
3rd Personhis/hers/itstheirs

 
Here are a couple of examples with the possessive pronouns underlined:

“I forgot my lunch, so Tim let me eat some of his.”
“I didn’t know whose pen this was. It turns out it was hers all along.”

It is important to not confuse possessive pronouns with possessive adjectives. Though similar-looking, the words function differently in a sentence.

Possessive Pronoun: Whose is that?
Possessive Adjective: Whose jacket is that?

In the first example above, the word whose is a possessive pronoun. We know it’s a pronoun because it is replacing the noun in the sentence. In the second example, the word whose does not replace the noun jacket; it describes the noun, making it a possessive adjective.

Q

What is a reflexive pronoun?

A

Reflexive pronouns are used when the subject and object of the sentence are the same. Specifically, the reflexive pronoun has to match/refer to the subject that goes along with the verb. For instance, in the example below, the reflexive pronoun himself is reflecting (hence the name “reflexive” pronoun) the subject Rico.

“Rico poured himself a cup of coffee to begin the busy day.”

In this case, the reflexive pronoun is acting as the direct object of the sentence. Here’s an example of a reflexive pronoun acting as the indirect object of a sentence:

“Rico poured a cup of coffee for himself to begin the busy day.”

Here are all of the reflexive pronouns:

Reflexive Pronouns
SingularPlural
1st Personmyselfourselves
2nd Personyourselfyourselves
3rd Personhimself/herself/itselfthemselves

 
Take note that themself is not widely accepted as a legitimate word, so it’s best to avoid using it, especially in formal/professional settings. Also on the list of words to avoid is hisself; the word himself should be used instead.

Q

What is an object pronoun?

A

An object pronoun is a pronoun that is acting as the object of the sentence. As with every other type of pronoun, an object pronoun takes the place of a noun in the sentence; in this case, it cannot take the place of the subject of the sentence. Here are a few object pronoun examples with the pronoun underlined:

“Have you seen my shoes? I can’t find them.”
“I hear that Kina is going to be there. I can’t wait to meet her!”
“A new movie is coming out tomorrow. I’d like to go see it.”

Here are all of the object pronouns:

Object Pronouns
SingularPlural
1st PersonIwe
2nd Personyouyou
3rd Personhe/she/itthey

 

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by Mometrix Test Preparation | This Page Last Updated: June 14, 2022