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Pronouns – What are they? When to use them?

What are pronouns?

Pronouns are groups of words that appear in place of other words; they usually replace nouns, different pronouns, and noun phrases. They are a way to avoid being repetitive; for example, “Kelly likes to cook, and she often cooks a roast chicken.” In this sentence, “she” is a pronoun used instead of repeating the name Kelly.

Types of pronouns

(According to Jessica Håkansson)

 Personal pronouns

These include:

  • to refer to people or things
  • when talking about people or things as they relate to him or herself
  • a way to refer to him or herself

The two types of personal pronouns are:

Subjective personal (I, we, you, he, she, it, they)

Used to refer to a subject complement (verb) or subject of a clause, these

For example, “She was there.”

Objective personal  (me, us, you, him, her, it, them)

Used to refer to the same people or things as the equivalent subject pronouns (Collins 1990:29).

For example “We cannot make it without him”

 Reflexive pronouns (myself, ourselves, yourself, yourselves, himself, herself, itself, themselves)

These are used when the subject of a verb is the same as the object of a verb. The subject can be a person or a thing.

The two forms of reflexive pronouns in the second person are yourself and yourselves.

Examples:

She could not help but make a fool out of herself.

Most days I have to force myself to go to the gym.

 Possessive pronouns (mine, my, our(s), your(s), their(s), his, hers)

These connect people or things with other people or things. Something or someone is connected, associated, or belongs to something or someone.

Examples:

This is my house. Your car is better than my car. She is his daughter.

 Indefinite pronouns (anybody, anything, anyone, everybody, everyone, everything, nobody, no one, nothing, somebody, someone, and something)

These are when you refer to people or things, but you do not know who or what, or their identity is not essential; they do not apply to a specific person or thing.

Example: “What is everybody doing here?”

 Demonstrative pronouns (that, this, those, these)

These can be used as subjects of the objects in a clause, or the object of a preposition; they usually refer to things but can relate to people.

Example: This is a good book.”

 Reciprocal pronouns (each other, one another)

Reciprocal pronouns are used to suggest that people have the same feeling, do the same thing, or have the same relationship; they are used as indirect objects of verbs.

They suggest that people feel the same way, do the same thing, or have the same relationship.

Example: They cannot stand each other, and they are moving away from one another.

 Relative pronouns (who, whom, which, that)

Used by the speaker when a sentence includes a clause and then a relative clause; they refer to someone or something that has already been mentioned; they are conjunctions because they join two clauses together.

Who and whom refer to people: “Guess who I met yesterday?”

That refers to either people or things:

I often like news that gives me a positive feeling.

The girl that likes me is Helen, not Mary.

Which always refers to things:

The park which has the biggest playground in Auckland is Western Spring.

 Interrogative pronouns (who, whose, whom, that which)

These can be used as objects or subjects of a clause; they refer to information about which someone is asking.

Examples:

What is he doing?

Whose painting is that?

juan-hernandezHow the choice of pronouns shows the relationship between people

The choice of pronouns is affected by the relationship between the speaker and the listener. Addressing someone with the same status shows solidarity and equality. Formal pronouns are used addressing someone of a higher status.

In political speeches, there is a clear separation between them and us. “Us” or “We” are used for identifying the good qualities of the speaker and their constituents. “Them” or “they” is used to refer to the negative qualities of the opposition.

The choice of personal pronouns:

  • shows a personal level;
  • the speaker shows authority and personal responsibility;
  • the speaker shows commitment and involvement.

The choice of second-person pronouns (“you,” “your,” “you’ve,” “you’re”),

  • Positively affects the consumer’s attitude towards to brand.
  • Second person pronouns implicate and involve the consumer, for example, (“Are you paying too much for your gas?”).
  • If the brand is considered relevant, the consumer is likely to buy and promote the product.
  • Second-person pronouns have been found to direct attention inward toward the person reading the message.

Mixing up first-person, second-person and third-person pronouns

Both ‘I’ and ‘you’ are personal pronouns, but using ‘I’ makes the sentence ‘first-person’; these are good for connecting with people.  The second person pronouns ‘you, your, etc’ are good for connecting people with a brand, product or idea.  The mistake people make is mixing these in the same sentence or paragraph.

Summary

Pronouns are used in the place of nouns; they help to avoid repeating nouns in sentences.  The choice of pronouns can reflect the relationship between the speaker and the audience.  The choice of first-person personal pronouns (“I,” “we,” “us”) helps create a connection with the audience.  Second-person pronouns (“you,” “your”) are often used in advertising and marketing to sell products or ideas.
Grammarly
Grammarly is an essential writing tool for English learners and professionals.

I recommend the book Practical English Usage by Michael Swan as an essential reference for proper language usage.

Aaron Skudder

10 Comments

  1. Hello Aaron, this is a well written post you have put up here. I like how you have explained the different types of pronoun using ample examples. One thing I learnt about pronouns is that it is used to eliminate boredom. The repetition of nouns all too often in a discourse can cause weirdness and boredom. This is an educative post. I’d like you to help differentiate between I’m and Am. This is always a problem for speakers.

    • One difference between written and spoken language is that spoken language tends to be less formal.  Speakers take liberty with words.  ‘Am’ is a contraction of ‘I am’.

  2. Very  educative article and this has been of immense benefit. I am not a native speaker of English. I’m swedish but I stay in the US and sometimes, I do get entangled in the use of my pronouns when communicating or writing. Thankfully, you did a good job by breaking the rudiments of pronouns down and I’m glad I came across this article. Thanks so much for this

    • The most important rule is ‘to be consistent in the use of pronouns’.  

  3. I find this really interesting, why? So many people don’t give much credits to the development of our grammer or writing when it comes to writing a blog post. This gives me so much interest in this post as most people don’t know the classification of pronouns, although they are good at using it during a sentence when writing or speaking but they really don’t know where these pronouns (they, we, us, I, you, etc)  is classified, and I must say this post is worth reading a thousand times. Thanks Aaron.

    • Many blogs I review do not use pronouns correctly.  Different types of Pronouns are often mixed, this confuses the reader. 

  4. In my opinion the topic is great, you make want to change the word coloring in the dropdowns for people who where glasses like me it’s very hard to read the different dropdowns in a red and pink coloring.  Your posts are gives a lot of information but you may want to make it not so educational but fun and more exciting for others to continue to read without getting bored. For example, include some of you person funny opinion on the topic to keep readers more interested in the content.  Overall article, I found your website to be set up nicely and the categorizes are wonderfully displayed.  The discuss on the topic people will find interesting.  My experience with foreigners in English has been a very good experience so far all of the foreigner I have met were always very interest in learning the English language to become success in a fluent language many people understand. In my personal opinion your on the right track this niche is going to be very successful.  I look for to your comments on my posts and website soon!

    Regina T

    • Hi Regina.  Please read the WA guidelines for site comments.  You are confusing site comments with site feedback.  Can you please amend your post on my site to be comments about the topic and not feedback for the site.

  5. Thanks for explaining pronouns so well. They are sometimes challenging to understand. I often find myself unsure if I used the pronouns in an understandable way. The pronouns which I use the most are probably personal pronouns.
    Anyone that writes anything could definitely look up this article in order to spice up their writing style. This is one of the best explanations of pronouns I have ever found.

    • Both ‘I’ and ‘you’ are personal pronouns, but use ‘I’ in a blog makes the sentence ‘first-person’.  First-person pronouns are good for connecting with the reader.  The second person pronouns ‘you, your, etc’ are good for connecting the reader with a brand, product or idea.  The mistake people make is mixing these in the same sentence or paragraph.

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