Pronouns

For a thorough understanding of Pronouns we need to know the following six things:

  1. what Pronouns are;
  2. their types;
    (See this page on list of pronouns for a description of each type with examples)
  3. Grammatical Number (i.e. Singular or Plural);
  4. Grammatical Gender;
  5. Grammatical Person; and
  6. Grammatical Case.

You may like to see also the five things we need to know about Nouns.

What are Pronouns?

They are words that take the place of nouns. They are substitutes for nouns.

It is painful for the ear to hear and the eye to read the same noun over and over again. When the same word is repeated often, we get irritated.

Here's what I mean. Read the following paragraph about a former tennis star. Try to read it aloud.

Vijay Amritraj was a brilliant tennis player. Vijay Amritraj's shots were graceful and appeared effortless. Vijay Amritraj had a great quality. Whenever an opponent made a good shot, Vijay Amritraj would applaud. It showed that Vijay Amritraj was a great human being. I am Vijay Amritraj's fan even today.

Here I am trying to talk about brilliance and grace...
but see how tedious the language is
to read about those things!

Now let's read that paragraph about Amritraj with a pronoun substituted for the name Vijay Amritraj every time it occurs, except the first time.

Vijay Amritraj was a brilliant tennis player. His shots were graceful and appeared effortless. He had a great quality. Whenever an opponent made a good shot, he would applaud. It showed that he was a great human being. I am his fan even today.

That sounds better, doesn't it? Pronouns make things easier to read and hear. They are substitutes for bigger-looking or harder-sounding words.

More Accurately Speaking...
Pronouns Are Substitutes for Noun Phrases

Look at these sentences:

  1. Boys like bikes.
  2. Those very smart boys like bikes.
  3. They like bikes.

The word they in sentence 3 is a substitute for the phrase those very smart boys in sentence 2. If the word they had replaced only boys, the sentence would have read:

*Those very smart they like bikes.

That would be an ungrammatical sentence. (The asterisk * indicates an ungrammatical sentence in English language teaching.)

So we know they are substitutes for noun phrases, not merely for single nouns.In grammar, even the single word boys of sentence 1 is considered to be a noun phrase.

A Pronoun Has the Properties of a Noun
and More...

Since it takes the place of a noun, it must be like a noun. It has the grammatical properties of a noun and does the work of a noun.

Like a noun, it has number, gender and case. A fourth property which it has is that of person.

Grammatical Number

A pronoun may be singular or plural.

  • I, me, he, him, she, her, it, anyone, this, that, are all singular.
  • we, us, they, them, all, these, those, are all plural.

Grammatical Gender

It may be masculine, feminine, common, or neuter.

  • Masculine - he, him, his
  • Feminine - she, her, hers
  • Common - they, them, theirs
  • Neuter - it, its, that, this

Grammatical Case

Case refers to the different forms associated with the different jobs a noun or a pronoun does in a sentence. In the examples below, I show you the different forms of he performing different functions in sentences.

A pronoun can be...

  1. the subject of a verb, as in -
    He helped the poor man.

  2. the object of a finite verb -
    The boys saw him.

  3. the object of a non-finite verb -
    The boys wanted to help him.

  4. the object of a preposition -
    Give this money to him.

  5. indirect object of a verb -
    The boys gave him the money.

  6. a word showing possession -
    The blue shirt is his.

  7. or a complement after a linking verb -
    It is he.

  8. or a word performing an appositive function -
    The Company's troubleshooter, he, solved this problem.

These various functions of pronouns become visible to us through the different forms they can take in a sentence.

Unfortunately, in English, we don't have a unique form for every particular use, unlike in languages like, Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, or Hindi. There is no one-to-one correspondence between the different forms and uses.

In English, we economize on the number of forms! We make do with a few of them for the many tasks, I have listed above.

Read this page for more about...
Case forms and functions of nouns and pronouns.

Person

Pronouns are divided into three grammatical persons.

They are:

  • First Person - refers to the one(s) doing the speaking. (I, me, mine, we, us, ours)

  • Second Person - refers to the one(s) spoken to, i.e. directly addressed. (you, yours)

  • Third Person - refers to the one(s) spoken about, be they human, animal, vegetable, mineral, or abstract. (it, its, they, theirs, them.)

All nouns belong to the Third Person; so we usually don't talk about person when referring to nouns.

A Closed Set of Words

Pronouns consist of a limited number of words. You can't keep adding to their number. Nouns are numerous and we can keep adding to a list of nouns.

The Different Types of Pronouns

The page titled List-of-Pronouns will give you:

  • the names of the different types;
  • a description of each; and
  • examples

For Further Reading and Study...


Related Pages

What is a Noun?

Kinds of Nouns

Common Nouns

Proper Nouns

Collective Nouns

Concrete and Abstract Nouns

Countable Nouns

Forms and Functions

Number

Gender

Case