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Pronoun

In English, words are grouped into word classes based on the function they perform in a sentence. There are nine main word classes in English; nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, pronouns, determiners, conjunctions, and interjections. This explanation is all about the meaning, examples, and types of pronouns.

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In English, words are grouped into word classes based on the function they perform in a sentence. There are nine main word classes in English; nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, pronouns, determiners, conjunctions, and interjections. This explanation is all about the meaning, examples, and types of pronouns.

Pronoun meaning

A pronoun is a word that can replace a noun or a noun phrase in a sentence. Pronouns are a subcategory of nouns. Pronouns refer to either a noun that has previously been mentioned or a general noun that does not need to be specified. They can help to prevent repetition.

Examples of pronouns

Before we delve into examples of pronouns, let's see what language would look like without them.

Jake drove Jake's new car. Jake was happy with Jake's new purchase.

This example contains no pronouns; instead, the noun 'Jake' is repeated. Sounds a bit strange, right?

Now, let's look at the same sentence with pronouns.

'Jake drove his new car. He was happy with his new purchase. '

The pronouns 'his' and 'he' help to make the second sentence more varied and easy to read. We know that these pronouns refer to Jake as he has previously been mentioned. In this example, Jake is the antecedent.

Pronouns and antecedents

The noun that the pronoun replaces or refers to is called the antecedent. In the example above the antecedent is 'Jack', as this is the noun that the pronouns 'he' and 'his' refer to. Take a look at some further examples of antecedents:

I went to the cinema (antecedent). It (pronoun) was great.

Leonardo Di Caprio (antecedent) went to the zoo. He (pronoun) didn't like the tigers.

Here are some further examples of nouns being replaced by pronouns:

Pronoun examples of pronouns StudySmarterFig 1. Examples of pronouns

Types of pronouns

The seven main types of pronouns in English are:

Types of pronounsExplanationExamples of pronouns
Personal pronounsThese are pronouns that refer to specific people or things. I, you, he, she, it, we, and they
Reflexive pronounsThese are pronouns that refer back to the subject of the sentence.Myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, ourselves, and themselves
Relative pronounsThese are pronouns that are used to introduce a relative clause, which provides more information about the noun or pronoun that comes before it.Who, whom, whose, that, and which
Possessive pronounsThese are pronouns that show ownership or possession.Mine, yours, his, hers, its, ours, and theirs
Demonstrative pronounsThese are pronouns that point to specific people or things.This, that, these, and those
Indefinite pronounsThese are pronouns that refer to people or things in a general or unspecific way.Everyone, somebody, anyone, nothing, all
Interrogative pronounsThese are pronouns used to ask questions. Who, whom, what, which, and whose

Personal pronouns

Personal pronouns are pronouns that are associated with a particular person (or sometimes animal). We often substitute the proper name of the person (e.g. 'Sarah') for the pronoun so that we don't have to constantly repeat the name of the person. We can also use pronouns when we are unsure of a person's name.

Personal pronouns consist of both subject and object pronouns, which are explained below. Possessive pronouns and reflexive pronouns can also be considered a type of personal pronoun, as they refer to specific people, animals, or things (we will cover these next!).

Subject and object pronouns

Pronouns can be subjects or objects in a sentence in a similar way to nouns being either the subject or object in a sentence. The basic rule is that the subject is the person or thing doing the action and the object is the person or thing receiving the action.

Subject pronouns

The subject pronoun in the English language is the doer of an action. It is the person, place, thing, or idea that does the action. Subject pronouns consist of the words;

  • I

  • You (singular)

  • He

  • She

  • It

  • We

  • You (plural)

  • They

'He ate my shorts'

In this sentence, he is the subject as he is doing the action ('ate').

'They hugged the old man'

In this sentence, they is the subject as they are doing the hugging action.

Object pronouns

The object in the English language 'receives' the action. They are the person, place, thing, or idea that the action is done to. Object pronouns consist of the words;

  • Me

  • You (singular)

  • Him

  • Her

  • It

  • Us

  • You (plural)

  • Them

'Faye told him to go outside'

Here the pronoun him is the object as he is receiving the action ('told').

'They didn't clean it'

A trickier sentence (to challenge your subject/object knowledge). Here there are two pronouns, however, it is the pronoun 'it' that is receiving the action and is, therefore, the object pronoun. (The pronoun 'they' is therefore the subject as it is doing the action).

Possessive pronouns

Possessive pronouns give information about who possesses the thing (noun). Possessive pronouns are words like mine, yours, his, hers, its, ours, and theirs.

'This jacket is mine'

In this sentence, the possessive pronoun mine indicates that the noun (the jacket) belongs to me.

'The dog is hers'

In this sentence, the possessive pronoun hers indicates that the noun (the dog) belongs to a previously mentioned girl/woman, or someone that is being pointed to.

It is useful to remember that possessive pronouns often replace possessive nouns. For example, the sentence 'It is Sam’s (possessive noun)' becomes 'It is his (possessive pronoun)'.

Pronoun, Image of dog and girl, StudySmarterFig 2. The dog is hers

Reflexive pronouns

Reflexive pronouns refer back to a person or thing. They are used when the same person, animal, or thing is the subject and the object of a sentence. The reflexive pronouns consist of the words;

  • Myself

  • Yourself

  • Yourselves

  • Ourselves

  • Himself

  • Herself

  • Themselves

An easy way to remember the reflexive pronouns is that they all end in -self or -selves.

'He cut his hair himself'

Here the pronoun himself refers back to the subject. In other words, the subject 'he' does the action onto 'himself' so the reflexive pronoun is used.

'I believe in myself'

In this sentence, the reflexive pronoun myself shows that the action (believe) refers back to the subject (I).

Summary of personal pronouns

Here's a summary of the first three types of pronouns (personal pronouns, possessive pronouns, and reflexive pronouns). We have grouped these together as they are all pronouns that normally refer to particular people (or animals).

Pronoun summary of personal pronouns StudySmarterFig 3. Summary of personal pronouns

Pronouns showing person, number, and gender

Confused about all these different 'persons' and 'plurals' in the table? Don't worry, we've got you covered. Here is a brief summary of what they mean.

Person

The person shows the relationship of the author/speaker with the reader/listener. There are three persons in English:

  • The first person shows that the author/speaker is talking about themselves. (I, me, we, us)

  • The second person is used when the author is directly addressing you (in both the singular and the plural form)

  • The third person shows that the author is talking about other people. (he, him, she, her, it, they, them)

Number

The number of people may also be shown in the differentiation between the singular forms (e.g. I, you, him, her) and the plural forms (e.g. we, us, you, they).

Gender

Pronouns may also differ according to gender. In English, gender is shown in the various forms of the third-person pronouns 'he' and 'her'. There is also the neuter (like 'neutral') third-person pronoun 'they'.

Relative pronouns

Relative pronouns are words that connect a noun or pronoun to a clause or phrase. The relative pronouns are that, who, which, whose, and whom. For these pronouns, it is best to look at some examples first as they are easier to understand in context:

Pronoun, relative pronouns, StudySmarterFig 4. Examples of relative pronouns

Relative pronouns can refer to the subject or the object. They can also be possessive. As we can see in the examples, relative pronouns connect a noun or pronoun (eg. 'boy') with a clause or phrase (eg. 'likes me').

They are used for two reasons; firstly, they clarify what exactly we are talking about (e.g. 'the boy who likes me') and secondly they give further information about a noun (e.g. 'we ate pizza, which was a nice treat').

Other examples of relative pronouns include 'whoever' and 'whomever'. Words such as 'where', 'when', and 'what' can also be used as relative pronouns in certain contexts e.g. 'John remembers a time when he was young and outgoing' or 'I'd like to travel to the place where my dad grew up'.

Demonstrative pronouns

Demonstrative pronouns point to a specific noun. They replace the noun in a sentence whilst also giving information about distance. There are four demonstrative pronouns in English:

  • This

  • That

  • These

  • Those

The pronouns 'this' and 'these' suggest something is nearby e.g. 'who sent this? (in my hand)' or 'look at these! (right here)'. The pronouns 'that' and 'those' suggest distance e.g. 'I'm not going to eat that (over there on the plate)', or 'those are important documents' (over there).

Demonstrative pronouns use the same words as demonstrative determiners. The main difference between the two is that pronouns can stand alone (e.g. 'who sent this?'), whereas determiners need a noun to go alongside them (e.g. 'who sent this letter?').

Indefinite pronouns

Indefinite pronouns are used to refer to a person or thing that you don't need, or want, to specify precisely. In other words, they do not 'define' the noun, but instead are more general. Examples of indefinite pronouns include words like;

  • Anyone

  • Somebody

  • Anything

  • Everything

  • Some

  • Enough

'Everything is going as planned'

In this sentence, the indefinite pronoun everything refers to a thing that isn't specified in the sentence. We don't know what exactly is going as planned (it could be a big secret birthday party, but we'll never know!).

'Don't tell anyone my secret'

Here the indefinite pronoun anyone refers to people in general rather than specifying someone in particular.

Interrogative pronouns

Interrogative pronouns are used to ask questions. They are the 'wh-' words often used at the beginning of a sentence.

There are five interrogative pronouns in English: what, who, which, whom, and whose. While these are all pretty similar to the relative pronouns we mentioned above, interrogative pronouns are used for a completely different purpose. Take a look at the following examples to understand how they are used in context:

pronouns interrogative pronouns StudySmarterFig 5. Interrogative pronouns

Determiners vs. pronouns

It is important to understand the difference between pronouns and determiners as it can be quite easy to mix them up. All determiners come right before a noun or a noun phrase. They can never stand alone in a sentence. Pronouns, by contrast, can stand alone and often replace the noun or noun phrase. Take a look at these sentences:

Pronoun, determiners vs. pronouns StudySmarter

Fig 6. Determiners and possessives

As we can see, determiners always come immediately before a noun, whilst pronouns are more independent.

Pronouns list

Here is a complete list of all the pronouns in English;

  • I
  • we
  • you (singular and plural)

  • he

  • she

  • it

  • they

  • me

  • us

  • her

  • him

  • it

  • them

  • mine

  • ours

  • yours (singular and plural)

  • hers

  • his

  • theirs

  • my

  • our

  • your

  • her

  • their

  • myself

  • yourself

  • herself

  • himself

  • itself

  • ourselves

  • yourselves

  • themselves

  • as

  • that

  • what

  • whatever

  • which

  • whichever

  • who

  • whoever

  • whom

  • whomever

  • whose

  • such

  • these

  • this

  • those

Pronoun - key takeaways

  • A pronoun is a word that can replace a noun or a noun phrase in a sentence. The noun that is replaced by the pronoun is called the antecedent.
  • There are seven main types of pronouns: personal pronouns, reflexive pronouns, relative pronouns, possessive pronouns, demonstrative pronouns, indefinite pronouns, and interrogative pronouns.
  • Personal pronouns show person, number, and gender. Possessive pronouns tell us who owns something.
  • Reflexive pronouns refer back to a person. Relative pronouns connect a noun or pronoun to a clause or phrase.

  • Demonstrative pronouns point to a specific person or thing. Indefinite pronouns refer to people or things that you don't need to or want to specify precisely. Interrogative pronouns are wh-words that are used to ask questions.

Frequently Asked Questions about Pronoun

A pronoun is a word that can replace a noun or a noun phrase in a sentence. They refer to either a noun that has previously been mentioned or does not need to be specified and helps to prevent repetition.

Relative pronouns are words that connect a noun or pronoun to a clause or phrase. The most common relative pronouns include the words that, who, which, whose, and whom. Relative pronouns clarify what exactly we are talking about (e.g. ‘the boy who likes me’) and give further information about a noun (e.g. ‘we ate pizza, which was a nice treat’).

Possessive pronouns tell us who owns something. They consist of the words mine, yours, his, hers, its, ours, and theirs. For example, in the sentence ‘the dog is hers’ the possessive pronoun ‘hers’ indicates that the noun (the dog) belongs to a previously mentioned girl/ woman, or someone that is being physically pointed out.

Personal pronouns are associated with a particular person (or animal). We often substitute the proper name of the person (e.g. ‘Sarah’) for the pronoun so that we don’t have to constantly repeat the name of the person. They consist of subject pronouns that do the action (I, you, he, she, it, we, and they) and object pronouns that receive the action (me, you, him, her, it, us, and them).

There are 7 main types of pronouns: 

Personal pronouns, Reflexive pronouns, Relative pronouns, Possessive pronouns, Demonstrative pronouns, Indefinite pronouns, and Interrogative pronouns.

Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

Which is a possessive pronoun?

What is the first-person singular independent genitive pronoun?

What is the first-person plural dependent genitive pronoun?

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