Using pronouns in English

- A pronoun is a word that can replace a noun or a noun phrase. They are very versatile and can do anything, grammatically speaking, that a noun can do. They may act as the subject, direct object, or indirect object of a sentence. There are a wide variety of types of pronouns, and they are frequently used to avoid repeating the same noun again later in the sentence or paragraph.

Annie wished that she could fly.
I didn’t know anything about it.
Type of pronoun Definition Examples
Indefinite pronoun Refers to one or more unspecified noun. Anybody, anything, each, either, nobody, something, someone, etc.
Personal pronoun Refers to a specific noun. I, you, he, she, it, we, they, me, him, her, us, them
Possessive pronoun Indicated possession or ownership. My, mine, our, ours, its, his, her, hers, their, theirs, your and yours
Demonstrative pronoun Used to point out something specific. This, that, these, those, such, none, neither
Reflexive pronoun Ends in -self or -selves. Myself, yourself, himself, herself, oneself, ourselves, themselves, itself
Relative pronoun Refers to a previously mentioned noun. Who, whom, that, which, whomever, whoever, whichever, etc.
Interrogative pronoun Used to introduce a question. What, which, when, where, why, who, whose, etc.
Reciprocal pronoun Used to indicate mutual action. Each other, one another
Intensive pronoun Ends in -self or -selves just as reflexive pronouns do, but used to emphasize their antecedents. They are grammatically non-essential to the sentence. Myself, yourself, himself, themselves, itself, etc.

- Many people confuse nominative and objective pronouns. In this sentence, for example, "Your secret is safe with John and I," it should really be: "Your secret is safe with John and me." To check yourself, take the other person out of the sentence, and it will become clearer. Nominative pronouns are used as subjects in a sentence, while objective pronouns are used as objects.

Nominative pronouns
(used in place of the subject)
I, you, he, she, it, we, they
Objective pronouns
(used in place of the object)
Me, you, him, her, it, us, them

Nominative pronouns:

She went to the store.
We watched a movie last night.
It was very hot.

Objective pronouns:

Carina spoke to us yesterday.
Reba explained the project to Todd and me earlier today.

- The quickest way to distinguish between who and whom is to use the he/him method. Replace the who or whom with either he or him. This method is actually quite simple once you’ve given it a try.

Him= whom

- Let’s take this question as an example:

  1. Who/whom called the police? We need to decide which is correct.
  2. Rewrite the question using either he or him.
    à He called the police. This means the sentence requires who.
  3. The answer is : Who called the police?

- Whose is a possessive pronoun and is used to identify who owns a specific object.

Whose shoes are in the hallway?
The shoes belong to Jimmy.
Whose car has enough seats?
Clara’s car has enough seats!

- Who, that, and which can all be used as relative pronouns in a sentence (meaning they are used to refer back to a noun previously mentioned). This means that they can be easily confused if you don’t understand how each one is used.

- The first question you should ask is whether or not the noun is a human. "Who" is a relative pronoun that always refers to humans, while "that" and "which" usually refer to things.

I am the kind of person who likes math.
The teacher who started last week is very young.

- Things get a little more complicated when trying to distinguish when to use "that" or "which." To start, both American and British English agree that you should never use that to introduce a non-restrictive relative clause (a clause that is nonessential to the sentence). Furthermore, commas should offset non-restrictive relative clauses. This means that, if you are going to have a clause in the middle of the sentence set apart with commas, it is probably best to use "which" to begin the clause.

My blue car, which I bought last year, is having engine problems.
The dog, which is grey, is lipping.

- When it comes to restrictive relative clauses, the rules vary between British and American English. American English uses "that" rather than "which" to introduce a restrictive clause. On the other hand, it is acceptable to use either in British English. There is no comma before a restrictive clause.

British English: Sally wore the shoes which looked best.
American English: Sally wore the shoes that looked best.

- So what’s the difference between "what" and "which" when they are being used as interrogative pronouns? There’s little difference between the two; however, English speakers prefer to use "which" when there are a limited number of choices. "What" is used for questions where the answer is unlimited.

Which What
Which dessert are you going to choose? What is your favorite dessert?
Which teacher do you prefer? What did you learn today?
Which language is easier to learn — Spanish or Arabic? What will you do tomorrow?

- When it comes to pronoun order, there are a few basic rules to follow. Firstly, place the first person pronoun (I or me) after any other pronoun. Secondly, place third person pronouns (he, she, it, or a name) first.

Bret and I went to the movies last night.
He sent a copy to Jane and me.

- When speaking or in informal writing, it is perfectly fine to switch the order occasionally. The meaning of the sentence will not be lost.

- Reflexive pronouns can take on three different roles within a sentence: as direct objects, indirect objects, and prepositional complements.

- Reflexive pronouns are used as direct objects with transitive verbs. The direct object in this kind of sentence receives the action of the verb.

Transitive verbs examples
Enjoy Help Hurt
Introduce Prepare Teach
Satisfy Cut Blame
I hurt myself while skiing last week.
Bob taught himself to dance.
She introduced herself to me this morning.

- They can also be indirect objects. In this case, the indirect objects show for whom the action is being performed.

I bought myself a dress.
He got himself another beer.

- Prepositional complements help by indicating the meaning of a prepositional phrase.

She left the keys for herself under the mat.
I bought some flowers for myself.

- Unlike many other languages, English doesn’t use reflexive pronouns after verbs that describe typical things people usually do for themselves. For example: to wash, to shave, to dress, etc. The only reason to add a reflexive pronoun after a verb like this is for emphasis.

Tom shaved yesterday.
Tom shaved himself despite his broken arm.

- In definite pronouns don’t refer to a specific person, place, or thing. They all begin with one of four qualifiers: some, any, every, or no.

Transitive verbs examples
Person Place Thing
Everywhere Everything
Somewhere Something
Anywhere Anything
No one
Nowhere Nothing

- The pronouns with "some" or "any" qualifiers are used to describe incomplete or indefinite quantities.

I want to travel somewhere this summer.
It’s so hot outside! I’d go swimming anywhere.

- The pronouns with "every" describe a complete quantity, while "no" describes an absence.

Everything is booked for our trip.
Nothing has arrived.

- To form a negative sentence with an indefinite pronoun you must use "any."

I don’t know anybody at this party.
She didn’t bring anything the meeting.

"One" can be used as a pronoun in many different ways. It can be used numerically, to represent a general group or people, as a reflexive pronoun, or even a possessive pronoun. It can be singular (one) or plural (ones).

Reflexive: If one falls on ice, one could hurt oneself badly.
Possessive: One must learn from one’s experiences.
Numerical: I have two dresses. One is blue and the other is pink.
Plural: I like most types of pie. The fruit ones are my favorite.