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Understanding Pronouns

Use these online pronoun lessons for Grade 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, elementary, middle school, and high school students and teachers to learn and understand pronouns and how pronouns are used in English grammar.


Personal Pronoun
Relative Pronoun
Interrogative Pronoun
Demonstrative Pronoun
Indefinite Pronoun
Intensive and Reflexive Pronoun
Pronoun Case
Nominative or Subjective Case
Objective or Accusative Pronoun
Possessive or Genitive Pronoun
Functions of Possessive Pronouns
Functions of Independent Possessive Pronouns

Although a pronoun often takes the place of a noun in a sentence, the pronoun is sometimes a word that lacks specific meaning. Indefinite pronouns like anyone, something, somebody mean only that unspecified people or things are referred to.

When pronouns replace other words, the carry the meaning of these replaced words. The replaced words are called the antecedent of the pronoun. The antecedent of a pronoun is usually a noun and its modifiers, if any, but sometimes the antecedent can be a whole sentence.

          The dog lost its bone. [Its replaces the dog.]

          The old man, who had his car stolen, was in shock. [Who replaces the old man.]

Personal Pronoun

The personal pronouns are distinguished by person, case, and number.

FIRST PERSON (the person speaking or writing)
Case               Singular               Plural
Nominative       I                          we
Possessive      my, mine              our, ours
Objective         me                       us

SECOND PERSON (the person addressed)
Case                Singular              Plural
Nominative       you                     you
Possessive       your, your           your, yours
Objective          you                     you

In the third person, pronouns are also distinguished by gender.

THIRD PERSON (the person, place, or thing spoken or written about)
Case               Singular           Plural
                      Masculine.        Feminine.             Neut
Nominative       he                   she                      it they
Possessive       his                  her, hers              it their, theirs
Objective          him                 her                      it them

Relative Pronoun

When a sentence is embedded inside another sentence to function as a relative clause, a relative pronoun replaces the repeated noun in order to make the new sentence grammatical.

          Magic Johnson, who has all the moves, could not be stopped.

          The tools that he bought yesterday were specked with rust.

Who, whom, whose, that refer to people; which, of which, that refer to things. Sometimes the relative pronoun can be omitted altogether: The tools he bought yesterday were specked with rust.

Interrogative Pronoun

The interrogative pronouns who, whom, whose, which, what, are some of the words that introduce questions. Who, whom, and whose indicate that the expected answer will be a person: what indicates that the answer will be something nonhuman; which may be used for either persons or things.

          Who was the chairman?       Answer: John

          What was he carrying?        Answer: a suitcase

          Which girl was hurt?            Answer: Justine

Demonstrative Pronoun

The demonstrative pronouns this, these, that, those indicate nearness to or distance from the speak, literally or figuratively. The antecedent of the pronoun is usually in another clause or sentence. sometimes the reference is too general for there to be a specific antecedent.

          This is my father, Mr. Rodriguez, and those are my children, Juanita and Armando. [The antecedent Mr. Rodriguez is literally closer to the speaker than are his children.]

          Marcellus would climb trees at night. This disturbed his mother. [The antecedent of this is the sentence about Marcellus' nocturnal tree-climbing.]

          Be gentle to those who stay angry. [Those has no antecedent, in the normal sense of the word. The reference is limited by the relative clause that follows it.]

Indefinite Pronoun

The indefinite pronouns are so named because their antecedents are usually vague or unknown. These are such words as each, all, either, anyone, somebody, everyone, whoever, whatever. They form the possessive case in the same manner as nouns: anyone's, somebody else's.

Intensive and Reflexive Pronoun

Personal pronouns ending with self or selves (myself, ourselves, itself, etc.) have two functions. The first is to repeat the noun antecedent in order to emphasize and intensify the meaning: Mary herself was responsible. The second function is also to repeat the noun antecedent but in a different part of the sentence.

          I hurt myself [Myself repeats I, but it functions as the object and the antecent I functions as the subject.]

          Myself should not be used in place of me: He is going to the hockey game with Michelle and myself [Me should be used.]

Pronoun Case

Case is a form change that denotes the relation of a noun or a pronoun to other words in the sentence. In English, nouns have only one form change that could be called a case change, the apostrophe form (possessive case). (See Possessive Case in the section on Nouns.) Some pronouns have three or four case forms. They are the personal pronouns and the two relative pronouns who and whoever.

Nominative or Subjective Case

The pronoun forms I, we, you, it, he, she, they, who, whoever are in the nominative case. The uses of the nominative case follow:

Expressing a subject:

          Jason and I are going to the pizza parlor. [Me and Jason and Jason and me are not acceptable in the standard dialect.]

          I don't know who stole the peach tree. [Who is the subject of stole.]

          Give it to whoever comes. [Whoever is the subject of comes, not the object of to. The object of to is the whole clause whoever comes.]

Expressing the subject repeated:

          Three members of our club gave woodwind recitals -- Glynis, Paul, and I. [The subject is repeated by Glynis, Paul, and I. This repeated structure is called an appositive.]

Expressing the subject when the verb is deleted:

          He is more articulate than she. [The verb is after she has been deleted because it is understand, and to repeat it would be redundant.]

          He plays as well as I. [The verb play has been deleted. Many speakers find this construction unduly self-conscious, so they add a word that takes the place of a verb.] He plays as well as I do.

Coming after the verb be: Some educated speakers find the nominative case after be so artificial that they will sometimes prefer to use the objective form of the pronoun.

          It was they who found the dog. [OBJECTIVE: It was them who found the dog.]

          That must be she. [OBJECTIVE: That must be her.]

          It is I. [OBJECTIVE: It is me.]

Objective or Accusative Pronoun

The pronoun forms me, us, her, him, them, whom, whomever are in the objective case. There is no case distinction for you and it in the objective. The same is true, in English, for all nouns. The uses of the objective case follow:

Expressing the object of a verb, verbal, or preposition:

          Shoving me before him, he forced me down the alley.

          My brother came between Carlos and me. [Sometimes people will say between Carlos and I under the mistaken impression that polite people always say I rather than me.]

          Whom were they talking about? [Whom is the object of the preposition about. In writing, whom must always be used in this context. In speaking, who is becoming acceptable: Who were they talking about? ]

Expressing the object repeated:

          The police ticketed three members of our group, Garcia, McEwan, and me.

Expressing the object when the verb is deleted:

          Mr. Anderson did not recommend him as highly as me. [As he did me is also possible here.]

Expressing the nominal before the infinitive:

          We wanted him to suffer. [A nominal is a word that is not a noun but functions as one.]

Possessive or Genitive Pronoun

There are two sets of pronoun forms in the possessive case:

          1. my our your her his its their whose
          2. mine ours yours hers his its theirs whose

The first set of pronouns function as noun modifiers (his escape, my wife) and are called here possessives. The second set of pronouns function as nominals (This is mine; Whose were found?) and are called here independent possessives.

As we have seen, nouns (see Possessive Case in the section on Nouns) and indefinite pronouns (see Pronouns) also have a possessive case.

Functions of Possessive Pronouns

Possessives function as determiners before nouns.

The meanings usually conveyed by these possessive determiners are possession, connection, the performer of an act, and the classification of a thing.

          Whose car was stolen? [The question asks about the possession of a car.]

          the bureau's lawyers [The bureau does not possess the lawyers so much as the lawyers are connected to the bureau.]

Possessive pronouns function in gerund phrases as in the introducer of the phrase. They also function as the substitute for the nominative case which expresses the performer of the action. thus He was leaving becomes his leaving.

          His leaving at dawn upset his father.

          The girl's singing of Brahm's "Lullaby" was musical. [This gerund phrase must not be confused with a participle phrase, which is the following sentence modifies the nominative case girl: The girl singing in the next room is my sister.]

There are some exceptions to the rule that gerund phrases are started by a possessive noun or pronoun.

          He slipped away without anybody in the room noticing him. [The possessive form is not used because it does not immediately precede the gerund.]

          Luis saw him leaving the parking lot. [After verbs like see, hear, and watch, the objective form of the pronoun or noun is used.]

          Throwing the bola is not easy. [The action is so general that the writer has nobody in particular in mind. therefore, no noun or pronoun introduces the gerund phrase.]

Functions of Independent Possessive Pronouns

Independent possessives are nominals; that is, they function as subjects, objects, or complements as nouns do.

          I wonder whose this is. [Whose is the complement of the verb is. Note that this whose differs from the who's in Who's there?]

          His was a fascinating personality. [His is the subject of the verb was.]

          He's a friend of Mother's and mine. [Mother's and mine are the objects of the preposition of.]


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