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Pronouns - 01
Personal, possessive, reflexive

A pronoun is a word typically used in place of (pro, in latin) a noun or a noun phrase. Using a pronoun helps to avoid repeating a person or thing already mentioned:

My son is at school. I think he (my son) is having a test.


There are several kinds of pronoun: personal, possessive, reflexive, reciprocal, indefinite, interrogative and relative.

  • Personal pronouns: I/me, you, he/him, she/her, it, we/us, they/them.
  • Possessive pronouns: mine, yours, his, hers, ours, theirs, its.
  • Reflexive pronouns: myself, herself, themselves, etc.
  • Indefinite pronouns: someone, anything, nobody, everything, etc.
  • Interrogative pronouns: who/whom, whose, which, what.
  • Relative pronouns: who/whom, whose, which, that.

Many determiners (this/that, these/those) and quantifiers (some, much etc.) can also be used as pronouns.

This document considers only the first three pronouns, the remaining will be seen in other documents. Possessive adjectives are also explained here.


1. Personal pronouns

Personal pronouns are called personal because they cover all the grammatical persons.

In English, personal pronouns are inflected to reflect whether they are used as subjects or objects, that is, if they are in a subjective or objective case. Actually, personal pronouns are almost the only type of pronouns where declension is used.

Person

Subjective

Objective

1st singular

I

me

2nd

you

you

2nd (archaic informal)

thou

thee

3th (masc/fem/neuter)

he, she, it

him, her, it

1st plural

we

us

2nd

you

you

3th

they

them

The archaic form is not used in modern English, but it can be found in old writings (like the Bible) or in poetry.

From the previous table, it can be seen that the pronoun must correspond in number with the noun being referenced. If the noun is singular, the pronoun must be singular, but if the noun is plural, the pronoun must also be plural.

Use of personal pronouns

The subjective pronouns are used:

  1. As the subject of a verb.

    I run. She sings. We eat.

  2. As complements of the verb to be.

    The winner was I. Was it they?

    However, in informal conversation, the objective case is often used.

    The winner was me. Was it them?

    But, if the pronoun is followed by a clause, then the objective form should be used.

    The winner was I at the last competition. Was it they that knocked the door?

The objective pronouns are used:

  1. As the direct object of a verb.

    She kissed me. The priest blessed them.

  2. As the indirect object of a verb. The indirect object comes before the direct object.

    Do not give him the ball. He sent us a message.

    The indirect object sometimes is expressed with the prepositions to or for. In this case, the direct object appears first and the indirect last.

    Do not give the ball to him. He sent a message for us.

    Usually, this form is used when the direct object is a pronoun.

    My boss introduced her to me (not: my boss introduced me her).

  3. After a preposition (at, by, from, in, of, on, with).

    We were beaten by them. Go with her.

The pronoun 'it'

The personal pronoun it is used for:

  1. Things and animals.

    The ball is red. Yes it is.

    Look at the lion. It is sleeping.

  2. In expressions of time, distance, weather, temperature.

    It is nine o'clock. It is far from here. It is raining. It is hot.

  3. In certain type of sentences (where the infinitive is the subject of the sentence).

    It is good to be alive. It is difficult to remember.

    Even though these could be rewritten without it, that construction is more usual.

    To be alive is good. To remember is difficult.

  4. To replace a clause at the beginning of a sentence (this is similar to the previous usage).

    It is good that he got the job. It is hoped that war will end today.

    Although unusual, the sentences could be rewritten without it.

    That he got the job is good. That war will end today is hoped.

  5. As subject for impersonal verbs.

    It appears. It seems.

2. Possessive adjectives and pronouns


Person

Possessive
Adjective

Possessive
Pronoun

1st singular

my

mine

2nd

your

yours

2nd (archaic informal)

thy

thine

3th (masc/fem/neuter)

his, her, its

his, hers, its

1st plural

our

ours

2nd

your

yours

3th

their

theirs

Usage

A possessive adjective (also known as a possessive determiner) always refers to the possessor (not to what is possessed). It introduces a noun or a noun phrase.

Possessive pronouns are used to replace possessive adjectives + nouns.

My car is red (= the car I own is red).

Mine is red.

The dog buried its bone.

The dog buried its.

This was their ball.

This was theirs.

The form of the possessive adjective does not depend on the number (singular or plural) of the thing possessed.

I sold my car.

I sold my cars.

Their house was big.

Their houses were big.

3. Reflexive Pronouns

Reflexive pronouns are formed by a personal pronoun (or a possessive adjective) + self / selves.

Person

Reflexive

1st singular

myself

2nd

yourself

3th (masc/fem/neuter)

himself, herself, itself

1st plural

ourselves

2nd

yourselves

3th

themselves

Usage

  1. Reflexive pronouns are used to refer back to the noun previously used in the same clause. Note the difference between the next two sentences.

    The boys washed themselves.

    The boys washed them.

    While the first sentence says that the act of washing returned to the boys (the subject and object of the verb is the same), the second one says that the washing was done to other persons.

  2. Reflexive pronouns are used in a similar way after a preposition.

    She did it by herself. I spoke to myself.

Used as emphasizing pronouns

  1. A reflexive pronoun can be used to emphasize a noun or a pronoun. As it stresses the subject of the verb, it usually is placed after the subject. However, it can also be placed after the verb (if it is intransitive) or after the object (if there is one).

    She herself sang.

    She sang herself.

    The man himself carried the bag.

    The man carried the bag himself.

  2. If the intransitive verb is followed by a preposition + noun, the emphasizing pronoun can be placed after this noun.

    The man himself went to Italy.

    The man went to Italy himself.

  3. If it is emphasizing another noun, then it is placed after it.

    I saw the Queen herself.

    The man carried the bag itself.

4. Reciprocal pronouns

Reciprocal pronouns are the word groups: each other and one another.

They are similar to the reflexive pronouns in that they also refer back to a noun previously mentioned in the same clause, except that they do it in a more complex way.

Compare the following two sentences.

The boys washed themselves.

The boys washed each other.

The first sentence says that each boy of the group washed himself, but the second one says that they washed in a reciprocal way (i.e. John washed George, George washed Peter and Peter washed John).

Again, compare the following two sentences.

John and Mary blamed themselves.

John and Mary blamed each other.

The word groups one another work the same way.

My family used to fight with one another.