Pronouns

Pronouns – Definition and Concept

A Pronoun is a part of a speech that is used instead of a noun, to refer to that particular noun. Pronouns are primarily of three types (first, second and third person pronouns). For example:

  • Raghav is one of the studious kids of the Jadhavpur branch. We expect a good performance from him (pronoun ‘him’ replacing noun ‘Raghav’)
  • You’ve picked the wrong horse, mate. He is limping already. (pronoun ‘he’ replacing noun ‘horse’)
  • Could you please pass the bowl? It’s out of my reach. (pronoun ‘it’ replacing noun ‘bowl’)
  • This is the longest flight of stairs I have ever seen. (pronoun ‘I’ referring to the speaker)

Since pronouns refer to a noun, it is sometimes necessary for the noun to be mentioned once in the conversation or paragraph.

Though pronouns have similar characteristics as the nouns they replace, we here learn about them in particular.

At the end of the article, the reader will be able to:

  • Identify and classify the pronouns into different types
  • Understand the difference between pronouns and determiners
  • Understand agreement between different personal pronouns and their verbs

There are different types of pronouns. In this section, we enlist, define and cite examples for all of them, excluding the determiners, which we learn in the next sections.

Personal Pronouns

This is the primary and the largest type of pronouns. In the English language, we have three persons, depending on the speaker.

  • First person is the speaker. Pronouns that refer to the speaker or the group of speakers are first person pronouns.
  • Second person is the immediate recipient. Second person pronouns are used to refer to the immediate listeners.
  • Third person is the one not participating in the conversation. Third person pronouns, as the name suggests refer to third parties not participating in the conversations.

All personal pronouns have first, second and third person forms. We learn all of them in the classification of personal pronouns here.

Personal pronouns generally are of the following types:

Subject Pronouns

Observe the following examples:

  • I have been to this place before.
  • We are a tightly knit group.
  • You are a second rate physician.
  • You will be joining the other team there.
  • He has an appointment with us this afternoon.
  • At this rate, they will need reinforcements.

The most basic form of pronouns are the ones that directly replace the subject noun of the verb, as in the above examples. These are called subject pronouns.

There are three different types of subject pronouns:

  • First person subject pronouns: I (singular), We (plural)
  • Second person subject pronouns: You (both singular and plural)
  • Third person subject pronouns: He, she, it (all singular), they (plural)

Object Pronouns

Now observe the following examples:

  • The convoy will come around for me.
  • He has an appointment with us this afternoon.
  • They need you to look for survivors.
  • Recruits, we expect you to complete all trials.
  • The minister needs him ready for trial.
  • They need it back in one piece.
  • We need them ready and operational by tomorrow.

The pronouns (in boldface) replace the nouns that were supposed to be object of the verb. These pronouns are thus called object pronouns.

There are three different types of object pronouns:

  • First person subject pronouns: me (singular), us (plural)
  • Second person subject pronouns: You (both singular and plural)
  • Third person subject pronouns: Him, her, it (all singular), them (plural)

Intensive pronouns

Intensive pronouns are the ones that refer to the subject noun again. Intensive nouns re-emphasize the subject noun or pronoun after it has already been mentioned once. Let us look at the following examples.

  • I need to do this myself to be ready for tomorrow.
  • We must keep this ourselves.
  • Will you represent the client yourself?
  • He himself has to finish this task.
  • They will perform the play themselves.

The pronouns (in boldface) do not replace any noun, but simply re-emphasize the subject of the verb, which in the above examples are the pronouns (in italics). They are also called emphatic pronouns and have a variant called reflexive pronouns that we learn in the next section.

There are three different types of object pronouns:

  • First person subject pronouns: myself (singular), ourselves (plural)
  • Second person subject pronouns: yourself (singular), yourselves (plural)
  • Third person subject pronouns: Himself, herself, itself (all singular), themselves (plural)

Pronouns of Reference

When pronouns neither modify a noun nor emphasize it, but still act as nouns, we cannot classify them as personal pronouns. Such pronouns may refer to a noun or another pronoun in the sentence. We study two of that kind here.

Reflexive Pronouns

Reflexive Pronouns are those that make the verb refer back to the subject. Some examples include:

  • I surrendered myself to the Captain.
  • He won’t be hurting himself.
  • They sacrificed themselves to a blind cause.
  • We present ourselves as the witness to the crime.

As we observe in the above examples, the same words act as intensive pronouns and reflexive pronouns under different circumstances. Observe both the sets of examples. The reflexive pronouns make the same pronoun act as both the object and the subject. The pronouns in boldface are the objects to the verb (in italics).

Thus the difference between reflexive and intensive pronouns is that while the former is the object to the verb, the latter is still the subject of the verb.

Reciprocal Pronouns

  • In a round robin contest, each of the participants faces the others.
  • Why do we always have to test one another?
  • They have to make peace with each other.

Reciprocal pronouns are those that make the participants of a subject or noun to each other. Hence, reciprocal pronouns refer only to plural forms of nouns, pronouns or noun phrases. For instance, in the second example above, we see how the pronoun ‘one another’ draws a reference between participants of the pronoun ‘we’.

Pronouns and Determiners – Differences in their types

In the article on adjectives, we’ve learnt all about determiners. In this section we learn how to distinguish between determiners and pronouns. First, let us look at the following examples.

  • You have to drive on this side of the road.
  • Place your card in that slot.
  • This closet should have the answers to their
  • My application has been rejected.

We have, in the article on adjectives learned how these words (in boldface) describe the nouns that follow them, by providing limited information. (We have picked the same examples from that article) What these words also do is refer the verb to these nouns (another way of looking at the words). Thus these determiners also perform the work of pronouns.

However, some examples of possessives, interrogatives and demonstratives do not describe the noun, but simply replace it. These will hence be examples of pronouns.

Let us compare each type using examples:

Possessive Pronouns and Determiners

Possessive Pronouns refer to a noun they replace. Possessive Determiners describe the ownership of the noun they precede.

  • This is my (Possessive Determiner) book.
  • The book is mine. (Possessive Pronoun)
  • Their cultures are different. (Possessive Determiner)
  • There are differences in the cultures of theirs. (Possessive Pronoun)
  • Let’s get back to our (Possessive Determiner)
  • Let’s get back to the base of ours. (Possessive Pronoun)

Upon comparison, we observe that the words ‘my’, ‘their’ and ‘our’ give information about the owner of the nouns ‘book’, ‘cultures’ and ‘base’. Thus they will be possessive determiners.

However the words ‘mine’, ‘theirs’ and ‘ours’ simply replace the nouns and indicate possession by those nouns. Thus they will be possessive pronouns.

Demonstrative Pronouns and Determiners

Demonstrative Pronouns refer to a noun they replace. Demonstrative Determiners describe the location of the noun they precede.

  • This book is mine. (‘This’ describes the location of the book)
  • This is my book. (‘This’ refers to the noun book)
  • That culture is entirely different. (‘That’ describes the location of the culture)
  • That is an entirely different culture. (‘That’ refers to the noun culture)
  • These men aren’t the ones I was expecting. (‘These’ describes the location of the men)
  • These aren’t the men I was expecting. (‘This’ refers to the noun men)

Again, we notice the difference between the roles played by the same words in the examples above. Just like the Possessives, Demonstrative determiners describe the noun while Demonstrative pronouns refer to the noun.

Interrogative Pronouns and Determiners

Interrogative Pronouns refer to a noun they replace. Demonstrative Determiners describe the ambiguity of the noun they precede.

By now, you must have figured out that whatever the type, determiners need to immediately precede the noun they describe in order to be perceived as an adjective, while pronouns can be placed anywhere with respect to the nouns they replace or refer to. In most cases, we can use that idea to distinguish between the determiners and pronouns, which would prove handy in this particular case. Observe the following examples:

  • What are you working on?
  • What work are you a part of?
  • We need to know which of these the poisonous pill is.
  • We need to know which pill is poisoned.
  • They will be burying whatever we leave behind.
  • They will be burying whatever evidence we have.

The standard method of classifying these into pronouns and determiners is a little difficult, but let’s give it a try.

In the first example, the interrogative ‘what’ refers the verb to the subject pronoun ‘you’, and so do the words ‘which’ & ‘whatever’. Hence they will be interrogative pronouns.

In the first example, the interrogative ‘what’ describes the ambiguity (the unknown aspect) of the noun ‘work’, and so do the words ‘which’ & ‘whatever’. Hence they will be interrogative determiners.

Hence we realise that while the same set of words are both pronouns and determiners, their roles are a bit different.

Subject-Verb agreement by Person

The form of the verb of a sentence is primarily influenced by three factors: number, person and tense. While nouns are generally in the third person, pronouns can be of all three persons. Thus we now discuss the agreement between a subject and verb depending on the person of the subject.

First Person Pronouns

When the subject is in the first person, both singular and plural root, present participle and past participle forms of the verb are identical. Examples include:

  • I consider your application for the post of software consultant. (root form)
  • We consider your application for the post of software consultant. (root form)
  • I presented you the terms of our agreement. (past participle form)
  • We presented you the terms of our agreement. (past participle form)
  • I will be expecting your compliance soon. (present participle form)
  • We will be expecting your compliance soon. (present participle form)

The auxiliary verb ‘am’, ‘was’ is used with the singular form wherever required, while ‘are’, ‘were’ is used with the plural form. Both forms use the auxiliary ‘have’.

  • I am bringing the backup drive now.
  • We are bringing the backup drive now.
  • I was supposed to be with him.
  • We were supposed to be with him.
  • I have brought all the attachments.
  • We have brought all the attachments.

Second Person Pronouns

Second person pronouns are the same in both singular and plural forms and thus will be taking the same form irrespective of number. Also only plural forms of the auxiliary verb are used wherever required.

  • You do whatever needs to be done.
  • You are manipulating the records.
  • You have always remained a disgrace to the force.

Third Person Pronouns

When the subject is in the third person, both singular and plural, present participle and past participle forms of the verb are identical. However, the root form is slightly altered for the singular form. Examples include:

  • He considers your application for the post of software consultant. (root form)
  • They consider your application for the post of software consultant. (root form)
  • She presented you the terms of our agreement. (past participle form)
  • They presented you the terms of our agreement. (past participle form)
  • He will be expecting your compliance soon. (present participle form)
  • They will be expecting your compliance soon. (present participle form)

The auxiliary verb ‘is’, ‘was’ is used with the singular form wherever required, while ‘are’, ‘were’ is used with the plural form. The singular forms use the auxiliary ‘has’ while the plural uses the auxiliary ‘have’.

  • He is bringing the backup drive now.
  • They are bringing the backup drive now.
  • She was supposed to be with him.
  • They were supposed to be with him.
  • She has brought all the attachments.
  • They have brought all the attachments.

Conclusion

Thus we have explored different aspects of pronouns. Agreement of pronouns with the verb will be explored in the article on Subject-Verb agreement.