Pronouns are small words that take the place of a noun. We can use a pronoun instead of a noun. Pronouns are words like: he, you, ours, themselves, some, each... If we didn't have pronouns, we would have to repeat a lot of nouns. We would have to say things like:
- Do you like the president? I don't like the president. The president is too pompous.
With pronouns, we can say:
- Do you like the president? I don't like him. He is too pompous.
Personal pronouns represent specific people or things. We use them depending on:
- number: singular (eg: I) or plural (eg: we)
- person: 1st person (eg: I), 2nd person (eg: you) or 3rd person (eg: he)
- gender: male (eg: he), female (eg: she) or neuter (eg: it)
- case: subject (eg: we) or object (eg: us)
We use personal pronouns in place of the person or people that we are talking about. My name is Josef but when I am talking about myself I almost always use "I" or "me", not "Josef". When I am talking direct to you, I almost always use "you", not your name. When I am talking about another person, say John, I may start with "John" but then use "he" or "him". And so on.
Here are the personal pronouns, followed by some example sentences:
Examples (in each case, the first example shows a subject pronoun, the second an object pronoun):
- I like coffee.
- John helped me.
- Do you like coffee?
- John loves you.
- He runs fast.
- Did Ram beat him?
- She is clever.
- Does Mary know her?
- It doesn't work.
- Can the engineer repair it?
- We went home.
- Anthony drove us.
- Do you need a table for three?
- Did John and Mary beat you at doubles?
- They played doubles.
- John and Mary beat them.
When we are talking about a single thing, we almost always use it. However, there are a few exceptions. We may sometimes refer to an animal as he/him or she/her, especially if the animal is domesticated or a pet. Ships (and some other vessels or vehicles) as well as some countries are often treated as female and referred to as she/her. Here are some examples:
- This is our dog Rusty. He's an Alsation.
- The Titanic was a great ship but she sank on her first voyage.
- My first car was a Mini and I treated her like my wife.
- Thailand has now opened her border with Cambodia.
For a single person, sometimes we don't know whether to use he or she. There are several solutions to this:
- If a teacher needs help, he or she should see the principal.
- If a teacher needs help, he should see the principal.
- If a teacher needs help, they should see the principal.
We often use it to introduce a remark:
- It is nice to have a holiday sometimes.
- It is important to dress well.
- It's difficult to find a job.
- Is it normal to see them together?
- It didn't take long to walk here.
We also often use it to talk about the weather, temperature, time and distance:
- It's raining.
- It will probably be hot tomorrow.
- Is it nine o'clock yet?
- It's 50 kilometres from here to Cambridge.
A demonstrative pronoun represents a thing or things:
- near in distance or time (this, these)
- far in distance or time (that, those)
Here are some examples with demonstrative pronouns, followed by an illustration:
- This tastes good.
- Have you seen this?
- These are bad times.
- Do you like these?
- That is beautiful.
- Look at that!
- Those were the days!
- Can you see those?
- This is heavier than that.
- These are bigger than those.
We use possessive pronouns to refer to a specific person/people or thing/things (the "antecedent") belonging to a person/people (and sometimes belonging to an animal/animals or thing/things).
We use possessive pronouns depending on:
- number: singular (eg: mine) or plural (eg: ours)
- person: 1st person (eg: mine), 2nd person (eg: yours) or 3rd person (eg: his)
- gender: male (his), female (hers)
Below are the possessive pronouns, followed by some example sentences. Notice that each possessive pronoun can:
- be subject or object
- refer to a singular or plural antecedent
|number||person||gender (of "owner")||possessive pronouns|
- Look at these pictures. Mine is the big one. (subject = My picture)
- I like your flowers. Do you like mine? (object = my flowers)
- I looked everywhere for your key. I found John's key but I couldn't find yours. (object = your key)
- My flowers are dying. Yours are lovely. (subject = Your flowers)
- All the essays were good but his was the best. (subject = his essay)
- John found his passport but Mary couldn't find hers. (object = her passport)
- John found his clothes but Mary couldn't find hers. (object = her clothes)
- Here is your car. Ours is over there, where we left it. (subject = Our car)
- Your photos are good. Ours are terrible. (subject = Our photos)
- Each couple's books are colour-coded. Yours are red. (subject = Your books)
- I don't like this family's garden but I like yours. (subject = your garden)
- These aren't John and Mary's children. Theirs have black hair. (subject = Their children)
- John and Mary don't like your car. Do you like theirs? (object = their car)
We use interrogative pronouns to ask questions. The interrogative pronoun represents the thing that we don't know (what we are asking the question about).
There are four main interrogative pronouns: who, whom, what, which
Notice that the possessive pronoun whose can also be an interrogative pronoun (an interrogative possessive pronoun).
Look at these example questions. In the sample answers, the noun phrase that the interrogative pronoun represents is shown in bold.
|Who told you?||John told me.||subject|
|Whom did you tell?||I told Mary.||object|
|What's happened?||An accident's happened.||subject|
|What do you want?||I want coffee.||object|
|Which came first?||The Porsche 911 came first.||subject|
|Which will the doctor see first?||The doctor will see the patient in blue first.||object|
|There's one car missing. Whose hasn't arrived?||John's (car) hasn't arrived.||subject|
|We've found everyone's keys. Whose did you find?||I found John's (keys).||object|
Note that we sometimes use the suffix "-ever" to make compounds from some of these pronouns (mainly whoever, whatever, whichever). When we add "-ever", we use it for emphasis, often to show confusion or surprise. Look at these examples:
- Whoever would want to do such a nasty thing?
- Whatever did he say to make her cry like that?
- They're all fantastic! Whichever will you choose?