9) Pronouns

Pronouns

1) Why do we need pronouns?

Now that we have an understanding of the different types of nouns, we can look at a class of words which is used to substitute for nouns, noun phrases and noun clauses: the pronouns. A pronoun replaces a noun in a sentence, and therefore has the same function: naming a person, animal, place, thing, quality, state or action. So what is it that makes pronouns different enough from nouns to give them their own word class? The most noticeable difference is that they do not use the specific name for the thing they are naming. This means that there are very few pronouns in comparison to the many – ever increasing – noun word class. Let’s take a look at an example.

Take the sentence:

She likes maths.

The pronoun here is ‘she’ which is substituting for a more specific name of this person such as:

Jennifer likes maths.

or

The professor likes maths.

As we can imagine, there are an endless number of nouns which ‘she’ could substitute in for, which include any name a girl could be given. Considering this, why would we limit ourselves to a less specific name when we have such as huge amount of more precise nouns to pick from? The answer to this question is improved rhythm and clarity. Take the sentence:

Ben went for a walk in the park because he needed to let everything he had just learnt about grammar sink into his head.

We start the sentence with the noun ‘Ben’, but then later on substitute it with the pronouns ‘he’, ‘he’, and ‘his’. Let’s write the sentence again, but with all the pronouns substituted for the noun ‘Ben’:

Ben went for a walk in the park because Ben needed to let everything Ben had just learnt about grammar sink into Ben’s head.

There are two things that make this sentence terrible. Firstly, the constant use of ‘Ben’ ruins the flow of the sentence, making it seem like an ever increasing speed bump every time it occurs. The second is that it is unclear whether the sentence is talking about one Ben or multiple different Bens. The pronoun solves both of these problems, and we have the best of both worlds because we are given both the specific name with the noun initially, then the pronouns from then on to provide a better rhythm and clarity. Let’s look at the sentence with the pronouns again:

Ben went for a walk in the park because he needed to let everything he had just learnt about grammar sink into his head.

What we have here is the noun, ‘Ben’, giving the specific name followed by a series of pronouns which substitute for that name. In this situation, the specific name –’Ben’ – is called the antecedent to the pronoun.

Another example, just to make sure we don’t start to think about pronouns as replacements for people’s names, is the sentence:

Grammar is often neglected because it is technical and its importance is not always obvious.

Can you see the antecedent noun and the pronouns of that sentence? The antecedent noun here is ‘Grammar’ and the pronouns are ‘it’ and ‘its’. Let’s replace all the pronouns with ‘grammar’ to see their effect again:

Grammar is often neglected because grammar is technical and grammar’s importance is not always obvious.

The flow and clarity of this sentence is poor.

Pronouns can also be used across sentences. For example, in the sentence:

Ben went for a walk in the park because he needed to let all the grammar he just learnt sink into his head. He found a short walk while playing with the ideas to be revealing and therapeutic.

This shows that we only need that first antecedent – here ‘Ben’ – and it is clear who the pronoun ‘He’ at the beginning of the next sentence is talking about.

Pronouns can also be used to replace noun phrases, clauses and gerunds. A gerund is a verbal noun which takes the base form of the verb and adds ‘ing’ on the end. We deal with them in detail later.

An example of a pronoun replacing a noun phrase can be seen in the following sentence:

The world’s population is increasing and it is projected to continue to rise into the future.

Here we have the noun phrase ‘The world’s population’ being the antecedent noun to the pronoun ‘it’ which replaces it. Without the pronoun it would be:

The world’s population is increasing and the world’s population is projected to continue to rise into the future.

An example of a pronoun replacing a noun clause can be seen in the following sentence:

At lunch we argued about what is going to be for dinner. It has to be something that everyone likes.

Here we have the noun clause ‘what is going to be for dinner’ as the antecedent noun, being replaced, in the second sentence, by the pronoun ‘it’. If we put the noun clause back in, we get:

At lunch we argued about what is going to be for dinner. What is going to be for dinner has to be something that everyone likes.

An example of a pronoun replacing a gerund can be seen in the following sentence:

Running is her favourite exercise because it allows her to enjoy nice views.

Here we have the gerund ‘running’ as the antecedent noun to the pronoun ‘it” which is replacing it. Don’t worry too much about gerunds right now; I just wanted to add them in to show that anything which acts like a noun can be replaced by a pronoun. This actually becomes very useful when trying to find nouns in sentences because we can check to see if the noun can be replaced by a pronoun.

2) Different types of pronouns

Pronouns have different classes relating to their functions. Let’s look at them next.

2.1 Personal pronouns

The personal pronouns are words used to replace the names of the person, animal, place, thing, quality, state or action which the noun defines. For example, in the sentence:

John hates exercise.

both ‘John’ and ‘exercise’ are nouns. We can replace them with personal pronouns, making the sentence:

He hates it.

There are different rules for the first, second and third person. But what exactly are the first, second and third person? We will look at it in detail a bit later, but let’s take a look in regards to subject pronouns now.

The first person is great for giving personal accounts of a situation and making the reader feel like they are in the moment. It is amazing how with one word changed we are given a totally different perspective, and suddenly feel a more intimate connection. For example:

John was destined to be a loser.

becomes

I was destined to be a loser.

It’s really the difference between someone telling you a story about someone else and telling you one about themselves.

You will find a quick reference table below with some example sentences. There is a difference here dependent on case, which is a concept we will deal with very soon. Briefly, we have the nominative case, which is when a word is the subject of a verb, the possessive case, which is when a word is expressing possession, and the objective case, which is when the word is an object. Don’t worry if it doesn’t make too much sense right now, it will be covered in detail shortly, and we will come back to the first, second and third person personal pronouns then.

First person (All of the below are correct for both masculine and feminine)

  Singular Plural
Nominative ‘I’

(e.g., ‘John loves exercise.’ becomes ‘I love exercise.’)

We’

(e.g., ‘The team loves exercise.’ becomes ‘We love exercise.’)

Possessive ‘My’ / ‘Mine’

(e.g., ‘John loves exercise.’ becomes ‘My brother loves exercise.’ or ‘The trophy is John’s.‘ becomes ‘The trophy is mine.’)

‘Our’ / ‘Ours’

(e.g., ‘John loves exercise.’ becomes ‘Our brother loves exercise.’ or ‘The trophy is the team’s‘ becomes ‘The trophy is ours.’

Objective ‘Me’

(e.g., ‘The party is for John.’ becomes ‘The party is for me.

‘Us’

(e.g., ‘The party is for the team.’ becomes ‘The party is for us.’)

Second person(All of the below are correct for both masculine and feminine)

The second person is very useful for giving instructions, and so educational materials and guides tend to use it a lot. Here is the reference table for the second person:

  Singular Plural
Nominative You You
Possessive Your/Yours Your/Yours
Objective You You

Third person

The third person removes the writer from the situation and gives them a more overlooking view. For this reason, it is also often used in writing which tries to be more objective, such as academic writing, or journalistic reporting. It is also commonly used in novels, as it allows the writer to jump between the thoughts of many different characters, rather than being focused on one. There are differences between masculine and feminine in the third person. Here is the reference table for the third person:

  Singular Plural
Nominative Feminine: ‘She’

Masculine: ‘He’

Neuter: ‘It’

‘They’
Possessive Feminine: ‘Her’/’Hers’

Masculine: ‘His’

Neuter: ‘Its’

‘Their’/’Theirs/
Objective Feminine: ‘Her’

Masculine: ‘Him’

Neuter: ‘It’

‘Them’

It is easy to get confused about when to use singular and when to use plural pronouns. The main confusion comes with the aforementioned collective nouns, which are nouns which name a group of things. The main thing to look for is whether the collective noun which is being replaced is referring to a group which are working together, or a group which are acting as individuals. An example where a group is acting as one is:

The jury is about to give its verdict.

Here we see a group of people – described by the collective noun ‘jury’ – working together as one. Therefore, the singular personal pronoun ‘its’ is used, rather than the plural ‘their.’

Now let’s look at an example where the group are working individually:

The jury had to formulate their own opinions before meeting to make the verdict.

This time the ‘jury’ are working individually, trying to figure out if they think the suspect is guilty or not. Therefore, the plural personal pronoun ‘their’ is used, rather than the singular ‘its.’

The difference between these two can be quite subtle. For example, look at these two sentences:

The jury was struggling to make its mind up.

The jury was struggling to make their minds up.

The first sentence is talking about the jury as one unit; therefore, it has the singular possessive personal pronoun ‘its’ and the corresponding singular noun ‘mind’. In contrast, in the second sentence, the jury are being spoken about as separate individuals; therefore, it has the plural possessive personal pronoun ‘their’ and the corresponding plural noun ‘minds’. The interesting thing here is that in the first sentence the jury must be disagreeing with each other if they are struggling to come to a decision. Consequently, part of me wants to write ‘their’ to indicate they are having different thoughts. However, the use of ‘mind’ indicates them as a singular mind, which made me use the singular ‘its.’

To clarify, the sentence:

The jury is struggling to make their mind up. (incorrect)

is wrong because the plural personal pronoun ‘their’ clashes with the singular noun ‘mind’. The effect of this is that the plural pronoun ‘their’ is indicating that the jury are working separately, whereas the singular noun ‘mind’ is indicating they are working as a single mind.

2.2 Demonstrative pronouns

There are only four demonstrative pronouns: this, that, these and those. Demonstrative pronouns are used to highlight a specific thing, or context, usually which has been mentioned elsewhere. There are two groups with a singular and plural in each:

  1. this (singular) / these (plural)
  2. that (singular) / those (plural).

Let’s take a look at sentences with the nouns in, then with demonstrative pronouns replacing them:

House number 53, Vine Street, East London is my new home.

This is my new home.

Straight away we can see that the first sentence is more instructive than the second. This is why demonstrative pronouns will often appear after the noun they are replacing has already been said elsewhere. For example, we might read:

I stood outside an alien street in East London, staring at the faded ’53’ painted on the front door. This is my new home.

Let’s compare ‘this’ with ‘that’:

House number 53, Vine Street, East London, my new home.

That is my new home.

There is a subtle difference between the two. Let’s look at the full example with ‘that’ instead of ‘this’:

I stood outside an alien street in East London, staring at the faded ’53’ painted on the front door. That is my new home.

How do you see the difference? For me, ‘that’ almost makes it seem more far away. ‘This is my room.’ compared to ‘That is my room.’ are perhaps more clear examples of that. In the former, it feels like he might be in the room, whereas, in the latter, it feels like he is outside the room pointing in. I also feel a bit like ‘This is my new home.’ is a bit more emotionally welcoming to the situation than ‘That is my new home.’ which I say in my head with a bit of scorn. For some reason ‘That is what is for dinner?’ sounds a little more derogatory towards the dinner than ‘This is what is for dinner?’ in my head.

Let’s have a quick look at some plural examples:

The Lake district’s hills are stunning.

These are stunning.

or

The Lake district’s hills are stunning.

Those are stunning.

Just to make things confusing the words, this, that, these and those can also be described as demonstrative adjectives. We will go into detail later with adjectives, here. Briefly, they are words which modify nouns, whereas pronouns replace them. This is how we show the difference between demonstrative pronouns and demonstrative adjectives. Let’s look at some examples of both put next to each other, starting with ‘this’:

Original sentence: ‘House number 53, Vine Street, East London, is my new home.’

Demonstrative pronoun: This/That is my new home. (‘This’/That’ replaces the noun phrase ‘House number 53, Vine Street, East London.’)

Demonstrative adjective: This/That house is my new home. (‘This’/’That’ modifies the noun ‘house.’)

Now with plural:

Original Sentence: The Lake district’s hills are stunning.

Demonstrative pronoun: These/Those are stunning. (‘These’/Those’ replaces the noun phrase ‘The Lake district’s hills’)

Demonstrative Adjective: These/Those hills are stunning. (‘These’/Those’ modifies the noun ‘hills’)

It is quite easy to get them mixed up. The trick is to remember the rule that a pronoun replaces a noun and an adjective modifies it.

2.3 The indefinite pronoun

The indefinite pronoun is for situations where we want to name something only in general terms. For example:

Losing my job, house, favourite socks, keys and slipping in ice always happens to me.

Everything always happens to me.

This is useful when trying to make a general comment about having bad luck. Going into detail about every single bit of bad luck would be a very long winded way of describing the feeling that bad luck always comes our way.

Another example is:

Dave broke into my house last night.

becomes

Someone broke into my house last night.

If we don’t know who broke into our house we can’t say the name of the person any more than ‘Someone’. The indefinite pronoun allows us to convey this uncertainty.

We must be careful not to get indefinite pronouns mixed up with indefinite adjectives. Remember, adjectives modify a noun, whereas pronouns replace a noun. Let’s look at some examples:

Indefinite pronoun: One should never be complacent. (‘One’ is the indefinite pronoun; it is in the place of a noun. E.g., ‘John should never be complacent.’)

Indefinite adjective: One person started protesting, then the others followed.’ (‘One’ is modifying the noun ‘person’ so it is an indefinite adjective)

Another couple of examples are:

Indefinite pronoun: Many don’t understand the policies they vote for. (‘Many’ is a pronoun, replacing a noun/noun phrase, as in ‘Most of the people who vote don’t understand the policies they vote for.’)

Indefinite adjective: Many people don’t understand the policies they vote for. (‘many’ is modifying the noun ‘people’ and therefore an indefinite adjective)

2.4 Relative pronoun

The role of the relative pronoun is to replace a noun as either the subject, or the object, of an adjective clause, and to relate this adjective clause back to an antecedent noun. An adjective is a word which modifies a noun, and a clause is two or more words which have a subject and a verb. Therefore, an adjective clause is a group of two or more words with a subject and a verb which modify a noun. Moreover, adjective clauses are subordinate clauses, meaning they cannot stand alone as complete sentences. Finally, adjective clauses always begin with either relative adverbs or the relative pronouns that, which, who, whom and whose.

OK, that was a lot to take in! Let’s look at an example:

One Tuesday he finished the book that changed his life.

Here we have the relative pronoun ‘that’ acting as the subject of the adjective clause ‘that changed his life’ – which itself is modifying the noun phrase ‘the book’. How is ‘that changed his life’ modifying the noun phrase ‘the book’? Well, it is giving an extra detail/property about ‘the book’; it isn’t just ‘the book’ it is ‘the book that changed his life’. Furthermore, this movement of relating ‘changed his life’ back to the antecedent noun ‘the book’ is why it is called a relative pronoun.

OK, so if the role of the relative pronoun is to replace a noun as a subject or object of an adjective clause then let’s look at an example of a noun being replaced:

She broke his heart; his heart closed forever

becomes

She broke his heart which closed forever.

Here ‘which’ is the relative pronoun, replacing the noun phrase ‘his heart’ so we don’t have to repeat it twice. It is also acting as the subject of the adjective clause ‘which closed forever’ which itself is modifying the noun phrase ‘his heart’. As well as preventing repetition, the relative pronoun is also working to link up the main clause ‘she broke his heart’ with the subordinate adjective clause ‘which closed forever’ by acting as the introducing word. This is a subordinate clause because it cannot stand alone as a sentence, whereas the main clause ‘she broke his heart’ can. If we look at the first sentence, we can see that without the relative pronoun ‘which’ we have two main clauses together in a compound sentence, linked together by a semi-colon. Both ‘she broke his heart’ and ‘his heart closed forever’ can stand alone as sentences.

Let’s look at another:

The crocodile – the crocodile was always hungry – ate the wilder-beast.

The crocodile, which was always hungry, ate the wilder-beast.

Here we have the relative pronoun ‘which’ acting as the subject of the adjective clause ‘which was always hungry’ which itself modifies the noun phrase ‘the crocodile’. In this example the repetition of ‘the crocodile’ in the first sentence is really awkward which is remedied by replacing it with the relative pronoun ‘which’. This shows how useful relative pronouns are for creating flowing sentences.

Relative pronouns are also often used to help distinguish a person more closely. For example:

The doctor, the doctor’s practice is on Wren street, is retiring soon.

becomes

The doctor, whose practice is on Wren street, is retiring soon.

Here we have the relative pronoun ‘whose’ acting as part of the subject in the adjective clause ‘whose practice is on Wren street’ which itself modifies the noun ‘the doctor’. The subject of ‘whose practice is on Wren street’ is actually the compound noun ‘whose practice’, not just ‘whose’. In fact, it could be said that ‘whose’ is working as an adjective here, modifying the noun ‘practice’.  Again, the first sentence is much more awkward than the second. In this case, we are finding out the extra detail about the doctor, allowing us to distinguish which doctor is meant without knowing her name.

An example where the pronoun is an object is:

‘He is the person; the person I admired.’ (which sounds a bit like 80s synth pop song lyrics to me)

becomes

He is the person whom I admired.

Here we have the relative pronoun ‘whom’ acting as the object of the adjective clause ‘whom I admired’ which itself is modifying the antecedent noun ‘the person’. In the adjective clause ‘whom I admired’ ‘I’ is the subject, ‘admired’ the verb and ‘whom’ the direct object. ‘Whom’ is the object because it is having something done to it by the subject ‘I’ (being ‘admired’). If you can remember back to direct objects, we find them by finding the subject then the verb and asking the questions ‘what?’ or ‘whom?’ after (subject + verb + what/whom?). In this case, the subject is ‘I’ and the verb is ‘admired’ so we ask: ‘I admired whom?’ Coincidentally, it turns out that the answer to this question is signified by the relative pronoun ‘whom’. If you compare both the top and bottom examples, it should help you remember that ‘whom’ – on the bottom example – is replacing ‘the person’ – on the top example – so, really, when we ask ‘I admired whom?’ and we answer with ‘whom’ we are really answering with ‘the person’ – which is being represented by ‘whom’.

Relative pronouns can also be objects of prepositions (sometimes also called prepositional complements) which is the word, phrase or clause which comes after a preposition. We deal with prepositions later. Briefly, a preposition links words together as in:

I left my shoes under the stairs.

Here ‘under’ is a preposition and it is linking the noun phrase ‘my shoes’ to the noun phrase ‘the stairs’. The object of the preposition is the word, phrase, or clause which directly follows the preposition. In this case, the preposition is ‘under’ and the prepositional complement is ‘the stairs’.

The relative pronouns ‘which’ and ‘whom’ can be objects of prepositions. For example:

That was an era beyond which we could not see.

Here we have the preposition ‘beyond’ at the beginning of the adjective clause ‘beyond which we could not see’ with the latter modifying the noun phrase ‘an era’. In this situation, the relative pronoun ‘which’ is considered the object of the preposition ‘beyond’ because it comes after the preposition. When the relative pronoun is an object of the preposition, it is also an object. Because it is an object, it is in the objective case, and this means a particular word is used. This isn’t that relevant with ‘which’ because it is the same whether it is a subject (subjective case) or an object (objective case) as already seen with this sentence, where ‘which’ is the subject, yet still the same form is used:

The crocodile, which was always hungry, ate the wilder-beast.

An example where it does matter if it is in the subjective or objective case is:

That is the woman to whom you should give the letter.

Here we have the preposition ‘to’ at the beginning of the adjective phrase ‘to whom you should give the letter’ which itself is modifying the noun phrase ‘the woman’. In this situation, the relative pronoun ‘whom’ is considered the object of the preposition ‘to’ because it comes after the preposition. Here the relative pronoun is in the objective case, and it does matter this time. If the relative pronoun was a subject, and therefore in the subjective case, it would be ‘who’ as in:

The lawyer, who was bored, fell asleep at his desk.

Here ‘who’ is the subject in the adjective clause ‘who was bored’. It would be wrong to write ‘whom’ in this situation; ‘whom’ is used in the objective case.

We don’t have to worry about singular and plural with relative pronouns, but, as we have seen, we do have to consider case. The following table summarises the different relative pronouns in relation to case:

Nominative/subjective Possessive Objective
Who Whose Whom
Which Whose Which
That Whose That

If you are writing about people, it is usually seen as correct to use ‘who,’ ‘whose’ and ‘whom.’ How about ‘that’ as in:

The farmer that loved all night parties was often tired.

This is debatable. I think it is generally more polite – and clear – to say:

The farmer who loved all night parties was often tired.

I say this because you are referring to a person, and ‘who’ makes that very clear. You might disagree though.

If you are writing about anything else, ‘which’ and ‘that’ are fine. For example:

The dog which was always hungry ate all the steak.

or

The book that was never read had no creases.

As we can see from the table, the possessive can only be described with ‘whose.’ So, we can write:

The farmer whose favourite past time was all night parties was always tired.

or

The dog whose favourite past time was eating ate all the food.

or

The book whose pages had no creases had never been read.

I have heard some argue that the final example about the ‘book’ shouldn’t use the possessive because a book can’t possess something. This sentence could be re-written with something like:

The book with no creases had never been read.

Or

The book had never been read; therefore, it had no creases.

In this case, I think the latter two do sound a bit better, but there may be times where it is really awkward to restructure a sentence meaning it may be better to go with ‘whose’.

2.5 The interrogative pronoun

An interrogative pronoun is a pronoun replacing a noun at the beginning of a sentence to become the person, animal, place, thing, quality, state or action that a question is being asked about. They are called ‘interrogative’ because they are part of an interrogative sentence; a sentence which involves a question. For example:

Dave threw you out?

becomes

Who threw you out?

Using ‘who’ allows us to ask a less presumptuous question than using a noun. This is the useful property of interrogative pronouns. In the other examples it isn’t easy to just switch the noun and pronoun, so I have just put sentences which are more specific with a noun, to show the difference:

Do you play the guitar?

What do you play?

 

Do you prefer dogs or cats?

Which do you prefer?

 

Is that Dave’s car outside?

Whose is that?

 

Shall we throw out Dave first?

Whom will we throw out first?

There are another group of words very similar to interrogative pronouns which it is easy to get mixed up with. These are the the interrogative adjectives.

As we have heard, adjectives are words which modify nouns. An interrogative adjective, therefore, is a word which modifies a noun in a sentence which is a question. The 3 interrogative adjectives are ‘which,’ ‘what’ and ‘whose.’ You may have noticed that these can also be considered  interrogative pronouns. I should note here that ‘who’ and ‘whom’ are also interrogative pronouns, but they cannot be interrogative adjectives. Let’s look at some examples comparing the two:

Interrogative pronoun: Which do you prefer?

Interrogative adjective: Which animal do you prefer? (‘which’ is modifying the noun ‘animal’, so it is an adjective.)

 

Interrogative pronoun: Whose is that?

Interrogative adjective: Whose car is that? (‘whose’ is modifying the noun ‘car’, so it is an adjective)

 

Interrogative pronoun: What do you play?

Interrogative adjective: What instrument do you play?'(‘what’ is modifying the noun ‘instrument’ making it an adjective)

As we can see, it can be only one word which makes the difference between the two, making it very easy to make that mistake.

It is interesting to try to come up with an interrogative adjective for:

Who threw you out?

and

Whom will we throw out first?

There aren’t any, because ‘who’ and ‘whom’ cannot be interrogative adjectives, though they are interrogative pronouns.

2.6 The numerical pronoun

Numerical pronouns designate numbers to things. This can be cardinal, or ordinal numbers. Cardinal numbers are numbers which tell us the quantity of something: ‘one’ ‘two’ ‘three’ etc. An example showing a noun, then a similar cardinal pronoun example is:

He was pushed by Peter from the year above.

He was pushed by one of the kids from the year above.

In this example, the sentence with the pronoun ‘one’ actually uses more words (‘one of the kids’) to replace the noun ‘Peter’. This might be useful if we don’t know which kid it was that did the pushing, or we don’t want to impart this information. Take another, similar example:

He was pushed by Peter, John, James, Ann, Mary, Joseph, Ben and Jack from the year above.

He was pushed by eight of the kids from the year above.

Here we see the pronoun taking on its trusty job of making the sentence shorter and more readable. This is useful if the detail of all of the names is unnecessary for the particular context, or, similar to before, if the names are not known or we don’t want to impart the information.

Here is another, slightly different, example:

The twins are getting big.

Those two are getting big.

This example doesn’t save us any words, but it does allow for a different description. We can imagine the first example being said by the mother about her ‘twins’ while having a cup of tea at someone’s house, whereas we can imagine the second being said by a friend while at the house seeing the twins for the first time in a while.

Ordinal numbers are those numbers which tell us the position, or order, of something: ‘first’ ‘second’ ‘third’ etc. Here is an example with the noun first, then the same point made with an ordinal pronoun:

He was the winner of the race.

He came first in the race.

This is perhaps a little redundant as a replacement, though it is a slightly more economical sentence.

How about something like:

He came last in the race.

Is ‘last’ a numerical pronoun? It would appear not, only because it doesn’t give a specific number. It certainly has a similar function of telling us what the order / position of something is, but the same could be said for ‘the winner’ which implies ‘first’ or number ‘one.’ Let’s look at it in an example where we are now thinking of it as a noun, then replace it with a pronoun. In this following example we should imagine that the race taking place has ten people in it:

He came last in the race.

He came tenth in the race.

Note how ‘last’ could be replaced by the ordinal pronoun ‘tenth’, and mean exactly the same thing, suggesting it isn’t an ordinal pronoun, but, instead, a noun.

2.7 The reflexive pronouns

Reflexive pronouns take the following personal pronouns:

  1. my, your, him, her, it (singular)
  2. our, your and them (plural).

and add ‘self’ (for singular) or ‘selves’ (for plural) onto the end which allows the subject to be referred back to by the object. In other words, the subject (thing being spoken about) is also the object (thing having something done to it), because it is doing something to itself. To try and make some sense of this, let’s look at some of the singular first.

In the following examples I used a name in the first sentence to show the noun being replaced by the reflexive pronoun in the second sentence underneath. Note that it would be very unusual to say the first examples in their particular contexts; for example, if your name was ‘John’ it would be weird to say ‘I love John’ when you meant ‘I love myself’.

Here is a first person singular example:

I love Chris.

I love myself.

Here the noun ‘Chris’ has been replaced with the reflexive pronoun ‘myself.’ The reflexive pronoun is the object of the sentence, but it actually refers back to the subject, which is ‘I’ – creating a loop, where the subject and the object are both ‘I’.

Here is a second person singular example:

You love Chris.

You love yourself.

Note how it would be extremely weird to go up to someone called ‘Chris’ and say ‘You love Chris’ when you really meant ‘You love yourself’.

Here are a couple of third person singular examples:

Chris loves Chris.

Chris loves himself. (I really wish I hadn’t started using my name in these examples now!)

Mel loves Mel.

Mel loves herself.

OK, so let’s look at some plural examples, next.

Here is a first person plural example:

We love humans.

We love ourselves.

There is an interesting distinction between these two. The first sentence could mean that we love other humans, or that we love ourselves. The second sentence is more clearly noting that it is ‘ourselves’ that we love; however, ‘ourselves’ could be interpreted as meaning ‘other people like us’, or, even, ‘humans’.

Here is a second person plural example:

You must all learn to be self sufficient.

You must all learn to help yourselves.

I found it a little harder to find a direct noun replacement here, but hopefully the above is still helpful.

Here is a third person plural example:

Humans love humans.

Humans love themselves.

2.8 Intensive/emphatic pronouns

All of the reflexive pronouns can also be called intensive/emphatic pronouns when they refer back to themselves to emphasise a point, or make it more intense. Let’s look at an example:

I, Chris, am the leader of my own bedroom.

becomes

I, myself, am the leader of my own bedroom.

Here we can see that ‘myself’ is being used to emphasise the point about being ‘the leader of my own bedroom.’ It is as if to say ‘I, yes, ME, am the leader of my own bedroom.’ The quickest way to distinguish the intensive pronoun from the reflexive is the intensive pronouns can be removed and the sentence still makes sense, whereas the reflexive can’t. For example:

I, myself, am the leader of my own bedroom.

becomes

I am the leader of my bedroom.

whereas with the reflexive:

I love myself.

becomes

I love. (the meaning has been lost)

They often come at the end of sentences too such as:

You cannot beat them yourself.

You cannot beat them.

The ‘yourself’ here is just to emphasise the point that it is ‘you’ who cannot beat them.

2.9 Reciprocal pronoun

Reciprocal pronouns inform us of a situation where people are reciprocating a particular action, or relationship. There are only two reciprocal pronouns:

each other

and

one another

Let’s look at some examples

Tom and Jerry would be nothing without either Tom, or Jerry.

becomes

Tom and Jerry would be nothing without each other.

If the thing the pronoun refers back to (known as the antecedent) is only two, such as ‘Tom and Jerry’ above, ‘each other’ is usually used.

Let’s look at an example where the antecedent is more than two:

All the people in the community should be responsible for all of the people in the community.

becomes

All of the people in the community should be responsible for one another.

If the antecedent is more than two, such as ‘all the people in the community’ then ‘one another’ is usually used.

There can be some confusion about how to use the possessive correctly. In both instances, the answer is to use apostrophe + an ‘s’ as in:

each other’s

and

one another’s

The reason for this is because both of these are considered singular entities, and singular nouns use apostrophe + ‘s’ rather than s + apostrophe. We look at possessives soon, when we get to case. Let’s look at some examples that are correct and incorrect. It should be:

It appears the two rivals resent each other’s existence. (correct)

not

It appears the two rivals resent each others’ existence. (incorrect)

another is:

It appears the three football teams resent one another’s existence. (correct)

not

It appears the three football teams resent one anothers’ existence. (incorrect)

This might be a bit confusing because the antecedents (‘two rivals’ in the first, and ‘two football teams’ in the second) are plural, so isn’t the reciprocal pronoun also plural? Let’s think about the first example in isolation:

It appears the two rivals resent each other’s existence.

The noun phrase the two rivals is plural because it is talking about two people; however, the reciprocal pronoun each other’s is talking about the two rivals as though they were one entity, so it is singular.

This could be replaced with:

It appears the two rivals resent the two rival’s existence.

This isn’t actually a perfect substitution, but it does show the difference. We have:

Plural: the two rivals

Singular: the two rival’s

The two rivals is plural, because it is talking about two people, whereas the two rival’s is singular because it is referring to something that both of them possess. Therefore, it is bringing them together into one entity for the sake of this possessive phrase, to show we are talking about the whole groups possession of something.

Let’s look at the other example in isolation:

It appears the three football teams resent one another’s existence.

Here we have the plural noun phrase the three football teams talking about three separate teams, then we have the singular reciprocal pronoun one another’s which is grouping those three teams together into a singular entity for the sake of the possessive phrase, to show we are talking about the whole group’s possession of something. If we substitute ‘three football team’s’ in we get:

It appears the three football teams resent the three football team’s existence.

So we have:

Plural: the three football teams

Singular: the three football team’s

Here we have the plural noun phrase the three football teams talking about three separate teams, and the singular the three football team’s grouping those three single teams together into a singular entity to show we are talking about the whole group’s possession of something.

3) Questions

1) Discuss why pronouns are useful.

2) Discuss the different types of pronouns

Now let’s move on to noun and pronoun inflection.

NEXT: 10) Noun and pronoun inflection

Posted in English Grammar