Pronouns

Pronouns are one of the eight word classes in the National Curriculum. Some linguists would treat pronouns as a subclass of nouns, and there are some good reasons for that, but we adhere to the National Currciulum specifications.

Pronouns can sometimes replace a noun in a sentence:

Noun Pronoun
  • John got a new job.
  • Children should watch less television.
  • He got a new job.
  • They should watch less television.

In these examples the pronouns have the same reference as the nouns which they replace. In each case, they refer to people, and so we call them personal pronouns.

The group of personal pronouns also includes the pronoun it, although this pronoun does not usually refer to a person. There are three personal pronouns, and each has a singular and a plural form:

Singular
  1. I
  2. you
  3. he/she/it
Plural
  1. we
  2. you
  3. they

The first person (1.) refers to the speaker or writer with the singular pronoun I. The second person (2.) refers to the audience, you, while the third person (3.) refers to anyone else.

These pronouns also have another set of forms, which we show here:

Singular
  1. me
  2. you
  3. him/her/it
Plural
  1. us
  2. you
  3. them

The first set of forms (I, you, he...) are in the nominative case (also called subjective case), and the second set (me, you, him...) the accusative case (also called objective case).

This distinction affects how they can be used in sentences in Standard English. For instance, in our previous example, we say that he can replace John.

  • John got a new job.
  • He got a new job.

But he cannot replace John in I gave John a new job (at least in Standard English). Here, we have to use the accusative form him: I gave him a new job.

In some colloquial and regional varieties of English, me is used as a Subject, an interesting linguistic topic in itself.

There are two additional forms of personal pronouns:

Demonstrative pronouns are used for ‘pointing to’ objects in the immediate vicinity, or referring back to something already established. They are:

For example:

Click on 'Advanced' to learn more about pronouns.

Full Preview

This is a full preview of this page. You can view one page a day like this without registering. But if you wish to use it in your classroom, please register your details on Englicious (for free) and then log in!

Pronouns: Advanced

Pronouns behave in some ways like nouns and can sometimes replace them in a sentence. For this reason, pronouns are often treated as a subclass of nouns and there are some good reasons for doing this, but they are – in some important ways – different from nouns.

A major difference between pronouns and nouns generally is that pronouns do not take the or a/an before them. Further, pronouns do not take adjectives before them, except in very restricted constructions involving some indefinite pronouns (a little somethinga certain someone).

While the class of nouns as a whole is an open class, the class of pronouns is a closed class. In other words, while the English language is constantly having new nouns added to it, we do not often see new pronouns appearing. A possible candidate is themself. Some pronouns have been lost, e.g. theethythou.

English has a few peculiarities regarding pronouns. For example, we may or may not include the addressee(s) or other people, and you plural may or may not include someone other than the addressee(s). For example, iif someone says ‘We’re all in this together’, we could refer to all of us, or a smaller group of people.

Likewise, you has been both a singular and plural form since the 17th century. Before that time, you was the plural form and thou was the singular. The reasons for the disappearance of thou are interesting, but since it disappeared, many regional varieties of English have developed their own means of expressing the second person plural, including yous, you all, y'all, yinz, and even you guys

As well as the personal pronouns, there are other types of pronoun, which we offer examples of here.

The categories above do not show distinctions between genders, or between first, second and third person - those distinctions apply only to personal pronouns. 

Many of the word forms listed above can also belong to another word class – the class of determiners. When a noun follows them (e.g. This car is new) they are demonstrative pronouns and also determiners.

Full Preview

This is a full preview of this page. You can view one page a day like this without registering. But if you wish to use it in your classroom, please register your details on Englicious (for free) and then log in!