and use of Personal Pronouns
► For Interrogative pronouns see Word order in questions
Definition of a pronoun:
In more detail ....
pronoun is a little word that stands in place of a
noun, a phrase or even
a clause, in order to avoid repetition. It
agrees in number and gender with the noun, phrase or clause that it
replaces, which is called the antecedent.
The pronoun refers to its logical antecedent in a sentence or
paragraph, or in the context of dialogue. Within a sentence, the
logical antecedent is most often
the preceding or most recent noun.
pronouns in English are fairly easy to master. However it is important
to remember that for the third person singular, the choice of pronoun
depends on the gender of the antecedent: he (etc.) if it
refers to a man or male or unknown person, she
if it refers to a female, and it
for everything else.
/ her / hers are only used with humans (a lady, etc.),
or with a few animated or moving creatures or objects to which the
English language can give a quality of femininity (examples dog, cat, boat).
The object pronoun
is also used after prepositions.
Do not confuse possessive
pronouns (used in
place of a noun) with
- in the final column - (which precede
|1st person sg.
|2nd person sg.
|3rd person sg.
her, its, one's
|1st person pl.
|2nd person pl.
|3rd person pl.
are in bold,
their antecedents are underlined.
Possessive adjectives are in red.
at that man.
Can you see him?
over there, and that's his
wife with him.
- There are two bikes
garage; one is his
and one is mine.
- We 've
lost our way;
can you help us
you seen my
I can't see mine,
is over there.
should always bring a map with one,
in case one
loses one's way.
but I don't like theirs;
and I didn't like their
old one either
1.1 The specific case of one
The word one
causes problems not just for students, but for linguists too. Unlike
other pronouns, one can
be used like a noun, to replace a previously mentioned noun. In the
last example given above, we find the phrase,
... and I
didn't like their old
is not being used as a pronoun, since it is preceded by a determiner (their) and an
It is not a noun either, as it has no intrinsic meaning outside of its
context. Swan, in Practical
Usage defines one
as a "substitute word"; others call it a "pro-form". But whaterver term
we use to describe it, one
is a special case.
In examples of this type, one behaves exactly
like a noun, and can be assimilated to a count
noun with regard to its usage in the sentence.
are other pronouns similar to personal pronouns, and generally used
like personal pronouns; these are indefinite pronouns or impersonal
pronouns: they include words such as someone, anyone, anything,
whoever, and even enough or
- Someone told me you're going to New York next week.
- I can't see anything
- Whoever said that was obviously not telling the truth.
- Plenty was said at the meeting, but the directors
- All is not lost.
- All you need is Love.
1.1.2. Gender neutral pronouns
Sometimes we need to use a
third-preson singular pronoun to refer to a person, without knowing if
the person is male or female, or without wanting to specify the gender.
For obvious reasons, we can't use he
but we can't use it
either, as it is not a gender-neutral personal pronoun, but refers to
The classic solution in English is to use they /
them / their
as a singualr pronoun : note however that while these pronouns can take
on a singular meaning, they are still used in the normal way, as if
they referred to a plural entity.
Avoid using the sometimes-used "his or her" :
this is not good style, even if it is just ocasionally necessary.
- If someone rings, tell them to call back
- If anyone tries to open the safe, they'll get a big
- Each member of the committee gave their opinion.
1.2. The expletive pronoun there
is an expletive
pronoun or dummy pronoun; this means that it does not
refer to a noun or
antecedent that has already been mentioned; it refers to a noun object
or complement that has not yet been specified. It is a third person
pronoun, but can be either used as a singular or as a plural, depending
on the noun to which it refers. There is normally
only used with the verb be,
it can be used with any tense of the verb be, including be preceeded by a
Don't confuse there
See there, their
was an enormous explosion
are thirteen mistakes in your spelling test.
- I think that there
is a hole in my bucket.
- I think that there
are some people coming.
was a strong smell of smoke in the room.
will be no prizes for students who fail the exam.
can be no doubt that many top footballers get paid too much
must be a faster way than that.
- Is there
any point in filling in all these long forms?
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