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Linguapress English Grammar

Personal pronouns in English 

 Forms and use of Personal Pronouns

Index :
Personal pronouns  Demonstrative pronouns Relative pronouns

► For Interrogative pronouns see  Word order in questions

Definition of a pronoun:  
A 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.

In more detail ....

1.Personal pronouns  

Personal 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.
      The feminine pronouns she / 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 possessive adjectives - in the final column - (which precede a noun).

Subject pronoun  Object pronoun  Poss­essive pronoun  Poss­essive adjec­tive 
1st person sg. I me mine my
2nd person sg. you you yours your
3rd person sg. he, she,
it, one
him, her,
it, one*
his, hers,
its, –
his, her, its, one's
1st person pl. we us ours our
2nd person pl. you you yours your
3rd person pl. they them theirs their

 Pronouns are in bold, their antecedents are underlined.  Possessive adjectives are in blue.
  • Look at that man. Can you see him? He's over there, and that's his wife with him.
  • There are two bikes in Peter's garage; the green bike is his and the blue one is mine
  • We 've lost our way; can you help us please?
  • Have you seen my phone? I can't see mine, but yours is over there.
  • One should always bring a map with one, in case one loses one's way.
  • I like ournew house 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 one either
one is not being used as a pronoun, since it is preceded by a determiner (their) and an adjective (old). It is not a noun either, as it has no intrinsic meaning outside of its context. Swan, in Practical English 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.

1.2. The expletive pronoun there

There is known as 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 preceded by a modal verb. Just occasionally it can be used with certain other verbs, such as go, stand or appear.
  • There was an enormous explosion
  • There 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.
  • There was a strong smell of smoke in the room.
  • There will be no prizes for students who fail the exam.
  • There can be no doubt that many top footballers get paid too much
  • There must be a faster way than that.
  • Is there any point in  filling in all these long forms?
  • Look ! There goes Peter.
  • There appear to be three different types of  fish in this pond.
  • Beside the cottage there stood a very old oak tree.
Don't confuse there and they, nor there and they're. See there, their and they're.

1.3. Reflexive & emphatic pronouns

The English language has reflexive pronouns, but it does not have reflexive verbs like Spanish lavarse or French se laver or German sich freuen.
Reflexive pronouns are formed on the model myself, yourself, himself, ourselves.....  They are used when the direct, indirect or prepositional complement of a verb refers back to the subject.
  • Please help yourself to some more ice cream, if you want.
  • Since I live by myself, I only make myself a  cooked meal  twice a week.
  • He couldn't afford a painter, so he painted the whole house himself.
  • If you eat all that chocolate, you'll make yourself sick !
For more examples see A Descriptive Grammar of English ebook or paperback, paragraph

1.3.1. Reflexive pronouns can also be used as emphatic pronouns, longer forms of personal pronouns that can be used either in place of, or else in addition to, a personal pronoun or noun.
  • I myself do not actually agree with his version of the story.
  • Do it yourself
  • I could not find the book itself, so I bought a similar title.

Continue to indefinite and gender-neutral pronouns

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