What are Pronouns?
This sentence doesn’t sound too good. It uses the proper noun ‘Janet’ too much and doesn’t sound too polished. What this sentence needs are pronouns to take the place of the noun ‘Janet.’ You may recall that nouns and pronouns have something to do with one another, but you may not remember exactly what, or how to use pronouns correctly.
A pronoun is a word that takes the place of or refers to a noun. You may recall that a noun is a word that names a person, place, thing, or idea. To cut down on repetitiveness, I can change my original sentence to:Janet has to study in order for her to get the job that she wants.
In this sentence, the word ‘Janet’ is a noun, and the words ‘her’ and ‘she’ are pronouns that replace that noun. There are several different types of pronouns. One type of pronoun is a personal pronoun that takes the place of a particular person or thing. In this lesson, we’ll focus on two categories of personal pronouns.
Subjective Case Pronouns
It’s useful to know about the various types of pronouns so that you can know when to use which type, and so that you can double check your writing to ensure you’ve used your pronouns correctly. One commonly used type of personal pronoun is the subjective case pronoun, which is sometimes also referred to as a nominative case pronoun.
Subjective case pronouns are pronouns that act as subjects of sentences. The subject of a sentence is what the sentence is about. The subject of a sentence usually, but not always, performs the action of the verb. So, in the sentence: Chuck juggled grapefruits., the subject of the sentence is ‘Chuck.’ The sentence is about Chuck, and since this sentence is written in active voice, which we’ll talk about in another lesson, Chuck is performing the action of the sentence, juggling.
Ask yourself what pronoun could take the place of the subject ‘Chuck’ in that sentence. You can probably guess, but before you do, take note of the fact that because ‘Chuck’ is the subject of the sentence, we’ll need a subjective case pronoun to take the place of his name. Remember that subjective case pronounsare pronouns that act as subjects of sentences. You probably guessed that the correct subjective case pronoun here would be ‘He,’ so our new sentence would be: He juggled grapefruits.
Ask yourself what other pronouns can act as the subjects of sentences. Our list would include I, you, he, she, and it. Each of these pronouns can perform the action of verbs in sentences:
- I passed the test.
- You passed the test.
- He passed the test.
- She passed the test.
- It passed the test.
Each of these pronouns, therefore, is a subjective case pronoun. You may have noticed that each of these subjective case pronouns is singular. The word singular, you may recall, means just one. In other words, we’re referring to just one person when we say ‘she’ in a sentence.
The word plural, on the other hand, means more than one. There are also plural subjective case pronouns that perform the action of verbs in sentences. Plural subjective case pronouns include we, you, and they. These plural subjective case pronouns can perform the action of verbs in the sentences:
- We passed the test.
- You passed the test.
- They passed the test.
Objective Case Pronouns
The second major type of personal pronouns is objective case pronouns, which are pronouns that act as objects of sentences. An object receives the action of the verb in a sentence. So, in the sentence: Jack hugged Santa Claus., ‘Jack’ would be the subject, as Jack is performing the action of the verb ‘hugged.’ ‘Santa Claus’ is receiving the action of the verb, as Santa Claus is the person being hugged. Santa Claus is the object in this sentence.
Ask yourself what pronoun could take the place of the object ‘Santa Claus’ in that sentence. It wouldn’t sound right to say: Jack hugged he. And we know that that sentence is not right because ‘he’ is a subjective case pronoun; it’s always going to be a subject, and we need an object here. You’ve probably figured out that we need the pronoun ‘him’ for the sentence: Jack hugged him. And the pronoun ‘him’ is, in fact, an objective case pronoun, which is what we need here.
Ask yourself what other pronouns can act as objects in sentences. Our list would include me, you, him, her, and it. Each of these pronouns can receive the action of verbs in sentences:
- Jack hugged me.
- Jack hugged you.
- Jack hugged him.
- Jack hugged her.
- Jack hugged it.
Each of these pronouns, therefore, is an objective case pronoun. You may have noticed that each of these objective case pronouns is singular. There are, of course, plural objective case pronouns: us, you, and them. These plural objective case pronouns can also receive the action of verbs in sentences:
- Jack hugged us.
- Jack hugged you.
- Jack hugged them.
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
- 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)
Notice that the interrogative pronoun whose can also be a possessive pronoun (an interrogative possessive pronoun). Look at these examples:
- There was $100 on the table and Tara wondered whose it was.
- This car hasn’t moved for two months. Whose is it?
The reflexive pronouns (which have the same forms as the intensive pronouns) indicate that the sentence subject also receives the action of the verb. (Students who cheat on this quiz are only hurting themselves. You paid yourself a million dollars? She encouraged herself to do well.) What this means is that whenever there is a reflexive pronoun in a sentence there must be a person to whom that pronoun can “reflect.” In other words, the sentence “Please hand that book to myself” would be incorrect because there is no “I” in that sentence for the “myself” to reflect to (and we would use “me” instead of “myself”). A sentence such as “I gave that book to myself for Christmas” might be silly, but it would be correct.
When pronouns are combined, the reflexive will take either the first person
- Juanita, Carlos, and I have deceived ourselvesinto believing in my uncle.
or, when there is no first person, the second person:
- You and Carlos have deceived yourselves.
The indefinite pronoun (see above) one has its own reflexive form (“One must have faith in oneself.”), but the other indefinite pronouns use either himself or themselves as reflexives. (There is an entire page on the pronoun one.) It is probably better to pluralize and avoid the clumsy himself or herself construction.
- No one here can blame himself or herself.
- The people here cannot blame themselves.