- Types of pronoun:
When I arrived at their house, the big dog, which was called Rover, was barking loudly because it was lonely.
Pronouns are words like I, it, which, who, that, his, herself. They are used ‘in place of’ (Latin: pro) a noun or a noun phrase. To avoid repetition, we use a pronoun for the second and subsequent mentions of the same person or thing:
I saw the dog, I think it was chewing your shoe.
A pronoun can be used wherever a noun or a noun phrase can be used in a sentence:
- As the subject of a verb:
The dog was barking. It was barking.
- As the object of a verb:
I heard the fire alarm. Did you hear it?
- As the object of a preposition:
I was thinking about a quick snack. I was thinking about that, too.
There are several different kinds of pronoun, with different functions:
- Personal pronouns
- Relative pronouns
- Interrogative pronouns
- Possessive and demonstrative pronouns
- Reflexive and reciprocal pronouns
I, me, you, he, her, them are called personal pronouns, because they cover the full range of grammatical persons:
- the first person (I, we)
- the second person (you)
- the third person (he her them).
Personal pronouns are almost the only place in English grammar where ‘case’ is relevant.
In languages such as German, several of the words in a noun phrase have distinct inflections to show the phrase’s grammatical function in the sentence – for example, whether it is being used as the subject or object of a verb.
In English, only the personal pronouns have different forms or cases which show whether they are subjects or objects:
|1st singular||2nd||3rd singular||1st plural||3rd plural|
|subject||I||you||she, he, it||we||they|
|object||me||you||her, him, it||us||them|
How to use personal pronoun cases as a test for subjects and objects.
“When I arrived at their house the big dog, which was called Rover, was barking loudly because it was lonely.”
In our example sentence the pronoun which refers back to the noun phrase the big dog.
The main relative pronouns are: who, whom, whose, which and that.
Their function is to link a relative clause to a preceding noun:
The man who had fixed the leak had left his spanner.
I enjoyed the film about scuba diving that we saw.
The boy who I saw earlier whose key has been lost …
who, whom, whose, which, what, whoever, whichever, whatever
Interrogative pronouns are used in main clauses, to form a question:
- Who did it?
- What did he say?
- Whose pizza is this?
They can also be used to introduce a subordinate clause:
- I wonder who did it?
- I asked him what he said.
- I’m trying to find out whose pizza this is.
Possessive pronouns match the personal pronouns.
Their function is like that of the possessive determiners.
Possessive determiners introduce a noun or a noun phrase.
Possessive pronouns stand instead of the noun or noun phrase.
Demonstrative pronouns, like possessive pronouns, are very similar to determiners, and like demonstrative determiners, they have distinct singular and plural forms:
this – these
that – those
I like this [determiner] book more than that [pronoun]
I like these books more than those.
Reflexive pronouns match the personal pronouns. They combine a personal or possessive pronoun with the morpheme self (or selves):
myself, yourself, herself, himself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves
Their special function is to refer back to a noun phrase earlier in the same clause. For example:
The children dressed themselves.
In this case the personal pronoun them would not do, as it would refer to people other than the children:
The children dressed them.
Reciprocal pronouns are the word groups each other and one another.
They also refer back to a noun phrase earlier in the same clause, but in a more complex way.
The children dressed each other.
The brothers used to fight with one another.
For example, which word is the subject of this sentence?
Who is that boy?
Word order doesn’t help, because of the special rules for questions, so replace that boy by a pronoun …
Who is he? (NOT Who is him?)
In this case it is clear that he is the subject, so that boy is the subject of the first sentence.
[2016 note: unfortunately the links no longer work, but you may find the exercise useful even without the answers.]
1. Find the pronouns in the sentence below and classify them as:
As usual, some non-pronouns are underlined as decoys.
Now decide who or what each pronoun refers to (i.e. names).
2. As in question 1, classify the pronouns in the extract below as: