What is a Pronoun?

Brad Smith


I'm the creator of this site (Grammar Gang). I'm also the founder of Codeless, a long-form content creation company that's been featured in The New York Times, Business Insider, The Next Web, and hundreds more.

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Brad Smith

A pronoun is a word that replaces a Noun or Noun phrase in a sentence. Some common pronoun words are he, she, I, they, you, her, them, his, etc.

You can place these words either at the beginning of the sentence as a subject or at the end as an object. Pronouns also work as indirect objects or object to a proposition.

In short, it works exactly the way a Noun works in a sentence.

Example of pronoun

The primary function of a pronoun is to act as a substitute of Noun or Noun phrase making our writing or speech crisp and concise.

For example, read the following paragraph:

“Lionel is my brother. Lionel plays guitar like a rockstar. In fact, Lionel has formed a rock band with Lionel’s friends. And Lionel and Lionel’s friends are going to perform at tomorrow’s concert”.

How does it sound?

The unnecessary repetitiveness of the noun ‘Lionel’ has made the paragraph cliched and ponderous.

And this is where pronouns come handy. For example, let’s see how the same paragraph looks once we change the nouns with pronouns.

“Lionel is my brother. He plays guitar like a rockstar. In fact, he has formed a rock band with his friends. And they are going to perform at tomorrow’s concert”.

All the highlighted words (he, his, and they) are pronoun, and their impact is also apparent. As you can notice, the sentences became shorter, smoother, and more natural to read.

A few more examples could be:

I love driving fast”.

“Mr. Clooney is the new owner of this painting because he bid the highest”.

She is an excellent fashion designer”.

“The LA Lakers team won the tournament because they deserved it”.

The marked words (I, he, she, they, and it) are pronouns.

See, how simple it is to identify and use pronouns in your daily writing and speech.

However, before you gaga over pronouns, keep in mind, it’s a double edge sword. If used improperly, it can leave your readers scratching their heads to understand your message.

For example, take the third sentence I used as an instance. It reads, “She is an excellent fashion designer”.

Can you tell me who ‘she’ is in this sentence?

You can’t. Because there’s no context about the subject ‘she’.

On the other hand, when you read the sentence “Mr. Clooney is the new owner of this painting because he bid the highest”; you instantly have the idea that ‘he’ refers to ‘Mr. Clooney’.

See, the difference between those two sentences?

While the first one is vague, the other one is definite about what it is talking. That’s why it’s essential to add an antecedent before introducing pronouns to convey your messages more accurately.

An antecedent simply means to provide info about the Noun or Noun phrase before substituting it with a pronoun in the following sentence. Just like the ‘Mr. Clooney’ example I mentioned earlier.

So use antecedent before inserting pronouns, and your thoughts would not be rated as vague or unclear.

Types of Pronoun

1. Personal Pronoun

Personal Pronouns are mostly used in place of Proper and Collective Nouns. It comes in two different sets where the first set appears as a subject of the sentence and the second set acts as the object.

The first set consists of words like he, she, you, I, it, they, we, etc. These words can be placed to denote any person – first, second, or third – in a sentence. For example:

He went out to watch a movie”.

She thinks differently”.

They are fighting for food”.

It is an awesome read”.

On the other hand, in the second set, that work as objects, you find words like her, him, your, their, its, our, etc. Let’s take the previous examples (with some modification) to see how these objects can fit into these sentences:

“Lara went out with him”.

“She thinks her dog is the cutest”.

“They are fighting for their rights”.

“You we’re talking about your pet”.

2. Possessive Pronoun

Possessive Pronoun indicates possession or ownership of something. Take a look at these sentences:

“This dog is mine”.

“Are these shoes hers”?

His fighting skill is second to none”.

“That house is ours”.

The word mine, in the first sentence, tells the readers that the dog belongs to me. Similarly, the word ours describes who owns the house, i.e. us.

3. Demonstrative Pronoun

The only purpose of demonstrative pronouns is to suggest a particular person, place, animal, or thing. These are only four in number – this, that, these, and those.

But wait a minute! Aren’t these words adjectives?

Yes, these four guys also act as demonstrative adjectives but only when they come before a Noun. For example:

“I want this book”. (This working as an adjective because it’s describing the noun ‘book’.)

But when we write, “I want that.” or “You should take these”; here the words ‘that’ and ‘these’ are working as demonstrative pronouns because they’re not describing a Noun. Instead, they’re referring or being used in place of a Noun.

A few more demonstrative pronouns in action:

This is pathetic”.

That sounds awesome”.

“Where are those”?

4. Interrogative Pronoun

What is an interrogative sentence?

Well, interrogative sentence simply means a question. And interrogative pronouns that include who, whose, whom, what, which work the same way.

An Interrogative Pronoun is often used to start a question. For example,

What is your name”?

Which city does she live in”?

Who broke the glass”?

Whose book is this”?

Whom did you call”?

5. Indefinite Pronoun

Indefinite, as the word suggests, indefinite pronoun refers to a person (s), place (s), animal (s), and thing (s) that is not specific.

These words are someone, something, somewhere, anyone, other, nobody, no one, etc. Consider these instances:

Something is fishy”.

“I think someone called me”.

From the first sentence, it’s clear, there’s something wrong, but it doesn’t reveal what that something is which is going bad or wrong.

Similarly, the second sentence says someone called me. But it’s unclear who this “someone” is. Some other instances:

“I went there but found no one”.

“I didn’t like the other one”.

‘“Anyone can do this job”.

6. Relative Pronouns

Once again, the answer lies in the name itself. Relative Pronouns help the readers relate a noun with a pronoun.

As you see the examples, you would find many Interrogative Pronoun words overlap in this section like who, which, whom, and whose.

But fret not, because it’s super easy to identify both the types of Pronoun in a sentence.

While Interrogative Pronoun words always appear at the beginning of a sentence and make it a question; Relative Pronoun can be placed anywhere in a sentence, and its primary function is to relate the Noun to the pronoun.

For example,

That is the car she wants”.

“The guy who scored the highest points is quite humble”.

“The book which crossed one million copy in sales is available in discounted price”.

7. Reflexive & Intensive Pronoun

Reflexive and Intensive Pronoun include words that end with -self or -selves like myself, yourself, themselves, himself, herself, etc.

Even though the words are similar for both the pronouns, there’s a major difference between their roles in a sentence.

While Reflexive Pronoun specifies to the subject of a sentence, Intensive Pronoun is used to put stress on something.

For example:

“I told myself this is not going to happen”. (Reflexive Pronoun)

“I did all the work myself”. (Here myself is working as Intensive Pronoun because it is emphasizing that only I did all the work, no other Individual).

8. Reciprocal Pronoun

There are only two reciprocal pronouns in English grammar – one another and each other.

These words are used to describe a relationship, and the reciprocate action between two or more Nouns or pronouns.

It also helps you avoid unnecessary redundancy. For example, instead of saying/writing:

“Kane hugged Julie and Julie hugged Kane”, you can write “Kane and Julie hugged each other”.

“They shared the pie among one another”.

How to use Pronoun correctly

1. Match pronoun with its antecedent in gender and number

We have already discussed in the beginning how important it is to add an antecedent before using a pronoun. However, including a precursor is only half the job.

Once you’ve done that, it is compulsory to use the pronoun in the same gender and number as your antecedent or noun is.

For example, read these lines:

“Kevin is the new president of this country. She faced many problems in their childhood”.

The above lines are wrong. Why?

Because ‘Kevin’, who’s the antecedent or noun is singular and masculine, but the following sentence denotes it by ‘she’ which is singular but feminine. Also, the object pronoun is ‘their’ which is plural and neutral. A total mismatch!

So, make sure you avoid such blunders by using the correct pronoun (gender and number wise) for antecedents. Like this:

“Kevin is the new president of this country. He faced many problems in his childhood”.

2. Use correct pronoun in subject and object form

Pronouns are classified in three different categories – subject pronoun (I, she, he, they, we, etc.), object pronouns (me, her, him, their, us, etc.), and possessive pronoun (mine, his, hers, theirs, ours, etc.).

Each of these three categories is like pieces of a map destined to fit in a specific place. You can’t use a subject pronoun in place of object pronoun and vice versa.

For example:

Incorrect: Her friends are they.

Correct: They are her friends.

3. Either and Each is always singular

Even the most experienced writers fall into the trap of either, each, and neither. They assume these pronouns as plural and often end up writing sentences like these:

“Each of the girls dance gracefully”.

“Neither of them know how to play soccer”.

“Either of the parties don’t seem interested in this offer”.

While either, each, and neither are always singular and should be paired with the singular form of verb. Here are the same examples in the correct form:

“Each of the girls dances gracefully”.

“Neither of them knows how to play soccer”.

“Either of the parties doesn’t seem interested in this offer”.

4. When two people possess the same thing

When you’re referring to something which is owned by two individuals and you denote one with a pronoun and the other one with a noun; always make sure you use Possessive adjectives in place of Possessive pronouns, and the noun, too, is in its possessive form.

Sounds confusing? Here are some examples to make things clear:

Incorrect: Tim and hers house.

Correct: Tim’s and her house.

Incorrect: Barbara and mine factory.

Correct: Barbara’s and my factory.

Incorrect: Molly and yours garden.

Correct: Molly’s and your garden.

5. Avoid using ‘they’ with singular pronouns like ‘someone’ to maintain consistency

Pronouns like ‘someone’, ‘anyone’, and ‘no one’ is singular, and it’s common to follow these pronouns with ‘they’ or ‘their’. For example:

  • “Someone has to oppose this policy, and they have to do it quickly”.
  • “We can give this job to anyone, but the only requirement is they should be passionate about marketing”.

An ordinary pair of eyes may find these sentences to be correct, but the grammar police would always flag them red.

So, to make your words flow well and escape disparity, the only way out is to rewrite your sentences without adding ‘they’ or ‘them’. Like:

“Someone has to oppose this policy, and has to do it quickly”.

“This job is available for anyone passionate about marketing”.

Common mistakes while using pronouns

In spite of being one of the most common elements of the English language, people still find it tough to use pronouns correctly in certain areas.

Here are some of the fundamental errors we commit in day-to-day speech or writing.

1. Using subject and object pronoun together

Incorrect: I and her danced together.

Correct: She and I danced together.

Incorrect: They and him went out for lunch.

Correct: They and he went out for lunch.

When you have ‘and’ or ‘or’ in a sentence to connect a subject and object pronoun, change the object pronoun with its subject form.

2. Pronoun linked with noun by ‘and’

We just saw what to do when ‘and’ or, ‘or’ connect two pronouns, but there is no specific formula to apply in situations where ‘and’ joints a pronoun with Noun.

So, in order to avoid any issue, remove ‘and + the noun phrase’ to determine the right pronoun to use. Take these instances:

Incorrect: “Your and your father is welcomed”.

(This sentence sounds sluggish. So, let’s take out ‘and + the noun phrase’. We are left with ‘your is welcomed’ which is kinda meaningless.)

So the correct pronoun in this sentence would read:

Correct: “You and your father are welcomed”.

Similarly, some more instances in this case are:

Incorrect: “You came in with she and her family”.

Correct: “You came in with her and her family”.

Incorrect: “I talked to he and his boss”.

Correct: “I talked to him and his boss”.

3. Using object pronouns for to be verbs

Though it’s not a big issue, as per grammar, object pronoun doesn’t go well with ‘to be’ verbs.

Incorrect: It must be him.

Correct: It must be he.

Incorrect: It is her who won the debate competition.

Correct: It is she who won the debate competition.

Incorrect: It is them at the door.

Correct: It is they at the door.

4. Using who with a personal pronoun

Incorrect: It’s I who has done everything.

Correct: It’s I who have done everything.

Incorrect: It’s you who was not present.

Correct: It’s you who were not present.

Look, it may sound peculiar, but that’s what English grammar says. When you use ‘who’ to suggest a personal pronoun, the verb must be according to that form of that pronoun.

That means, if the pronoun is singular, the verb should also be in its singular form and vice versa.

5. Using Intensive pronouns in place of a personal pronoun

I can understand sometimes we get too carried forward to use intensive pronouns to stress on something, where merely personal pronoun can do the job.

For example:

Incorrect: “My friends and myself are taking this test seriously”.

Correct: My friends and I are taking this test seriously”.

Incorrect: “Both his fans and himself are happy after the photoshoot”.

Correct: “Both his fans and he are happy after the photoshoot”.

So don’t use Intensive pronouns unnecessarily until you really need to emphasize on something.

And that’s it! With that, we have come to an end of today’s lesson.

In this post, we learned what pronoun is, the different types of pronoun, how to use them correctly in our writing and speech, and finally, talked about some common errors we do while using different pronouns.