Pronouns

Pronoun Basics:

We use pronouns all the time in sentences. While you're likely familiar with a few common pronouns, it's important to remember that there are a few different types of pronouns, and they all have their own basic rules that you'll want to remember.

In case you've forgotten, a pronoun is a word that takes the place of or refers to a noun. A noun names a person, place, thing, or idea. As I noted earlier, we use pronouns all the time - they help us avoid repeating nouns over and over in our sentences. For example, rather than saying, My teacher explained my teacher's rules for writing essays for my teacher's class, you could say, My teacher explained her rules for writing essays for her class. In this sentence, we've used the possessive pronoun her twice to avoid excessive repetition of the possessive version of the noun teacher.

Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement:

An antecedent is the word that a pronoun takes the place of or refers to in a sentence. So in the sentence Carla found an alligator under her bed, the pronoun is 'her' and the antecedent - the word that the pronoun refers back to - is the proper noun 'Carla.'

Pronoun Agreement:

All pronouns must agree with their antecedents. Remember, a pronoun is a word that takes the place of a noun, and an antecedent is the noun that is replaced. These two sentences show how we use pronouns to replace antecedents and simplify sentences:

'The girl was playing with a basketball.'

'She threw it at her sister.'

The second sentence is full of pronouns. What words were replaced in the second sentence? 'She' replaced 'girl,' and 'it' replaced 'basketball.' Thus, 'girl' and 'basketball' are antecedents for the pronouns 'she' and 'it.' In addition, 'her' is another pronoun that also refers to the girl. So, the two pronouns 'she' and 'her' both have the antecedent 'girl.' Without pronouns, these sentences would read:

'The girl was playing with a basketball. The girl threw the basketball at the girl's sister.'

You can certainly see how repetitive our language would be without pronouns.

There are three ways in which pronouns must agree: gender, number, and case. Let's look at each in turn.

Gender:

Firstly, pronouns must agree in gender with their antecedents. Basically, certain pronouns refer to females, and others refer to males. You cannot use a female pronoun if the antecedent is male, and vice versa.

Do these two sentences make sense?

'The girl was playing with a basketball. He threw it at his sister.'

The second sentence used the male pronouns 'he' and 'his' to refer to the girl. This is an obvious mistake in gender agreement. There was no male person in the first sentence at all! Making this kind of mistake can be very confusing to the listener or reader.

Number:

Next, pronouns must also agree with their antecedents in number. There are certain pronouns that are only used for singular antecedents, and there are certain ones to replace plural antecedents.

Look back at this example from earlier: 'The dog chases his tail.' Which word is a pronoun?

'His' is a pronoun replacing the word 'dog.' Since we have already discussed gender, we can assume the dog is male. Secondly, the dog is singular, so we use the singular pronoun 'his.'

Look what happens if the antecedent becomes plural: 'The dogs chase their tails.'

First, note how the verb changes to agree with the newly plural subject. Second, the pronoun 'his' can no longer be used since the antecedent is now plural. It changed the plural pronoun to 'their' to follow the rules of agreement.

Subjective Case Pronouns:

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 pronouns are 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.

Note that 'you' appears in both the singular and plural lists. That makes sense because you'd use the word 'you' to address just one person or a whole roomful of people.

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.

Note that 'you' is both singular and plural and is both a subjective case pronoun and an objective case pronoun.

PDF Links:

  1. http://writing2.richmond.edu/writing/wweb/npagree.html
  2. http://writing2.richmond.edu/writing/wweb/pronoun.html

Video Links:

  1. https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/grammar/parts-of-speech-the-pronoun/introduction-to-pronouns/v/what-is-a-pronoun-the-parts-of-speech-grammar
  2. https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/grammar/parts-of-speech-the-pronoun/introduction-to-pronouns/v/personal-pronouns-the-parts-of-speech-grammar
  3. https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/grammar/parts-of-speech-the-pronoun/possessive-and-reflexive-pronouns/v/possessive-pronouns-the-parts-of-speech-grammar
  4. https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/grammar/parts-of-speech-the-pronoun/possessive-and-reflexive-pronouns/v/reflexive-pronouns-the-parts-of-speech-grammar
  5. https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/grammar/parts-of-speech-the-pronoun/relative-pronouns/v/relative-pronouns-the-parts-of-speech-grammar
  6. https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/grammar/parts-of-speech-the-pronoun/relative-pronouns/v/that-versus-which-the-parts-of-speech-grammar
  7. https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/grammar/parts-of-speech-the-pronoun/relative-pronouns/v/who-versus-whom-the-parts-of-speech-grammar
  8. http://study.com/academy/lesson/identifying-errors-in-agreement-for-nouns-pronouns.html
  9. http://study.com/academy/lesson/identifying-errors-of-single-and-plural-pronouns.html
  10. http://study.com/academy/lesson/what-are-pronouns-types-examples-definition.html