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illustrated grammar

Pronouns

Examples in red on this page are wrong.

Pronouns in English are words which stand for other words.  For example:
We can say:

  • John came in and he sat by the fire
    John and he are the same person: John = he
  • The car broke down and we took it to the garage
    The car and it are the same thing: the car = it
  • I spoke to all the people I met at the party and everyone was very nice to me
    all the people and everyone are the same: all the people = everyone
  • A: Have you seen my glasses?
    B: They are on the kitchen table

    my glasses and they are the same thing: my glasses = they

Usually, pronouns stand for something that came before, like this:
before
But sometimes they can stand for something which comes afterwards, like this:
after


case

Case in English

Notice that in the first sentence, the pronoun they stands for the glasses.
In the second sentence, it is the word them that is the pronoun.
This is because in the first sentence the pronoun is the subject and in the second sentence, the pronoun is the object of the verb.
English only has three cases: subject, object and possessive.  Many languages (yours?) have more.  Some have lots more.
Read the section on verbs to understand more about objects and subjects.


three people

Personal pronouns

There are three main types of personal pronouns


object and subject

Object and Subject

John looked at Paris
He looked at it
 

These look like this:

  subject object
1st person singular I me
plural we us
2nd person singular you
plural
3rd person singular masculine he him
feminine she her
neuter it
plural they them

Examples:

  1. Subject pronouns:
    1. First person singular: I answered his question.  Here, I is the subject of the verb answer.
      First person plural: I met two friends and we went to the cinema.  Here, we stands for I and two friends and is the subject of the verb go.
    2. Second person singular: John came in and he spoke to MaryShe told John to go away.  It became a nasty argument.  Here he, she and it are all the subjects of the verbs speak, tell and become.
      Second person plural: John and Mary sat together and they talked.  Here, they stands for John and Mary and is the subject of the verb talk.
      In English, they is used for everyone.  It doesn't matter if it means more than one woman, more than one man or more than one thing.  It's always they.
    3. Third person singular: You didn't answer the telephone.  Here, you is subject of the verb answer.
      Third person plural: I came to the house but you were both out.  Here, you stands for more than one person and is the subject of the verb be.
      In English, there is no difference between you singular and you plural.  In most languages there is a difference.  What happens in your language?
  2. Object pronouns:
    1. First person singular: John answered me.  Here, me is the object of the verb answer.
      First person plural: John told us.  Here, us is the object of the verb tell.
    2. Second person singular: John gave her a car.  Mary thanked him but she sold it.  Here her is the object of give, him is the object of thank and it is the object of sell.  Notice that the subject and the object for things is it.  It doesn't change in English.
    3. Third person singular: Mary told you.  Here, you is the object of tell.
      Third person plural: Mary told you and you both know now.  Here you is the object of tell.
      Notice that you never changes the subject, object, singular and plural are all you.  That is different in many languages.
      English also makes no difference between people you know well and strangers.  In many languages the words for you are different.

possess

Possessives

The squirrel's food
Its food
 

There are also two groups of these.  Some come before the noun (they are determiners) and some stand for the noun (they are real pronouns):

adjective / determiner noun / nominal
my mine
our ours
your yours
his
her hers
its  
their theirs
  1. The difference between the two columns:
    1. In the first column, the words are determiners.  They describe other nouns in some way just like words like the, some and that doFor example:
          I ate some bread
          I ate her bread
          I stole the money
          I stole their money

      and so on.  The words in the first column are sometimes called possessive adjectives or possessive determiners.
    2. In the second column, the words can stand as nouns (pronouns).
      For example:
          My coat is here, hers isn't
          Their car is bigger than mine

      We can replace possessive pronouns by the noun with the possessive adjective so mine = my car, hers = her coat etc.
      For example:
          My work is finished but her work / hers is not started.
          Their house is bigger than our house / ours.
      These words are possessive pronouns or nominal possessives.
  2. The word its is only a determiner, not a pronoun.  We can say:
        What's wrong with the table?  Its leg is loose
    but not
    Which leg is loose?  Its.  That is wrong.
  3. Notice that his is both a possessive adjective and a possessive pronoun
        It is his book
        It is his

reflexive

Reflexive pronouns

He took a picture of himself  
These pronouns refer to the same thing.
First person singular myself
plural ourselves
Second person singular yourself
plural yourselves
Third person masculine himself
feminine herself
non-personal itself
plural themselves

Notes:

  1. These pronouns refer to the same thing.  We do not say, for example:
    I wrote me a note.  That's wrong.
    but
    I wrote myself a note
    When the object and the subject are the same, we use a reflexive pronoun.
  2. English does not use many reflexive verbs.  We don't, for example, meet ourselves (as we do in German), remember ourselves (as we do in many languages) or (usually) wash ourselves.  However, we can make many verbs reflexive if we want to:
    I poured myself a drink
    She drove herself home
    etc.
  3. This is the only area where English makes a difference between you plural and you singular: yourself (singular); yourselves (plural).

Here's a summary as a graphic so you can save or print it out easily.

pronouns
Adapted from Quirk, R & Greenbaum, S, 1973, A University Grammar of English, Harlow: Longman (page 102)


impersonal

Other pronouns

Something in the window  

There are also some pronouns which do not stand for particular, special people or things.

There are lots of these and this is a simple grammar so this part is short.  To understand it, you must know the difference between mass and count nouns.  Read the section on nouns for that.

  1. Relative pronouns
    relativity
    Here are some examples:
    1. The car which had the accident is in the garage (which stands for the car)
      The man whose wallet you found is coming to collect it (whose stands for the man's)
      The people who came to the party (who stands for the people)
      That's the car
      that he sold (that stands for the car)
  2. Interrogative (question) pronouns
    interrogative
    These look the same as the relative pronouns but make questions.  For example
    1. Who came to the meeting? (pronoun usually for people only)
      Which is your jacket? (pronoun for objects, used when you can choose from a number of things)
      What do you think? (pronoun in the same meaning but used when there is no selection)
      Whose hat is this? (possessive pronoun)
  3. Demonstrative pronouns
    demonstrative
    There are only 4 of these: this, that, these, those.
    They are different for plural and singular things and things close to us or far away.
    Here are some examples:
  4. This is my boss, Mary (singular, here)
    These are the people I like
    (plural, here)
    Those are my friends
    (plural, there)
    That is her husband
    (singular, there)
  5. Universal pronouns
    universe
    These are: everyone, everybody, each, everything, all.  Here are some examples:
  6. Everyone/ Everybody is coming (these can only be used for people)
    We have all the plates and all the food (all can be used for count and mass nouns)
    Every window is broken (every can only be used in the singular)
    Every windows are broken is wrong. it should be All the windows are broken
  7. Count pronouns
    count
    These are used instead of count nouns.  For example:
  8. I don't have many
    I have a few
    I have several
    I want more
    (this pronoun is used for both mass and count nouns)
  9. Mass pronouns
    mass
    These are used instead of mass nouns.  For example:
  10. I don't have much
    I have some
    I have a little
    I want more
    (this pronoun is used for both mass and count nouns)
  11. The some- and any- series
    some and any
    These go together with -thing-, -body, -one and -where to make words like anything, somebody, anyone, somewhere, anywhere etc.  These words are always singular.
    1. Usually, we use some in positive statements and any in questions and negatives:
      Positive Negative Question
      I have some time I don't have any time Do you have any time?
      I have something to say I don't have anything to say Do you have anything to say?
      Someone is at the door There isn't anyone here Did you see anyone?
      It is here somewhere I haven't been anywhere Is there anywhere nice to visit?
    2. But be careful!  Sometimes a question is not really a question!  For example:
      Do you have anything to eat? is a real question and we use anything but
      Do you want something to eat? is not a question, it's an offer, so we use something.
  12. Negative pronouns
    Glass, Bottle, Green Empty, Vintage, Transparent
    These are nobody, no-one, nothing, neither, none.  Here are some examples:
    1. Nobody came (people only)
      No-one won the prize
      (people only)
      Nothing was there
      (things only, mass nouns only)
      I asked all my friends but none came
      (things and people, count and mass nouns)
      I wanted a beer but none was in the fridge
      (things and people, count and mass nouns)
      I wanted milk but none was in the bottle
      (things and people, count and mass nouns)
      I asked my two brothers but neither came
      (two things or people)
      There were two red shirts but neither was in my size
      (two things or people)
  13. One
    Cereals, Field, Ripe, Poppy, Poppy Flower, Summer, Red
    This pronoun can be singular and plural.  We use it like this:
  14. Some girls were in the classroom but I only spoke to the older one
    He offered me all of them and I took the blue ones
    He offered me all of them and I took the blue one