What is a Pronoun?

By | July 29, 2013

A pronoun is a part of speech and they are words that can be substituted for nouns or noun phrases and they can be understood in the context of the sentence. In the following sentence, the word ‘he’ is a pronoun.

James went to work and he was late.

In this sentence, the pronoun ‘he’ replaces the noun ‘James’. We understand that ‘he’ refers to ‘James’ because of the context of the sentence.

Pronouns are used to make sentences sound less repetitive and less cumbersome. If we use the same noun over and over again, the sentence or paragraph doesn’t sound good because it’s too repetitive. It is common practice in English to replace nouns with pronouns to make the sentence read better. When used, pronouns need to have a clear antecedent (a word for which the pronoun stands for).

Here is an example:

Yesterday, Peter and Peter’s friends went to school. Peter always walks to school in the morning and Peter gets a lift home at the end of school. When peter arrives home, he eats dinner. After Peter has finished dinner, Peter plays video games and then Peter goes to bed.

As you can see, the sentence repeats the noun ‘Peter’ very often and it makes the sentences sound repetitive and cumbersome. Instead, it’s good practice to use pronouns and not repeat the same noun over and over.

Yesterday, Peter and his friends went to school. Peter always walks to school in the morning and he gets a lift home at the end of school. When he arrives home, he eats dinner. After he has finished dinner, he plays video games and then he goes to bed.

pronounAlthough we are repeating the pronoun ‘he’ quite a lot, the sentences are much better than if we repeated the word ‘Peter’ over and over again.

There are many different types of pronouns in English.

Personal Pronouns

Personal pronouns are like the example given above. These pronouns are used to refer to a specific person or thing. Examples include, ‘he’, ‘she’ and ‘it’.

Sarah is a vet and she likes to help animals.

Demonstrative Pronouns

Demonstrative pronouns are used to point out certain things. ‘This’, ‘that’, ‘these’ and ‘those’ are demonstrative pronouns.

Could you pass me those books.

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Interrogative Pronouns

An interrogative pronoun is used to ask questions and represents the thing that the question is about. They include words like ‘who’, ‘which’ and ‘what’.

Who is coming to dinner with me?

Indefinite Pronouns

Indefinite pronouns refer to a non-specific thing or person. Examples include: ‘all’, ‘everyone’, ‘few’, ‘many’, and ‘somebody’.

Please give some to your friends.

Sometimes these words can be used as indefinite adjectives and not pronouns.

Please give some candy to your friends.

Possessive Pronouns

Possessive pronouns are used to indicate the owner of something. Examples include: ‘your’, ‘our’ and ‘their’.

Please take your ball home.

Reciprocal Pronouns

Reciprocal pronouns are actions or feelings that are reciprocated, the most common being ‘each other’.

Don’t be angry with each other.

Relative Pronouns

If you need to link one phrase or clause to another word in the sentence, you would use a relative pronoun. Examples include: ‘that’, ‘where’, ‘when’ and ‘who’.

Can you give the food that is over there to your brother?

Reflexive Pronouns

Reflexive pronouns refer back to other nouns or pronouns in the sentence. Reflexive pronouns are: ‘herself’, ‘himself’, ‘itself’, ‘myself’, ‘ourselves’, ‘themselves’, ‘yourself’ and ‘yourselves’.

Bob doesn’t trust himself with the money.

Intensive Pronouns 

Intensive pronouns are identical to reflexive pronouns and are used to add emphasis to a statement. Although they are identical, they differ insomuch that they can be removed from the sentence without altering the meaning.

I myself am happy.

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“Cat and Vet” image by Lemonade courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

2 thoughts on “What is a Pronoun?

  1. Dixie Porter

    Thanks for making pronouns less complex. I believe this will help me as I learn to teach ESL.

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