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The All-Important Pronouns Study Guide

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Updated on Sep 30, 2011

The All-Important Pronouns

I love being a writer. What I can't stand is the paperwork. -  PETER DE VRIES (1910–1993) AMERICAN NOVELIST

In this lesson, you'll learn about the proper use of pronouns. Pay particular attention to common pronoun errors that too many writers make.

You are no doubt aware that there are parts of speech, in addition to the big four, that you need to be especially careful about using. This lesson reviews pronouns, some of the most useful and troublesome little parts of speech. If you want your writing to improve, you must pay close attention to the material in this lesson. Using pronouns correctly is one of the sure signs of an accomplished writer. And using pronouns incorrectly immediately signals that you are not a careful or skillful writer. So pay attention!

Pronouns

The proper use of pronouns is a bit complicated, but once you think about them, you'll realize that you use them every day, all the time, without hesitation. The trick is knowing when to use which one of the many pronouns available in our language. A pronoun is a word used in place of a noun or of another pronoun. And the word that the pronoun refers to is called its antecedent.

There are several categories of pronouns. The ones we use most often, and that you need to pay special attention to, are personal pronouns, possessive pronouns, reflexive and intensive pronouns, and interrogative pronouns. Even given all these different types, the function of the pronoun is always about the same: It replaces another word or group of words.

The grammatical function the pronoun serves in a sentence is called its case, which defines whether the pronoun is being used as the subject of the sentence, as the object of another word, or in a possessive or reflexive form.

Personal and Possessive Pronouns

Personal pronouns are the pronouns that you probably use most often. Here's a chart that categorizes their correct forms:

Singular Personal Pronouns

Plural Personal Pronouns

The Correct Use of Personal Pronouns

Here are some sample sentences using pronouns, along with explanations of the grammatical function, or case, in which each pronoun is being used.

    We ate our pizza faster than the kids at the next table ate theirs.

The plural pronoun we is used here as the subject of the sentence; the plural possessive pronoun theirs is used to substitute for the implied words the students' pizza, and is the object of the verb ate.

    Ms. Johnson asked all of them to please sit down and be quiet.

The plural pronoun them is the object of the preposition of and is used to substitute for the implied word students.

    You told me that your bicycle was faster than mine.

You is a singular pronoun used as the subject of the sentence; me is a singular pronoun used as the object of the verb told; your is a possessive pronoun describing who owns the bicycle; and mine is the singular possessive used to explain who owns the bike.

As you can see in these examples, pronouns are extremely useful words. They enable us to communicate quickly, use fewer words, and therefore create less clutter and repetition on the page.

However, personal pronouns are among the most frequently misused words. Why? Probably because speakers (and writers) are being sloppy and not paying attention to the rules they learned in school.

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