Pronouns Help (page 3)
Introduction to Pronouns
A pronoun is more than "a word that takes the place of a noun." Learn about pronoun categories and cases, and the importance of making them agree in number, gender, and person.
Pronouns take the place of, or refer to, a specific noun in a sentence. To use pronouns correctly, make sure they agree in gender, number, and person with the noun they are replacing or referring to (the antecedent, or referent noun).
The English language has three genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter. A pronoun's gender tells if it is replacing (or referring to) a masculine, feminine, or neuter noun. To refer to a male, we use he, his, and him; to a female, she, her, and hers; and to animals or things, it and its.
Joseph took Wanda's car to the mechanic.
He took her car to the mechanic.
He took it to the mechanic.
In today's society, we are moving away from gender-specific titles and using more inclusive words, such as police officer, fire fighter, mail carrier, and flight attendant, rather than policeman, fireman, mailman, and stewardess. It is never correct, however, to refer to people as it, so the pronouns he and she must still be used when referring to a particular person.
A pronoun that takes the place of or refers to a singular noun (one person, place, or thing) must be singular as well. The same applies to plural pronouns and nouns.
If an employee wants to park in the hospital parking lot, then he or she must apply for the appropriate tag to do so.
Employees who need to renew their parking tags must show their current hospital ID cards.
Words like anybody, anyone, everybody, everyone, each, neither, nobody, and the like are singular and must take a singular pronoun:
- Everybody must have his or her ID card validated.
To avoid awkward language, it is sometimes better to recast the sentence in the plural:
- Employees must have their ID cards validated.
English grammar has three "persons": first, second, and third. First-person pronouns like I, me, we, and us include the speaker. Second-person pronouns involve only you, your, and yours. Third-person pronouns—he, she, it, they, them, and so on—include everybody else.
I went with my family to Yellowstone State Park.
You wouldn't have believed your eyes—the scenery was amazing.
Doug said he would take photos with his new camera.
Categories and Cases
Pronouns are divided into five categories: personal, demonstrative, relative, indefinite, and interrogative, and four cases: subjective, objective, possessive, and reflexive.
Personal pronouns can refer to the speaker or speakers (first person), or to those being spoken to (second person), or to those who are spoken about (third person). The following table shows the subjective case personal pronouns, which are pronouns used as the subject of a sentence.
In a sentence containing a pronoun, the word the pronoun refers to is called the antecedent.
Trent is a bricklayer. He builds homes and buildings.
The antecedent for the pronoun he is Trent.
Lydia took her to the bank.
Because there is no antecedent mentioned for the pronoun her, this sentence is unclear.
Objective case pronouns are used as objects (receivers of action) in a sentence. (See Lesson 11 for more about objects.) The following table shows the objective case personal pronouns.
- The following sentences show how objective case pronouns are used.
- Please give me the envelope to put in the mailbox.
- Should I send him to boarding school this year or not?
- I gave you flowers for graduation, remember?
Personal pronouns can also show possession—to whom something belongs. The following table shows the possessive case personal pronouns.
- The following sentences show how possessive case pronouns are used.
- This old gray house is mine; the new white one over there is his.
- Hers, around the corner, is getting its roof replaced. My roof probably needs replacing soon. Our neighbors are getting their driveway repaved.
Tip: Remember, your is a possessive pronoun and you're is a contraction meaning "you are." Try not to confuse the two in your e-mails or other things you're writing!
Lastly, reflexive case pronouns, sometimes called selfish pronouns, are used to show a subject performing some kind of action upon itself. Reflexive pronouns can act only as objects in a sentence, never as subjects. The following table shows the reflexive case personal pronouns.
The following sentences show how reflexive pronouns are used. Notice that they are used only as objects.
- He cut himself on the edge of the can while opening it.
- It was obvious they thought of themselves as experts.
- The computerized car drove itself during the demonstration.
The four demonstrative pronouns—this, that, these, and those—refer to things in relation to number and distance. These pronouns can act as a subject or an object, as the following table shows.
Demonstrative pronouns look like this in sentences:
- This tastes awful, Mom!
- I should take these and give them to Shelly.
- Those are his, not yours.
- I want that for my collection.
The relative pronouns—that, which, who, and whom— relate (or refer back) to another noun that precedes it in the sentence, and introduce clauses that describe earlier nouns or pronouns.
I own the boat that won the race.
The man who drove it is my best friend, Jack.
He is someone on whom I rely for skill and expertise.
We have entered into the next race, which is on Friday.
Notice that who and whom refer to a person, while which and that refer to things. Use that to signify information that is necessary (restrictive) to the meaning of the sentence, and which to signify information that is discretionary (nonrestrictive), in that even if it is removed, the meaning of the sentence is not altered.
Indefinite pronouns refer to unspecified people, places, or things. Some indefinite pronouns are always singular, some are always plural, and others can be both, depending on what or whom they're referring to. See the following table for the classifications.
Here are some examples of how indefinite pronouns are used in sentences.
- Both families took their daughters camping in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
- Each girl brought her journal with her.
- All of the campers are expected to keep their sites litter-free.
Interrogative pronouns are pronouns that begin questions: who, whom, whose, which, and what.
Tip: Here's an easy way to remember whether to use who or whom: use who when you'd use she or he and whom when you'd use her or him. Examples: Who is calling? She is. To whom should I give the letter? To him!
Who put the milk in the freezer?
What is the sum of 12 and 31?
To whom does this black jacket belong?
Which direction do I head to get to Spring Lake?
Whose pen is on the floor over there?
When these pronouns are not acting as interrogative pronouns, they also play the roles of relative and personal pronouns in sentences.
Exercises for this concept can be found at Pronouns Practice
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