Pronouns – Their Types and Usage

What is a Pronoun? (Definition)

A pronoun is a word that can be used in the place of a noun. In other words, they are substitutes for nouns in a sentence. Being a part of speech that can be used in the place of a noun, it is very important to have a perfect understanding of the same. We can, therefore, refer to them as a subgroup of nouns. The idea behind pronouns is to avoid a lot of repetition. For example, if you are writing a story about Tom, it can be quite boring for the readers to continuously get the mention of the name Tom over and over again.

e.g., Tom is a student at the university. Tom suggested that Tom wants to buy a new car.

To avoid this kind of repetition, you can try to be smart by referring to Tom as brother but look at its effect on the same sentence.

Tom is a student at the university. My brother suggested that Tom wants to buy a new car.

Clearly, this gives the sentence a whole new meaning, it sounds vague and one can think that “my brother” is a different person other than Tom.

This is now where pronouns come in. To get rid of the repetition, words such as he and him can be used to refer to Tom.

Tom is a student at the university. He suggested that he wants to buy a new car.

Types of Pronouns

There are a number of pronoun categories found in the English language. We have breakdown some of the major types of pronouns below.

Personal Pronouns

As already mentioned, there are different categories of pronouns. It is therefore important to note that there are some pronouns that usually belong to one or more categories. For personal pronouns, we have the following. I, She, he, her, him, me, you, we, us, it, they and them

In most cases, these are the types of pronouns that really matter. Before moving on to other types of pronoun, it is very important to understand what antecedents are.

Antecedents

You will agree with me when I say that pronouns carry along with them an element of versatility. Let’s take for instance ‘it’, this is a pronoun that can be used to describe or refer to almost anything you can think of, for example, a car, a bike, a movie, a tree, a cup, a tree and the list is endless. This is where now the antecedent comes in.

An antecedent is a noun or a noun phrase that is usually mentioned at the beginning of the sentence before being replaced by a pronoun. Let’s see how this is applied.

My friends are very stupid but I love them anyway

Peter is to short that he cannot touch the ceiling

Mary loves candies that she cannot go a day without one.

The underlined words are the antecedents and the bolded ones are the pronouns replacing them.

There are some cases in which it is not really a must to explicitly mention the antecedents. This is especially true in the contexts where one can easily comprehend the meaning. For example, everyone can tell the person the pronoun, I, me and you refer to as long as they know the person speaking. Apart from that, a pronoun can as well be used before declaring the antecedent. But this should be avoided especially when dealing with long and complex sentences as it will pose a challenge to the ready trying to follow.

I enjoy their company though my friends are really choosy.

Relative Pronouns

This is another category of pronouns. Their main purpose is to link up the relative clauses and independent clauses in a sentence. In most case, they serve the purpose of bringing in more information concerning what has been already stated in the sentence.

Some examples of relative pronouns are that, what, which, who, and whom.

The pronoun ‘who’ is usually used to refer to people while ‘which’ and ‘that’ are mainly for things or animals.

For example:

The boy who came late to school is a joker.

All cows that have been bought today are healthy

My phone, which is almost five years old, is still up and running properly.

When it comes to punctuating these pronouns with a comma, what you need to look at is whether the clause you are working with is restrictive or nonrestrictive.

We know have some knowledge on relative pronouns, but we still need to go deeper and look into some pronouns that usually bring problems in terms of confusion.

Subject and Object Pronouns (Who vs. Whom)

In this case, we need to distinguish between a subject and object pronoun and understand how to use them. Our subject pronoun, in this case, is ‘who’ while the object pronoun is ‘whom’. For the subject pronoun, we have the following, I, he, she, we and they and in the case of object we have me, him, her, us and them.

In a sentence, if the pronoun stands as the object of a preposition or a verb, then automatically it takes the object form. This usually doesn’t pose a lot of challenges to people since in most cases, they are located just after the preposition or verb that modifies them.

Let’s look at examples.

  1. Please send it to I
  2. Please send it to me
  3. John saw they throwing stones
  4. John saw them throwing stones
  5. Is this food for we?
  6. Is this food for us?

Here you can clearly identify the differences and how the various pronouns fit into their roles.

Now getting to ‘whom’, this is where many people have challenges since in most cases it appears before the preposition or verb that modifies it.

For example

  • Whom should I call for you?
  • Whom did you talk to yesterday?
  • A boy, whom I have never interacted with, knows so much about me.

Two easiest way to determine whether you need to use ‘who’ or ‘whom’ is to make a replace it with a personal pronoun. Look out for the place that the personal pronoun would fit in and determine whether it takes the subject or object form.

For example:

Who/who did you talk to yesterday? Did you talk to he/him yesterday?

A boy, whom I have never interacted with, knows so much about me. Does he/him know?

Whom should I call for you? Should I call he/him for you?

In this test, in case the sentence agrees with the subjective pronoun (he/she) the who should be used.

If it agrees with the object pronoun (him/her) then ‘whom’ is used.

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Another confusing case will be explained shortly. Look closely at the following sentences and see whether you can identify the mistake:

It is not important to him or I.

Peter is meeting Mary and I tomorrow

There should be no more secrets between you and I

All the ‘I’ pronouns should be replaced with ‘me’

Demonstrative Pronouns

Demonstrative pronouns include, this, that, these and those. They stand in the place of nouns or a noun phrase which has already been stated.

‘This’ stands for singular things that are closer

‘These’ is the plural of this and serves the same purpose only that it involves multiple items

It should be noted that the distance we are talking about can be either physical or otherwise metaphorical.

For example

  • This is the girl I was telling you about.
  • What a good thought! This is the best idea I have heard so far.
  • What do you think about these apples, are they good?

On the other hand, ‘that’ deals with singular items that are not close while those is the plural form of that and used for items that are also far away.

The same as in the first instance, the distances can also be either physical or metaphorical.

  • Why don’t you buy these oranges?
  • This mango looks like it has rotten
  • Those mangoes look sweet, why don’t you give me some?
  • That mango looks like it has rotten.

Indefinite Pronouns

These are pronouns used to refer to something that is not specific or a person that does not want to be specifically identified. The common examples of indefinite pronouns are: one, other, none, some, anybody, everybody, and no one.

Examples in sentences

  • Nobody knows the challenges I faced to be here
  • Everybody wants to be rich without a struggle
  • It really matters to some people more than

Usually, in cases where indefinite pronouns function as the subjects in a sentence, they take the singular verb.

Reflexive and Intensive Pronouns

These are pronouns that end in either –self or –selves. Examples include: myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves.

A reflective pronoun is usually used when both the object and subject of the verb describes the same thing or person.

Examples:

  • Peter blamed himself for his poor performance
  • I told myself I can make it
  • They ordered themselves a pizza from the café
  • Intensive pronouns are similar to the reflective pronouns on that they have a different function. Their role is to put more emphasis.
  • I carried this bag myself
  • Did you yourself manage to solve that problem?

‘I carried this bag” and “I carried this bag myself” are two sentences with almost a similar meaning. In the second sentence, ‘myself’ brings in an element of emphasis that nobody else helped me carry the bag, I did it myself.

The same is true for the other sentence.

“Did you manage to solve that problem?” and “Did you yourself manage to solve that problem?”

They all have a similar meaning. Only the by adding yourself, the person asking wants to be really sure whether you actually did it yourself without the help of any other person.

In some cases, people find it more appealing to use myself instead of using me. You should try as much as possible not to do this because using a pronoun ending in the form –self should only be for the purposes stated above.

The following are some wrong used of reflective pronouns:

  • You can call Peter or myself in case you are going to stay there. (Should be me)
  • Peter, Paul and myself are happy that you had time to join us. (Should be I)

Possessive Pronouns

We have two types of possessive pronouns, the limiting and absolute possessive pronouns.

Limiting possessive pronouns are used to denote that something belongs to the antecedent. They include my, your, his, her, its, our, and their.

Examples:

  • Peter is working on his project
  • Just take off my blazer
  • The teachers too their party out of school

Absolute possessive pronouns are the ones that can stand in the place of those things that belong to the antecedent. They include his, hers, mine, yours, ours and theirs.

Examples:

  • Are you done with your project?
  • Peter has already finished his.
  • This red cup is mine
  • I need to practice my presentation before hand

Note that contractions can make you confuse some possessive pronouns. For possessive personal pronouns, always remember that they don’t carry apostrophes.

  • Interrogative Pronouns

These are the pronouns that are mainly used in questions. They include: who, what, which and whose.

Examples

  • Who wants a cup of juice?
  • What is her name?
  • Whose picture is that you have painted?
  • Which music do you want to listen to?

What is a Vague Pronoun?

A pronoun is vague when it is hard to identify what the pronoun is referring to.

They usually arise when there are too many antecedents, or the antecedents are hidden are there are no antecedents at ll.

They can be corrected by:

  1. Rephrasing the sentence
  2. Replacing the pronoun with its noun

Example of Vague Pronouns

Get the children and the picnic baskets, and pack them in the car’s trunk

Clearly, children cannot be packed in the car’s trunk but that’s what the pronoun refers to. This should, therefore, be corrected by rephrasing the sentence.

  • Get the children and then pack the picnic baskets in the car’s trunk.

This guide is meant to guide you on general understanding of pronouns.