Pronouns may be classified by three categories: person, number, and case.
Person refers to the relationship that an author has with the text that he or she writes, and with the reader of that text. English has three persons (first, second, and third).
First-person is the most informal. The author is saying, this is about me and people I know.
- First-person pronouns include I, me, we
Second-person is also informal, though slightly more formal than first-person. The author is saying, this is about you, the reader.
- All second-person pronouns are variations of you, which is both singular and plural
Third-person is the most formal. The author is saying, this is about other people.
In the third person singular there are distinct pronoun forms for male, female, and neutral gender. Here is a short list of the most common pronouns and their gender:
|First||I, me, we, us|
|Neutral||it, they, them|
In the following sentences, determine the person for each pronoun:
- Jada often put other people’s needs before her own.
- Amelia and Ajani still haven’t arrived. I should make sure I texted them.
- You will need three things in order to be successful: determination, discipline, and dexterity.
- The pronoun is her. Her is a feminine third-person pronoun.
- There are two pronouns: I and them. I is a first-person pronoun. Them is a neutral third-person pronoun.
- The pronoun is you. You is a second-person pronoun
There are two numbers: singular and plural. The table below separates pronouns according to number. You may notice that the second person is the same for both singular and plural: you.
English personal pronouns have two cases: subject and object (there are also possessive pronouns, which we’ll discuss next). Subject-case pronouns are used when the pronoun is doing the action. (I like to eat chips, but she does not). Object-case pronouns are used when something is being done to the pronoun (John likes me but not her). This video will further clarify the difference between subject- and object-case:
In the following sentences, identify the person, case, and number of each pronoun:
- You shouldn’t be so worried about what other people think. They don’t matter. The only person you need to please is you.
- Elena knew she should have spent more time on homework this semester, but binge-watching TV had tripped her up again and again.
- George Washington was the first president of the United States. He set the standard of only serving two terms of office. However, it wasn’t illegal to do so until 1951.
- There are three pronouns: you, they, and you.
- You is a subject case, singular, second-person pronoun.
- They is a subject case, plural, neutral third-person pronoun.
- You is an object case, singular, second-person pronoun.
- There are two pronouns: she and her.
- She is a subject case, singular, feminine third-person pronoun.
- Her is an object case, singular, feminine third-person pronoun.
- There are two pronouns: he and it.
- He is a subject case, singular, masculine third-person pronoun.
- It is a subject case, singular, neutral third-person pronoun.
Possessive pronouns are used to indicate possession (in a broad sense). Some occur as independent phrases: mine, yours, hers, ours, yours, theirs. For example, “Those clothes are mine.” Others must be accompanied by a noun: my, your, her, our, your, their, as in “I lost my wallet.” This category of pronouns behaves similarly to adjectives. His and its can fall into either category, although its is nearly always found in the second.
Both types replace possessive noun phrases. As an example, “Their crusade to capture our attention” could replace “The advertisers’ crusade to capture our attention.”
This video provides another explanation of possessive pronouns:
In each sentence, select the correct possessive pronoun. Identify why you selected the pronoun you did:
- André told me that was (my/ mine) box of cereal, but I couldn’t remember having bought it.
- Eloá said that it was (her/ hers).
- Jake and Suren refused to give (their / theirs) opinions on the subject.
- André told me that was my box of cereal, but I couldn’t remember having bought it. The pronoun is followed by the noun box of cereal, so it should be the adjective form.
- Eloá said that it was hers. The pronoun stands on its own, so it should be the independent form.
- Jake and Suren refused to give their opinions on the subject. The pronoun is followed by the noun opinions, so it should be the adjective form.
The table below includes all of the personal pronouns in the English language. They are organized by person, number, and case.