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1.8: You and I and the Personal Pronouns

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    Have we got a chapter for you. We’ve seen that nouns can be the simple subjects in sentences. There is another kind of word that can be a simple subject (and can play other roles in a sentence). It’s the pronoun: a word that takes the place of a noun that appeared earlier in the context.

    Common English pronouns include I, me, mine, you, yours, he, she, it, him, her, his, hers, and others.

    When a pronoun takes the place of a noun, the noun replaced is called the antecedent of the pronoun. The antecedent usually appears before (ante-) its pronoun.

    In the sentences that follow, the pronouns are underlined. Not all of them are subjects:

    Gershwin composed. He composed.

    (Gershwin is the antecedent of He.)

    George loves Ethel. He loves her.

    (George is the antecedent of He, and Ethel is the antecedent of her.)

    Pearl painted Mr. Morton’s porch. She painted his porch.

    (Pearl is the antecedent of She, and Mr. Morton is the

    antecedent of his.) She enjoyed painting it.

    (Porch is the antecedent of it.) THE PERSONAL PRONOUNS

    There are thousands of nouns in English but only a few dozen pronouns, and those we use most are called the personal pronouns. All of the pronouns in the sentences above, and all that we discuss in this chapter, are personal pronouns.

    The following tables contain all of the personal pronouns in English, organized according to their several characteristics:

    Singular Personal Pronouns

    First Person Second Person Third Person

    Nominative

    I
    you
    he, she, it

    Objective

    me
    you
    him, her, it

    Possessive

    my, mine
    your, yours
    his, her, hers, its

    Notice that the third-person singular pronouns also have gender: he, she, or it.

    Plural Personal Pronouns

    First Person Second Person Third Person

    Nominative Objective

    we us you you they them

    Possessive

    our, ours your, yours their, theirs

    Notice that the possessive pronouns like yours, hers, and theirs don’t contain apostrophes. The tables also show us that all personal pronouns are classified by number, singular or plural.

    PRONOUNS AND PERSON

    All personal pronouns are also classified by person. If you’re referring to yourself with pronouns, you use first-person pronouns: I, me, my, and mine, or the plural forms we, us, our(s).

    If you’re referring to the person you’re speaking with, you use second-person pronouns: you and your(s). The plural forms are the same.

    If you’re referring to another person outside the conversation, you use third-person pronouns:

    he, she, it;
    him, her, it;
    and
    his, her, its (or the plurals they, them, their, and theirs)

    The third-person singular pronouns are also classified by gender: masculine (he, him, his), feminine (she, her, hers), and neuter (it, its).

    PRONOUNS AND CASE

    Finally, we classify personal pronouns by cases: the nominative case, the possessive case, and the objective case. These terms are used all the time in discussions of language, so it’s helpful to understand them. They refer to the forms of the pronouns that we use in certain positions in a sentence.

    The pronouns in the nominative case are the ones we use as subjects:

    I talked to Mr. Morton. You talked to Mr. Morton.

    He talked to Mr. Morton.
    She talked to Mr. Morton.
    We talked to Mr. Morton.
    They talked to Mr. Morton, too, but he is still juggling vases.

    The pronouns in the possessive case are used to indicate possession, and most of the possessive pronouns have two forms:

    Hey, that’s my vase. Hey, that’s your vase. Hey, that’s his vase. Hey, that’s her vase. Hey, that’s our vase. Hey, that’s their vase.

    (Or, That vase is mine.) (Or, That vase is yours.) (That vase is his.)
    (Or, That vase is hers.) (Or, That vase is ours.) (Or, That vase is theirs.)

    Notice that there are no apostrophes in these –s possessives, or in its. This frequently confuses inexperienced writers. Apostrophes show possession only with nouns: yours, ours, theirs, but children’s, women’s, Ruthie’s, Pearl’s, Mr. Morton’s.

    The pronouns in the objective case are used for almost every other purpose in a sentence. For example, when pronouns are the objects of prepositions, they are always in the objective case:

    I gave the book to Julie. I gave it to her. Mike said that I can ride with him. Give the vase to me.
    Give it to us.

    Give it to them.

    If we’re native speakers of English, we typically use the correct cases naturally. What we may have trouble remembering, as students of grammar, are terms for the three cases and the forms they describe. If you need to, you can learn this simple test sentence to help you remember the terms for the three cases of pronouns:

    N took O to P’s house.

    Here, obviously, N, O, and P stand for the three cases: nominative, objective, and possessive. Insert the right pronoun in each position, and you will know the case of the pronouns in question:

    He took her to their house. They took us to her house. We took them to his house.

    In each case, the first pronoun is nominative, the second objective, and the third possessive.

    The personal pronouns are the most important pronouns in English. We’ll examine other kinds later.

    BE TENSE!

    Because we’re learning about the matter of person in this chapter, it seems like a good time to return to verbs briefly, and to one in particular.

    The verb to be is the most frequently used verb in English, and it’s also the most irregular verb. Because its irregular forms are tied up with the matter of person, we’ll examine be in detail here.

    These are the simple tenses of be. Notice how the forms change in the first, second, and third person, as well as in the singular and plural:

    Singular

    1st person 2nd person 3rd person

    Present

    I am You are He is

    Past

    I was You were He was

    Future

    I will be You will be He will be

    Plural

    1st person 2nd person 3rd person

    Present

    We are You are They are

    Past

    We were You were They were

    Future

    We will be You will be They will be

    Notice that the second-person forms are identical in the singular and plural. Notice, too, that there is great variety in the singular tenses, which use six different forms (am, are, is, was, were, and be), but the plurals are more consistent.

    As we move from the simple tenses to the tenses that require more auxiliaries, there is less variation in be. For that reason, we’ll look only at the singular in the following tenses.

    These are the perfect tenses of be:

    Singular

    1st person 2nd person 3rd person

    Present

    I have been

    You have been She has been

    Past

    I had been You had been he had been

    Future

    I will have been You will have been She will have been

    In the perfect tense, the main verb is always the past participle, been, and the auxiliaries have, had, and has show tense and number in every tense but the future.

    These are the progressive tenses of be:

    Singular

    1st person 2nd person 3rd person

    Present

    I am being You are being He is being

    Past

    I was being You were being He was being

    Future

    I will be being You will be being He will be being

    Notice here and in the perfect progressive tense (which is below) that the main verb is always being. But the first auxiliary verb in these tenses show considerable variation: am, are, is, was, and were.

    These are the perfect progressive tenses of be:

    Singular

    1st person 2nd person 3rd person

    Present

    I have been being

    You have been being

    He has been being

    Past

    I had been being

    You had been being

    He had been being

    Future

    I will have been being

    You will have been being

    He will have been being

    1. Use objective case pronouns as objects of prepositions.

    Sometimes you see nominative case pronouns used as objects of the prepositions:

    WRONG: Between Bob and I, we’ll get the job done. WRONG: Give the responsibility to Susan and I.

    But the nominative case is never right in this position. Always use the objective case as the object of the preposition:

    Between Bob and me, we’ll get the job done. Give the report to Susan and me.

    In the second example, you can make certain that you have the right pronoun by leaving out Susan: Give the report to me. If me is right in that sentence, it’s also right when used in to Susan and me.

    POINTS FOR WRITERS

    In both sentences, plural pronouns like us could also work in place of the two objects, but the pronouns must still be in the objective case.

    By the way, there is no grammatical reason to put me last in the two examples above; it’s a matter of courtesy. And courtesy is important, too.

    2. Use pronoun gender carefully.

    The third-person singular pronouns (he, she, it, and the others) can be troublesome. Consider this passage:

    Each physician should submit his credentials to the hospital’s human resources department. Each nurse must submit her credentials, too.

    In the past, these sentences may have been completely acceptable to most readers and editors. As you know, they are not acceptable today. Most readers and editors object to the apparent assumption that all physicians are men and all nurses are women.

    Today the usual way to avoid this problem, and the way we recommend in most cases, is to make the sentence plural:

    All physicians and nurses must submit their credentials to the hospital’s human resources department.

    Sometimes we can omit pronouns altogether:
    All physicians and nurses must submit credentials . . . .

    Other ways, like the use of his or her or his/her, are possible, but some editors regard them as awkward or wordy.

    There’s still another way. Today they, them, and their are sometimes used as singular pronouns, when you don’t know the gender of the antecedent:

    Tell your doctor to send me their diagnosis of your case.

    Some people approve, and some don’t, so (in certain professional contexts) tread carefully and consider the context. Again, you can rewrite the sentence to sidestep the entire issue: Send me the diagnosis . . . .

    3. Avoid pronoun ambiguity.

    Used carelessly, pronouns can be confusing.

    CONFUSING: The speaker discussed the causes of the recession, but I didn’t understand it at all.

    BETTER: In his speech, the speaker discussed the causes of the recession, but I didn’t understand him at all.

    BETTER: The speaker discussed the causes of the recession in his speech, but I didn’t understand it at all.

    These three sentences demonstrate the importance of selecting the right pronouns for your context. This is called pronoun agreement. When writers neglect pronoun agreement, they often confuse their readers.

    Here are two more examples of pronoun ambiguity. In these sentences, what is the antecedent of she?

    Sally’s mother has collected dolls since she was twelve years old.

    Sally told her mother that she was too old to play with dolls.

    The reader shouldn’t have to guess who she is. It’s usually easy to rewrite the sentences to avoid ambiguity:

    Sally’s mother has collected dolls for twenty-three years.

    Sally thought that her mother was too old to play with dolls and told her so.

    (Sally is asking for trouble.)

    4. Maintain a consistent point of view.

    That is, don’t change pronouns unnecessarily. Consider the confused point of view in this paragraph:

    When you have worked with adolescents for a few months, you will know what to expect. People who work with adolescents learn quickly what problems they will encounter in most situations. You get to know how they think.

    Don’t shift point of view without a good reason. Be consistent in your use of pronouns. Use third person or, when reasonable, first person, or a careful combination of first and third.

    Use second person (you) when it makes sense to address the reader directly.

    Here’s an improved version of the same paragraph:

    After you have worked with adolescents for a few months, you will know what to expect. You will quickly learn what problems you will encounter in most situations. You will get to know how they think.

    Inexperienced writers sometimes overuse the second-person pronouns , but it is usually acceptable in instructions like the passage above, or in personal communications like letters and emails. The second-person is also useful in establishing a more informal, conversational tone, as we have done in these chapters.

    It is also grammatical to use the indefinite pronoun one in passages like this:

    After one has worked with adolescents for a few months, one will know what to expect. One quickly learns what problems will be encountered in most situations.

    This use of one is now often seen as excessively formal and impersonal, and even awkward. Using you is usually a better idea.

    5. Use pronouns precisely.

    Using they, you, and it imprecisely is often a symptom of careless writing:

    WRONG: They don’t allow you to build fires in the city park.

    BETTER: The city doesn’t allow anyone to build fires in the city park.

    WRONG: It says in the letter that your band, Noise Pollution, is banned from performing in the city limits.

    BETTER: The City Council says in its letter that your band, Noise Pollution, is banned from performing in the city limits.

    EXERCISES

    7a. In this exercise, you need to write five versions of the same short sentence. Each version will use a different pronoun.

    First read the pronouns in the parentheses after each sentence. Then, for each pronoun, find the correct case to insert into the blank. Consult the pronoun tables in this chapter if you need to.

    Example:
    Give the book to _____. (I, he, we, they, she)

    Give the book to me. Give the book to him. Give the book to us. Give the book to them. Give the book to her.

    As you can see, to complete the sentence, you needed the objective case for each of the requested pronouns (I, he, we, they, she).

    Use the objective case in these sentences:
    1. You can go with _____. (I, he, we, they, she)

    2. We will take _____ to the mall. (he, she, they, you) Use the nominative case in this sentence:

    3. _____ can go with me. (him, her, you, them, us) Use the possessive case in these sentences:

    4. That book isn’t yours. It’s _____. (I, he, we, they, she)
    5. We won’t go to your place. We’ll go to _____ place. (I, he,

    we, they, she)

    7b. Write the pronoun that is specified by the terms. Usually only one pronoun is possible for each exercise. Consult the pronoun tables when you need to.

    Example:

    First-person nominative singular: I Second-person possessive: your, yours Masculine third-person objective singular: him

    1. First-person objective singular:
    2. First-person objective plural:
    3. Second-person nominative singular (or plural): 4. Feminine third-person nominative singular:
    5. Third-person nominative plural:
    6. Third-person objective singular (masculine):
    7. Third-person objective plural:
    8. First-person nominative plural:
    9. First-person possessive singular:
    10. Neuter third-person nominative singular:

    7c. Classify the following pronouns according to person (first-, second-, or third-person), case (nominative, objective, or possessive), and number (singular or plural). With the third-person singular pronouns, also classify gender (masculine, feminine, or neuter). Consult the tables when necessary.

    Examples:

    I (First-person nominative singular) Me (First-person objective singular)

    1. My
    2. He
    3. Him 4. Its
    5. Yours 6. We

    7. Us
    8. Our
    9. They 10. Them

    7d. In the following sentences, identify and correct carelessly used pronouns. Some sentences may require some rewriting, and some of the underscored pronouns are correct. In some cases, there may be more than one way to rewrite the sentence.

    1. If anyone sees a problem, he should report it immediately.

    1. Neither excessive heat nor cold will damage the crop unless they last for weeks.
    2. Its time to study grammar.
    3. If people want to do well in this course, you should be prepared to work hard.
    4. Each of these books has their correct place on the shelves.
    5. Jim helped Jerry get to his apartment.
    6. A medical doctor needs to know her science well.
    7. Our dog has something in it’s paw.
    8. The tires need replacing and it needs a new transmission, but I only paid five hundred dollars for it.

    10. As the bicyclists sped by the crowd, some of them nearly hit them.

    7e. Complete the following tables for the simple tenses of the verb to be. Some subjects have been provided.

    Simple tenses:

    Singular

    Present Past Future

    1st person I 2nd person You 3rd person He

    Plural

    1st person We 2nd person You 3rd person They

    Present Past

    Future

    7f. Complete the following table for the perfect tenses of the verb to be. Also provide pronouns as subjects of the verbs.

    Singular Present Past Future 1st person
    2nd person
    3rd person

    7g. Complete the following tables for the progressive and perfect progressive tenses of the verb to be. Also provide pronouns as subjects of the verbs.

    Progressive

    Singular Present Past 1st person
    2nd person
    3rd person

    Perfect Progressive

    Singular Present Past 1st person
    2nd person
    3rd person


    1.8: You and I and the Personal Pronouns is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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