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1.2: Pronouns

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    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Image by Raquel Baranow is licensed under CC-BY-4.0

    Anna decided at the beginning of Anna’s first semester of college that Anna would run for thirty minutes every day. Anna knew that Anna would be taking a literature class with a lot of reading, so instead of buying print copies of all the novels Anna’s teacher assigned, Anna bought the audiobooks. That way Anna could listen to the audiobooks as Anna ran.

    Did this paragraph feel awkward to you? Let’s try it again using pronouns:

    Anna decided at the beginning of her first semester of college that she would run for thirty minutes every day. She knew that she would be taking a literature class with a lot of reading, so instead of buying hard copies of all the novels her teacher assigned, Anna bought the audiobooks. That way she could listen to them as she ran.

    This second paragraph is much more natural. Instead of repeating nouns multiple times, we were able to use pronouns. You’ve likely hear the phrase “a pronoun replaces a noun”; this is exactly what a pronoun does. Because a pronoun is replacing a noun, its meaning is dependent on the noun that it is replacing. This noun is called the antecedent. Let’s look at the two sentences we just read again:

    • Because a pronoun is replacing a noun, its meaning is dependent on the noun that it is replacing. This noun is called an antecedent.

    There are two pronouns here: its and it. Its and it both have the same antecedent: “a pronoun.” Whenever you use a pronoun, you must also include its antecedent. Without the antecedent, your readers (or listeners) won’t be able to figure out what the pronoun is referring to. Let’s look at a couple of examples:

    • Jason likes it when people look to him for leadership.
    • Trini brushes her hair every morning.
    • Billy often has to clean his glasses.
    • Kimberly is a gymnast. She has earned several medals in different competitions.

    So, what are the antecedents and pronouns in these sentences?

    • Jason is the antecedent for the pronoun him.
    • Trini is the antecedent for the pronoun her.
    • Billy is the antecedent for the pronoun his.
    • Kimberly is the antecedent for the pronoun she.


    1. The bus is twenty minutes late today, like it always is.
    2. I would never be caught dead wearing boot sandals. They are an affront to nature.

    There are several types of pronouns, including personal, demonstrative, indefinite, and relative pronouns. The next few pages will cover each of these.

    Personal Pronouns

    Personal pronouns are what most people think of when they see the word pronoun. Personal pronouns include words like he, she, and they. The following sentences give examples of personal pronouns used with antecedents (remember, an antecedent is the noun that a pronoun refers to!):

    • That man looks as if he needs a new coat. (the noun phrase that man is the antecedent of he)
    • Kat arrived yesterday. I met her at the station. (Kat is the antecedent of her)
    • When they saw us, the lions began roaring (the lions is the antecedent of they)
    • Adam and I were hoping no one would find us. (Adam and I is the antecedent of us)

    Note: Pronouns like I, we, and you don’t always require an explicitly stated antecedent. When a speaker says something like “I told you the zoo was closed today,” it’s implied that the speaker is the antecedent for I and the listener is the antecedent for you.

    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 speaker or writer him- or herself. The first person is personal (I, we, etc.)
    • Second-person is the person who is being directly addressed. The speaker or author is saying this is about you, the listener or reader.
    • Third-person is the most common person used in academic writing. 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.
    Table \(\PageIndex{1}\)




    I, me, we, us





    He, him


    She, her


    It, they, them


    Select the response from the list that best completes the sentence.

    1. Sandra often put other people’s needs before her own. That’s why people loved (her / me) so much.
    2. Vindira and Frank always let us know when (he / they) were coming into town.
    3. I told Bruno (he / it) will need three things in order to be successful: determination, discipline, and dexterity.


    There are two numbers: singular and plural. As we learned in nouns, singular words refer to only one a thing while plural words refer to more than one of a thing (I stood alone while they walked together).

    Table \(\PageIndex{2}\)






    I, me


    We, us










    They, them


    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).


    Select the response from the list that best completes the sentence.

    1. I don’t know if I should talk to (he / him). (He / Him) looks really angry today.
    2. Enrico and Brenna are coming over for dinner tomorrow night. (They / Them) will be here at 6:00.
    3. Melissa loves music. (She / Her) listens to it when I drive (she / her) to work.

    Reflexive Pronouns

    Reflexive pronouns are a kind of pronoun that are used when the subject and the object of the sentence are the same.

    • Jason hurt himself. (Jason is the antecedent of himself)
    • We were teasing each other. (we is the antecedent of each other)

    This is true even if the subject is only implied, as in the sentence “Don’t hurt yourself.” You is the unstated subject of this sentence.


    Read at the following sentences. Should the reflexive pronoun be used? Why or why not?

    1. Aisha let (her / herself) in when she arrived.
    2. Feel free to let (you / yourself) in when you get here!
    3. Andrés asked Jada if she would let (him / himself) in when (she / herself) arrived.

    Possessive Pronouns

    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.” 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.”


    Select the response from the list that best completes the sentence.

    1. Hey, that’s (my / mine)!
    2. Carla gave Peter (her / hers) phone number.
    3. Remember to leave (their / theirs) papers on the table.


    The table below includes all of the personal pronouns in the English language. They are organized by person, number, and case:

    Table \(\PageIndex{3}\)












    My mine





    Our ours






    Your yours





    Your yours











    His his

    Her hers

    Its its





    Their theirs

    Demonstrative Pronouns

    Demonstrative pronouns substitute for things being pointed out. They include this, that, these, and those. This and that are singular; these and those are plural.

    The difference between this and that and between these and those is a little more subtle. This and these refer to something that is “close” to the speaker, whether this closeness is physical, emotional, or temporal. That and those are the opposite: they refer to something that is “far.”

    • Do I actually have to read all of this?
      • The speaker is indicating a text that is close to her, by using “this.”
    • That is not coming anywhere near me.
      • The speaker is distancing himself from the object in question, which he doesn’t want to get any closer. The far pronoun helps indicate that.
    • You’re telling me you sewed all of these?
      • The speaker and her audience are likely looking directly at the clothes in question, so the close pronoun is appropriate.
    • Those are all gross.
      • The speaker wants to remain away from the gross items in question, by using the far “those.”

    Note: these pronouns are often combined with a noun. When this happens, they act as a kind of adjective instead of as a pronoun.

    • Do I actually have to read all of this contract?
    • That thing is not coming anywhere near me.
    • You’re telling me you sewed all of these dresses?
    • Those recipes are all gross.

    The antecedents of demonstrative pronouns (and sometimes the pronoun it) can be more complex than those of personal pronouns:

    • Animal Planet’s puppy cam has been taken down for maintenance. I never wanted this to happen.
    • I love Animal Planet’s panda cam. I watched a panda eat bamboo for half an hour. It was amazing.

    In the first example, the antecedent for this is the concept of the puppy cam being taken down. In the second example, the antecedent for it in this sentence is the experience of watching the panda. That antecedent isn’t explicitly stated in the sentence, but comes through in the intention and meaning of the speaker.


    In the following sentences, determine if this, that, these, or those should be used.

    1. Lara looked at her meal in front of her. “____ looks great!” she said.
    2. Tyesha watched the ’67 Mustang drive down the street. “What I wouldn’t give for one of ____.”
    3. “What do you think of ____?” Ashley asked, showing me the three paint samples she had picked out.

    Indefinite Pronouns

    These pronouns can be used in a couple of different ways:

    • They can refer to members of a group separately rather than collectively. (To each his or her own.)
    • They can indicate the non-existence of people or things. (Nobody thinks that.)
    • They can refer to a person, but are not specific as to first, second or third person in the way that the personal pronouns are. (One does not clean one’s own windows.)

    Please note that all of these pronouns are singular. The table below shows the most common indefinite pronouns:

    Table \(\PageIndex{4}\): Common indefinite pronouns











    No one



    Nobody else





    Note: Sometimes third-person personal pronouns are sometimes used without antecedents—this applies to special uses such as dummy pronouns and generic they, as well as cases where the referent is implied by the context.

    • You know what they say.
    • It’s a nice day today.

    Please note that all of these pronouns are singular. Look back at the example “To each his or her own.” Saying “To each their own” would be incorrect, since their is a plural pronoun and each is singular.


    Identify the indefinite pronouns in the following sentences. Is the best indefinite used, or is there another indefinite that would fit better?

    1. Everyone should take the time to critically think about what he or she wants out of life.
    2. If I had to choose between singing in public and swimming with leeches, I would choose neither.
    3. Yasmin knew everything was wrong, but she couldn’t figure out what.
    4. If nobody else enrolls in this class, it will be cancelled this semester.


    Underline the pronouns in the following sentences.

    1. Sofía loved her mother with a devotion that was almost religious.
    2. In the summer, temperatures rise for above those that we have previously known.
    3. Professor Williams has struggled to improve her student success rates despite intensive revisions to her pedagogy.
    4. Their dog tore through our yard, making a mess of things.
    5. Did you find your keys?

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