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Pronoun

In English, words are grouped into word classes based on the function they perform in a sentence. There are nine main word classes in English; nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, pronouns, determiners, conjunctions, and interjections. This explanation is all about pronouns.

Pronoun meaning

A pronoun is a word that can replace a noun or a noun phrase in a sentence. Pronouns are a subcategory of nouns. Pronouns refer to either a noun that has previously been mentioned or a general noun that does not need to be specified. They can help to prevent repetition.

Examples of pronouns

Before we delve into examples of pronouns, let's see what language would look like without them.

Jake drove Jake's new car. Jake was happy with Jake's new purchase.

This example contains no pronouns; instead, the noun 'Jake' is repeated. Sounds a bit strange, right?

Now, let's look at the same sentence with pronouns.

'Jake drove his new car. He was happy with his new purchase. '

The pronouns 'his' and 'he' help to make the second sentence more varied and easy to read. We know that these pronouns refer to Jake as he has previously been mentioned. In this example, Jake is the antecedent.

Pronouns and antecedents

The noun that the pronoun replaces or refers to is called the antecedent. In the example above the antecedent is 'Jack', as this is the noun that the pronouns 'he' and 'his' refer to. Take a look at some further examples of antecedents:

I went to the cinema (antecedent). It (pronoun) was great.

Leonardo Di Caprio (antecedent) went to the zoo. He (pronoun) didn't like the tigers.

Here are some further examples of nouns being replaced by pronouns:

Pronoun examples of pronouns StudySmarterFig 1. Examples of pronouns

Types of pronouns

In this article we will cover the 7 main types of pronouns, these are:

  • Personal pronouns

    • Subject and object pronouns

  • Reflexive pronouns

  • Relative pronouns

  • Possessive pronouns

  • Demonstrative pronouns

  • Indefinite pronouns

  • Interrogative pronouns

Personal pronouns

Personal pronouns are pronouns that are associated with a particular person (or sometimes animal). We often substitute the proper name of the person (e.g. 'Sarah') for the pronoun so that we don't have to constantly repeat the name of the person. We can also use pronouns when we are unsure of a person's name.

Personal pronouns consist of both subject and object pronouns, which are explained below. Possessive pronouns and reflexive pronouns can also be considered a type of personal pronoun, as they refer to specific people, animals, or things (we will cover these next!).

Subject and object pronouns

Pronouns can be subjects or objects in a sentence in a similar way to nouns being either the subject or object in a sentence. The basic rule is that the subject is the person or thing doing the action and the object is the person or thing receiving the action.

Subject pronouns

The subject pronoun in the English language is the doer of an action. It is the person, place, thing, or idea that does the action. Subject pronouns consist of the words;

  • I

  • You (singular)

  • He

  • She

  • It

  • We

  • You (plural)

  • They

'He ate my shorts'

In this sentence, he is the subject as he is doing the action ('ate').

'They hugged the old man'

In this sentence, they is the subject as they are doing the hugging action.

Object pronouns

The object in the English language 'receives' the action. They are the person, place, thing, or idea that the action is done to. Object pronouns consist of the words;

  • Me

  • You (singular)

  • Him

  • Her

  • It

  • Us

  • You (plural)

  • Them

'Faye told him to go outside'

Here the pronoun him is the object as he is receiving the action ('told').

'They didn't clean it'

A trickier sentence (to challenge your subject/object knowledge). Here there are two pronouns, however, it is the pronoun 'it' that is receiving the action and is, therefore, the object pronoun. (The pronoun 'they' is therefore the subject as it is doing the action).

Possessive pronouns

Possessive pronouns give information about who possesses the thing (noun). Possessive pronouns are words like mine, yours, his, hers, its, ours, and theirs.

'This jacket is mine'

In this sentence, the possessive pronoun mine indicates that the noun (the jacket) belongs to me.

'The dog is hers'

In this sentence, the possessive pronoun hers indicates that the noun (the dog) belongs to a previously mentioned girl/woman, or someone that is being pointed to.

It is useful to remember that possessive pronouns often replace possessive nouns. For example, the sentence 'It is Sam’s (possessive noun)' becomes 'It is his (possessive pronoun)'.

Pronoun, Image of dog and girl, StudySmarterFig 2. The dog is hers

Reflexive pronouns

Reflexive pronouns refer back to a person or thing. They are used when the same person, animal, or thing is the subject and the object of a sentence. The reflexive pronouns consist of the words;

  • Myself

  • Yourself

  • Yourselves

  • Ourselves

  • Himself

  • Herself

  • Themselves

An easy way to remember the reflexive pronouns is that they all end in -self or -selves.

'He cut his hair himself'

Here the pronoun himself refers back to the subject. In other words, the subject 'he' does the action onto 'himself' so the reflexive pronoun is used.

'I believe in myself'

In this sentence, the reflexive pronoun myself shows that the action (believe) refers back to the subject (I).

Summary of personal pronouns

Here's a summary of the first three types of pronouns (personal pronouns, possessive pronouns, and reflexive pronouns). We have grouped these together as they are all pronouns that normally refer to particular people (or animals).

Pronoun summary of personal pronouns StudySmarterFig 3. Summary of personal pronouns

Pronouns showing person, number, and gender

Confused about all these different 'persons' and 'plurals' in the table? Don't worry, we've got you covered. Here is a brief summary of what they mean.

Person

The person shows the relationship of the author/speaker with the reader/listener. There are three persons in English:

  • The first person shows that the author/speaker is talking about themselves. (I, me, we, us)

  • The second person is used when the author is directly addressing you (in both the singular and the plural form)

  • The third person shows that the author is talking about other people. (he, him, she, her, it, they, them)

Number

The number of people may also be shown in the differentiation between the singular forms (e.g. I, you, him, her) and the plural forms (e.g. we, us, you, they).

Gender

Pronouns may also differ according to gender. In English, gender is shown in the various forms of the third-person pronouns 'he' and 'her'. There is also the neuter (like 'neutral') third-person pronoun 'they'.

Relative pronouns

Relative pronouns are words that connect a noun or pronoun to a clause or phrase. The relative pronouns are that, who, which, whose, and whom. For these pronouns, it is best to look at some examples first as they are easier to understand in context:

Pronoun, relative pronouns, StudySmarterFig 4. Examples of relative pronouns

Relative pronouns can refer to the subject or the object. They can also be possessive. As we can see in the examples, relative pronouns connect a noun or pronoun (eg. 'boy') with a clause or phrase (eg. 'likes me').

They are used for two reasons; firstly, they clarify what exactly we are talking about (e.g. 'the boy who likes me') and secondly they give further information about a noun (e.g. 'we ate pizza, which was a nice treat').

Other examples of relative pronouns include 'whoever' and 'whomever'. Words such as 'where', 'when', and 'what' can also be used as relative pronouns in certain contexts e.g. 'John remembers a time when he was young and outgoing' or 'I'd like to travel to the place where my dad grew up'.

Demonstrative pronouns

Demonstrative pronouns point to a specific noun. They replace the noun in a sentence whilst also giving information about distance. There are four demonstrative pronouns in English:

  • This

  • That

  • These

  • Those

The pronouns 'this' and 'these' suggest something is nearby e.g. 'who sent this? (in my hand)' or 'look at these! (right here)'. The pronouns 'that' and 'those' suggest distance e.g. 'I'm not going to eat that (over there on the plate)', or 'those are important documents' (over there).

Demonstrative pronouns use the same words as demonstrative determiners. The main difference between the two is that pronouns can stand alone (e.g. 'who sent this?'), whereas determiners need a noun to go alongside them (e.g. 'who sent this letter?').

Indefinite pronouns

Indefinite pronouns are used to refer to a person or thing that you don't need, or want, to specify precisely. In other words, they do not 'define' the noun, but instead are more general. Examples of indefinite pronouns include words like;

  • Anyone

  • Somebody

  • Anything

  • Everything

  • Some

  • Enough

'Everything is going as planned'

In this sentence, the indefinite pronoun everything refers to a thing that isn't specified in the sentence. We don't know what exactly is going as planned (it could be a big secret birthday party, but we'll never know!).

'Don't tell anyone my secret'

Here the indefinite pronoun anyone refers to people in general rather than specifying someone in particular.

Interrogative pronouns

Interrogative pronouns are used to ask questions. They are the 'wh-' words often used at the beginning of a sentence.

There are five interrogative pronouns in English: what, who, which, whom, and whose. While these are all pretty similar to the relative pronouns we mentioned above, interrogative pronouns are used for a completely different purpose. Take a look at the following examples to understand how they are used in context:

pronouns interrogative pronouns StudySmarterFig 5. Interrogative pronouns

Determiners vs. pronouns

It is important to understand the difference between pronouns and determiners as it can be quite easy to mix them up. All determiners come right before a noun or a noun phrase. They can never stand alone in a sentence. Pronouns, by contrast, can stand alone and often replace the noun or noun phrase. Take a look at these sentences:

Pronoun, determiners vs. pronouns StudySmarter

Fig 6. Determiners and possessives

As we can see, determiners always come immediately before a noun, whilst pronouns are more independent.

Pronouns list

Here is a complete list of all the pronouns in English;

  • I
  • we
  • you (singular and plural)

  • he

  • she

  • it

  • they

  • me

  • us

  • her

  • him

  • it

  • them

  • mine

  • ours

  • yours (singular and plural)

  • hers

  • his

  • theirs

  • my

  • our

  • your

  • her

  • their

  • myself

  • yourself

  • herself

  • himself

  • itself

  • ourselves

  • yourselves

  • themselves

  • as

  • that

  • what

  • whatever

  • which

  • whichever

  • who

  • whoever

  • whom

  • whomever

  • whose

  • such

  • these

  • this

  • those

Pronoun - key takeaways

  • A pronoun is a word that can replace a noun or a noun phrase in a sentence. The noun that is replaced by the pronoun is called the antecedent.
  • There are seven main types of pronouns: personal pronouns, reflexive pronouns, relative pronouns, possessive pronouns, demonstrative pronouns, indefinite pronouns, and interrogative pronouns.
  • Personal pronouns show person, number, and gender. The consist of subject and object pronouns.
  • Possessive pronouns tell us who owns something.

  • Reflexive pronouns refer back to a person.

  • Relative pronouns connect a noun or pronoun to a clause or phrase.

  • Demonstrative pronouns point to a specific person or thing.

  • Indefinite pronouns refer to people or things that you don't need to or want to specify precisely

  • Interrogative pronouns are wh-words that are used to ask questions.

Frequently Asked Questions about Pronoun

A pronoun is a word that can replace a noun or a noun phrase in a sentence. They refer to either a noun that has previously been mentioned or does not need to be specified and helps to prevent repetition.

Relative pronouns are words that connect a noun or pronoun to a clause or phrase. The most common relative pronouns include the words that, who, which, whose, and whom. Relative pronouns clarify what exactly we are talking about (e.g. ‘the boy who likes me’) and give further information about a noun (e.g. ‘we ate pizza, which was a nice treat’).

Possessive pronouns tell us who owns something. They consist of the words mine, yours, his, hers, its, ours, and theirs. For example, in the sentence ‘the dog is hers’ the possessive pronoun ‘hers’ indicates that the noun (the dog) belongs to a previously mentioned girl/ woman, or someone that is being physically pointed out.

Personal pronouns are associated with a particular person (or animal). We often substitute the proper name of the person (e.g. ‘Sarah’) for the pronoun so that we don’t have to constantly repeat the name of the person. They consist of subject pronouns that do the action (I, you, he, she, it, we, and they) and object pronouns that receive the action (me, you, him, her, it, us, and them).

There are 7 main types of pronouns; 

Personal pronouns, Reflexive pronouns, Relative pronouns, Possessive pronouns, Demonstrative pronouns, Indefinite pronouns, and Interrogative pronouns.

Final Pronoun Quiz

Question

Pronouns replace a _________ in a sentence. Fill in the blanks.

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Answer

Pronouns replace a noun or a noun phrase in a sentence.

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Question

Pronouns refer to a noun that has previously been mentioned or a general noun that does not need to be specified. True or false?


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Answer

Pronouns refer to a noun that has previously been mentioned or a general noun that does not need to be specified. True or false?

Show question

Question

What are the pronouns in the following sentence? ‘Beth rode her new bike. She was happy with her gift.’


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Answer

The pronouns in this sentence are ‘her’, ‘she’, and ‘her’ as they all replace the noun (Beth), who has previously been mentioned.

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Question

What is the antecedent?


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Answer

The noun that the pronoun refers to is called the antecedent. For example, in the sentence ‘Beth rode her bike’, the word ‘Beth’ is the antecedent as the pronoun ‘her’ refers to Beth.

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Question

Name the 7 main types of pronouns.


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Answer

The 7 main types of pronouns are; personal pronouns, reflexive pronouns, relative pronouns, possessive pronouns, demonstrative pronouns, indefinite pronouns, and interrogative pronouns.

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Question

Personal pronouns are pronouns associated with a particular _______. Personal pronouns consist of 2 types of personal pronouns:  _______ pronouns and ________ pronouns. Fill in the blanks.


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Answer

Personal pronouns are pronouns associated with a particular person (or animal). Personal pronouns consist of 2 types of personal pronouns: subject pronouns and object pronouns.

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Question

What are subject pronouns and object pronouns?


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Answer

Subject pronouns are the person or thing that does the action. Object pronouns are the person or thing that the action is done to (they receive the action).

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Question

Possessive pronouns give information about _______. Fill in the blanks.


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Answer

Possessive pronouns give information about who owns the thing (noun) e.g. ‘the ball is his’.

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Question

Which of the following are examples of reflexive pronouns?

  • Him

  • Itself

  • Myself

  • That

Show answer

Answer

The reflexive pronouns are ‘itself’ and ‘myself’ as they are used to refer back to a person or thing. Reflexive pronouns all end in -self or -selves.

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Question

Pronouns can show person, number, and gender. What does the pronoun ‘her’ show in terms of person, number, and gender?



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Answer

The pronoun ‘her’ is in the 3rd person (the author/ speaker is talking about other people). It also shows a singular person whose gender is feminine.

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Question

What type of pronoun is ‘that’ in the following stance? ‘It is the 9:30 train that you need to take’


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Answer

The pronoun ‘that’ is a relative pronoun. It is used to connect the noun ‘train’ with the clause ‘you need to take’. Relative pronouns clarify what noun we are talking about and give further information about the noun.

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Question

Which of the following are NOT a demonstrative pronoun?

  • Those

  • Which

  • That

  • This

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Answer

The word ‘which’ is not a demonstrative pronoun. Demonstrative pronouns point to a specific noun and give information about distance.

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Question

Indefinite pronouns specify the noun we are referring to. True or false?


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Answer

False. Indefinite pronouns are used to refer to a person or thing that you don’t need to/ want to specify precisely. They refer to more general things e.g. ‘something’, ‘anybody’, ‘some’.

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Question

Give 3 examples of interrogative pronouns.


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Answer

There are 5 interrogative pronouns in English, these are what, who, which, whom, and whose. These are used to ask questions.

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Question

What is the main difference between pronouns and determiners?



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Answer

Determiners always come before a noun or a noun phrase, they can never stand alone in a sentence. Pronouns however can stand alone and often replace the noun or noun phrase.

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Question

Identify the type of pronoun;

'I like the top that has the bow'

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Answer

Relative pronoun

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Question

Identify the type of pronoun;

'I parked the car myself'

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Answer

Reflexive pronoun

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Question

Identify the type of pronoun;

'Whose dog is this?'


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Answer

Interrogative pronoun

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Question

Identify the type of pronoun;

'Park anywhere'


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Answer

Indefinite pronoun

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Question

Identify the type of pronoun;

'They're not coming'


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Answer

Personal pronoun

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