The biggest mistake among non-native English speakers is the proper use of pronouns. Why? Well, depending on your mother tongue, pronouns can have different rules attached to them and it’s hard to directly translate them.
For instance, a lot of different cultures will address animals and pets differently or even have a certain pronoun for each animal (most popularly known in French). In English, we don’t have any gender assignments for animals or objects. They actually all start with “it” or “they” until we can determine gender if it’s alive.
What are the 7 English Pronouns?
A pronoun is a word that can replace a noun in a sentence. We know the simple list of pronouns we learn pretty early on during our English learning journey; I, you, we, they, it, she, and he. These are known as Subject or Personal Pronouns. But, did you know that there are actually 7 types of pronouns, each with its very own list? We use them all the time, but little know that they are categorized into pronoun groups.
These include Subject, Possessive, Reflexive, Reciprocal, Relative, Demonstrative, Interrogative, and Indefinite.
Before we dive in, let’s go through some definitions that we’ll use throughout this blog:
First-person singular: When the talker is talking about the talker
First-person plural: When the talker is talking about the talker and a companion
Second-person singular: When the talker is talking about the listener directly
Second-person singular: When the talker is talking about the listeners directly
Third-person singular: When the talker is talking about someone who is not in the conversation.
Third-person plural: When the talker is talking about people who are not in the conversation.
Subject or personal pronouns are used when the subject of the sentence, a person, animal, place, or thing, is being shortened. This is often followed by the verb, unless in question format. Subject pronouns can be personal or objective depending on the subject. Here’s the list:
I – first person, e.g. I (Becky) walk to work.
You – the second person (referring to the person you are directly talking to), e.g. You (Jim) can walk with me.
She – third person, female (referring to a female but not talking directly), e.g. She (Jenny) is running late for work.
He – third person, male (same as she, but male), e.g. He (Tom) is running late too.
We – first person, plural (same as I, but adding another person), e.g. We (Becky and Jim) are walking to work. They – third person, plural, e.g. They (Jim and Jenny) are both running late for work.
Possessive pronouns are pronouns that you use when talking about something that is owned by someone. We can use this as both an adjective and as a noun. Little confused? Don’t worry, I’ll explain further!
Possessive adjectives are my, your, our, their, her, and his. It’s followed by the noun (the something that is owned by the person), so it ends up as an adjective. Here are some examples:
This is my book (first person singular)
I drove her car. (third-person singular, female)
You can also use possessive pronouns as a noun. You’ll use this when the possession is not followed by a noun. The noun or object is already assumed or mentioned and there’s no need to mention the word again. These are mine, yours, hers, his, theirs, and ours. Here are some examples:
That book is mine. (first person singular)
I think that’s yours. (second person singular)
This class is not ours. (first person plural)
Reflexive pronouns are pronouns when you need to reflect on the subject. This happens at the end of a sentence, normally after a clause. Because it’s reflective, the pronouns end in -self or -selves. These are myself, yourself, ourselves, themselves, herself, and himself. Here are some examples:
I wanted to go to the shop, but I couldn’t go by myself. (first person singular)
She looked at herself in the mirror. (third-person singular female)
Reciprocal pronouns involve at least two people with whom you’ll talk about them together. Reciprocal pronouns refer to a situation where someone or something performs an action on others and receives the same action in return. They include each other or one another. Here are a couple of examples:
They talked with one another. We can support each other through this time.
Relative pronouns are used to form complex sentences. The one you use will depend on whether the subject is a person or an object. If it’s a person, you’ll use one of them that suits the sentence.
Which – a subject is an object compared to something else, e.g. The phone was off which didn’t make sense.
Who – a subject is a person and the function is the subject, e.g. Kim is an athlete who enjoys distance running.
Whose – a subject is a person followed by an object owned by the subject, e.g. I buy my eggs from a farmer whose chickens roam free.
Whom – a subject is a person, but functions as an object, e.g. Asher wrote a letter to a pen pal whom he had never met.
Where – a subject that’s relating to a location, e.g. He’s where I left him.
When – a subject that relates to time, e.g. I like swimming when the weather is sunny.
Demonstrative pronouns are pronouns that point to a specific object. They include this, that, these, and those. You’ll already know what the object is when using this. Here are some examples:
This is a perfect example sentence.
These words are written in a blog. Those pens are all red. I need these pens as they’re black. (red pens are far away and black pens are close or on the person).
The interrogative is just a fancy word for a question. Question words are normally used as adverbs, but in some cases, we can use them as pronouns. You’ll be able to tell the difference as adverbs as questions are usually at the start of a sentence, while question pronouns are normally somewhere in the middle of a complex sentence. They include who, what, why, where, when, and whatever. Here are examples:
He lives within five miles of where he was born. (the place in which)
This is why I don’t like the cinema. (the reason)
An indefinite pronoun is a little self-explanatory. It can’t be defined. We’ll use these when we’re not too sure what we’re talking about. So, it’s a pronoun used in place of a noun that we’re not sure what it is or we’re being a little vague. These are anything, anybody, anyone, something, somebody, someone, nothing, nobody, none, and no one.
I can’t tell anyone about this. (any person)
There is nothing that you can do. (not one thing)
Is there anybody or anything that will help? (any person or any situation)
English Language Facts
- Unlike most languages with Latin origins, all objects are “it” and not assigned a gender. For example, “the” in most languages has a feminine and a masculine, but not in English. If you are referring to multiple objects, “they, them” are the plurals of “it”.
- An animal is a “they”, not an “it”. Unless you’re not an animal person, it’s perfectly ok to use this pronoun for animals – wild or domesticated. Once you are familiar with the animal and know the gender, feel free to start using “he” or “she”.
- Cars are mostly “she’s”. For some reason, it’s a global trend to name cars with a female name and talk about them with the pronoun “she”. However, if you’re not a car person, “it” is actually the grammatically correct term to use.
- With the growing LGBTQ+ community and recent advancements in global acceptance, “they” is being used much more when you are unsure of the gender or would like to use a gender-neutral term. This is also used if say you are emailing and not sure of a gender of a certain person you are emailing about.
- In Scotland and Ireland, “ye” can be heard as the plural of “you”. Different variations include “ye’ve, ye’re, and “yereselves”. Yup – I’m not kidding!
- Similarly, “yo” is a colloquial term used in the US and can be heard as a substitute for “you”.
- There is no possessive pronoun for it as an object cannot own something and wouldn’t make sense to use.
Pronouns are a huge subclass of nouns and we use them more than you think! Using pronouns will save you time and make you sound a lot more fluent in English. There are tons of exercises online to quiz yourself on the right pronoun to use. We’ll also help you along the way during lessons. See you next time!