The Writing Center

Pronouns

What is a pronoun?

A pronoun is used in place of a noun. Different forms are used to show person, number, gender, and case. There are personal, interrogative, indefinite, demonstrative, and reflexive pronouns.

  • A personal pronoun refers to one or more individuals or things. Personal pronouns may be in the nominative, objective or possessive case. 

Singular

Nominative

Objective

Possessive (adj, pronoun)

1st person

I

me

my, mine

2nd person

you

you

your, yours

3rd person masculine

he

him

his

3rd person feminine

she

her

her, hers

3rd person gender-neutral*

they*

them*

theirs

3rd person inanimate

it

it

its

 

Plural

Nominative

Objective

Possessive (adj, pronoun)

1st person

we

us

our, ours

2nd person

you

you

your, yours

3rd person

they

them

their, theirs


For example: I took my sister to her doctor.
She gave us a new table for our kitchen.

  • An interrogative pronoun is used to ask a question. Interrogative pronouns include: who, whom, whose, what, and which.

    For example: Who left the light on? Which book is yours?

  • A relative pronoun relates groups of words to nouns or other pronouns. For example: Matt was the one who built the picnic table.

    The house, which has a garden in bloom, is very inviting.

  • An indefinite pronoun refers to a general person or thing. Singular indefinite pronouns include: one, each either, neither, everyone, no one, anybody, somebody, nobody, everybody, anyone, and someone. Plural indefinite pronouns include: several, both, many, and few.

    For example: No one has a good idea for the workshop. (singular) Many go on vacation in August. (plural)

The indefinite pronouns some, none, all, most, and any can be singular or plural depending on the meaning of the sentence.

For example: Some of the work is done. (singular) Some of the marks come off easily. (plural)

  • A demonstrative pronoun identifies or points out a noun. The demonstrative pronouns include: that, this, these, those, and such.

    For example: This is more expensive than that. These are my favorites, not those.

  • A reflexive pronoun refers to a noun and provides emphasis or shows distinction from others. Reflexive pronouns are formed with the suffixes –self and –selves.

    For example: Bianca made the cake by herself.
    Erin and Renee tried to occupy themselves when work was slow.

Pronoun and antecedent agreement

The guidelines for Standard American Written English dictate that a pronoun must “agree” in person and number with its antecedent, the word that the pronoun replaces or the word to which it refers.

Incorrect: A student should be careful about checking the grammar in their writing.* Correct: Students should be careful about checking the grammar in their writing.

A student should be careful about checking grammar in his or her writing.

However, the use of “their” to refer to a third-person, gender-neutral singular noun is becoming acceptable among readers and writers who tire of using “he or she” repeatedly or who acknowledge that many people prefer to be referred to using gender-neutral pronouns. For this reason, the writing center supports the use of the singular “they” and “them.” We recommend, however, that writers be aware of their audiences when deciding to use the singular “they” or “them” in their writing. Professors or supervisors may correct such usage when they see it.

  • Antecedents joined by the word and take plural pronouns.
    For example: Lisa and Tracy are writing their papers.

  • Use a singular pronoun to refer to two or more singular antecedents joined by the words or or nor. For example: Ben or James will read his essay.

  • When there is more than one type of antecedent – a singular and a plural – joined by the words or or nor, the pronoun agrees with the closest antecedent.

    For example: The teacher or the students will have their way. The students or the teacher will have her way.

Vague pronoun reference

In conversation, the words it and they are often used to make vague reference to people and situations. In writing, more precise identification is needed.

Vague: The history test was made up of multiple choice questions. This disturbed us. Better: The history test was made up of multiple choice questions. This failure to evaluate students’ analytic abilities disturbed us.

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