Pronouns – Overview

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What is a pronoun?

Pronouns are words that take the place of nouns. He, she, it, they, them, us, and our are all forms of pronouns.

In most cases, there isn’t a question of which pronoun to use.

  • John gave the book to Marcia. He gave the book to her.

However, in some cases, it is not that easy to determine which pronoun to use.

Who or whom? We girls are going… or Us girls are going… He is taller than I or He is taller than me?

Pronoun Case

Pronoun case is the form of the pronoun needed.

There are three cases:

  • subject
  • object
  • possessive

Subject Case

The subject form of a pronoun is the form when it is the subject of a sentence. The subject is the doer of the action in a sentence.

  • They are going to deliver the box, not Them are going to deliver the box.
  • She is traveling to Idaho to participate in a dance competition, not Her is traveling…
  • Who is going? Not Whom is going?

Who or Whom?

The bicyclist ran into the lady who was walking, not whom was walking. Who is the subject of the clause who was walking.

Here are the subjective forms of pronouns: I, you, he, she, it, we, you, they, and who.

Most people know the subject form of pronouns.

Object Case

The object form of a pronoun is used when a pronoun is an object. An object is a receiver of some form of action.

  • Adrian gave the book to Inez.
  • Adrian gave it to her.

The pronouns it and her are in the objective case.

To whom should we address the letter? Whom is in the object case since it is the object of the preposition to.

  • The teacher gave the students the assignment. The nouns students and assignment are objects.
  • The teacher gave it to them. Here is the sentence with pronouns instead of nouns.

Here are the objective forms of pronouns:

  • me, us
  • you
  • him, her, them
  • whom

Who or Whom?

Most people don’t have problems with the object form except for who and whom.

One way to see whether the he or him fits. If he fits, then it is a subject situation, and who is proper.

If him can be substituted, then it is an object situation, and whom is the right pronoun.

Unfortunately, not all sentences lend themselves to this trial replacement test.

You need to determine whether it is a subject situation or an object situation. If there is a verb following it, then it is a subject situation.

  • Who knows the answer? (Subject) knows the answer.
  • Whom do you love? Do you love (object)?
  • The doctor helps whoever needs treatment. The doctor helps (subject) needs treatment.
  • The doctor helps whomever he treats. The doctor treats (object).

Possessive Pronouns

Possessive pronouns are pronouns that show possession.

  • my, mine, our, ours
  • you, yours
  • his, hers, its
  • their, theirs

Note that there are not apostrophes for possession since these words are themselves possessive. They don’t need an apostrophe to show possession.

Note that its is a possessive pronoun. The contraction it’s (it is) is not possessive. It is the contraction for it is or it has.

There are different ways possessive pronouns are used:

  • The book is mine. This is my book.
  • The idea for a new air conditioner was his. It was his idea.
  • Their opinion is to hire a new facilitator. (They share the same opinion.)
  • The people voiced their opinions at the meeting. (They had individual opinions.)

Demonstrative Pronouns

Demonstrative pronouns are pronouns that refer to a particular person, place, or thing. Demonstrative pronouns include: this, that, these, and those.

  • This and that are singular: This is the table.
  • These and those are plural: These are the notes.

Reflexive Pronouns

Reflexive pronouns are the form of the noun with –self at the end:

  • myself, ourselves
  • yourself, yourselves
  • himself, herself, themselves

Note the following non-standard usages: hisself, theirself, themself. These are slang expressions and should not be used in formal writing.

Reflexive pronouns should be used only in limited situations:

  • I, myself, did the analysis.
  • Mr. Langley, himself, walked from the pier to the shopping center to check the distance.
  • In order to determine the difficulty, Mrs. Amesly, herself, performed the calculations.

Examples of incorrect usage:

  • Luis and myself undertook the responsibility. There must be a subject form in this sentence.
  • Luis and I undertook the responsibility.
  • The administrator gave the application to myself. There must be an object form in this sentence.
  • The administrator gave the application to me.

Other types of pronouns

While the pronouns who and whom were discussed under subject form and object form, they are usually categorized with a group of pronouns called interrogatives, so-called since they are used in questions:

  • who
  • whom
  • whose
  • what
  • which

Examples of sentences with interrogatives:

  • Who is the current treasurer?
  • To whom should these letters be addressed?
  • Whose car is parked in the spot reserved for the chairman of the board?
  • What is the result of discontinuing the outsourcing efforts?
  • Which technical report is the most thoroughly completed?

Aside from whether to use who or whom in a particular sentence as discussed above, problems associated with these pronouns are usual with subject-verb agreement. Interrogative pronouns must agree with the noun to which they are referring.

  • Who are the current members of the board of directors?
  • Whose cars are parked in the long-term parking lot?
  • What are the consequences of discontinuing the outsourcing efforts?
  • Which technical reports are the most thoroughly completed?

The pronouns who, whom, which, and that can serve as relative pronouns where they have a predicate although they are not a sentence since relative clauses do not complete a thought. (Exception: The pronoun that which can be used to begin a sentence: That is the one I want.)

  • The technical assistants, whose notes are used to train new executives, felt they should be compensated.
  • The geologists fought for new funding which helps to continue the study