Personal Pronouns in English Grammar

Personal Pronouns

A personal pronoun is a word that substitutes a name in a sentence to avoid it repetition. Each personal pronouns shows us information like person or number.

Personal Pronouns

Personal Pronouns

While speaking or writing in English, you cannot always use people’s names to refer to them; this would make our speech or writing dull and full of unnecessary repetition. You can avoid this by using personal pronouns.

What Is a Pronoun?

Basically, pronouns are substitutes for nouns; personal pronouns particularly substitute names and proper nouns and they can take the role of the subject and object in a sentence.
Take a look at this example:

Jennifer saw a cat at the shelter ; she adopted it .

In this example, the pronouns ‘she’ and ‘it’ are substitutes for ‘Jennifer’ and ‘cat’; ‘she’ is functioning as the subject of the second sentence and ‘it’ as the object.

How Personal Pronouns Are Categorized

Personal pronouns are categorized based on four criteria:

  1. Person
  2. Gender
  3. Number
  4. Grammatical role (being the subject or object in the sentence)

Person

In English, each pronoun can have one of these three grammatical persons:

  1. First-person: refers to the speaker
  2. Second-person: refers to the person that is being addressed
  3. Third-person: refers to a third party which is not present or not participating in the speech

Gender

For pronouns that are marked based on gender, each pronoun can have one of these three genders:

  1. Male
  2. Female
  3. No-Gender (or neutral)

Number

Pronouns (and almost all nouns) are categorized into two main groups based on number:

  1. Singular: When we are addressing one thing or person
  2. Plural: When we are addressing more than one thing or person

Subjective Personal Pronouns

In a sentence, subject does an action, and the action of the verb happens to the object. Subjective personal pronouns, as is evident by the name, can replace the subject of a sentence. For example:

John bought a book . → He bought a book .

In this example “John” is the subject. (He is doing the action of buying)

Subjective pronouns can be used when you know who or what you are addressing. You can see them in the following table:

Subjective Pronoun Person Number
I First Singular
You Second Singular
He Third (male) Singular
She Third (female) Singular
It Third (neutral) Singular
We First Plural
You Second Plural
They Third Plural

Now let’s see them in action in these examples:

John bought a book . → He bought a book .

In this example we replaced ‘John’ with a personal pronoun. (it is third person and a man so ‘He’ will be the right choice)

I was doing the dishes .

You can climb this wall .

Names Are Third Person

Names in sentences are almost always third person. For first and second person, you should always use a pronoun. Referring to yourself with name may sound weird!

Personal Pronoun 'You'

‘You’ as Second Person Singular and Plural

You may have noticed that English has the same pronoun for second person singular and plural. It may look odd at first but as second person is the person who is being addressed in the sentence, you do not need to emphasize on number. In case you need to emphasize on number of people addressed, you can use ‘You all’.

You all need to work harder , if you want to succeed .

In this example speaker is emphasizing on addressing all the people who hear it.

Generic or Impersonal ‘You’

‘You’ can also be used as an ‘impersonal pronoun’. In this case it does not necessarily address someone, but it shows a general law or situation. Look at these examples:

One cannot smoke here . → You cannot smoke here .

The two sentences have the same meaning. The first one is using the impersonal pronoun ‘one’ which does not address anybody in particular. The second one has the same meaning but it uses ‘you’ instead. (it is not particularly addressing you but stating a general rule or fact)

Using Third Person Pronouns

Third person singular has three forms in subjective personal pronouns: he, she, and it. This is one of the only cases in English language in which gender plays a role in grammar. In English, grammatical gender of a noun is usually the same as its natural gender, which means a man is male in grammar and a woman is female, however there are some important exceptions:

1 - ‘She’ is generally used to refer to a girl or a woman. It is also used to refer to a car or a ship. For animals we can use she if the gender is known, especially when we want to emphasize on the gender of the animal. Take a look at these examples:

I love my new Cadillac . She is such a great ride .

'She' here is referring to a car.

The Titanic was made in April 1912 and she sunk on her very first voyage .

'She' here is referring to a ship.

My sister’s cat is so calm , she is always sleepy .

'She' here is referring to a female cat.

2 - ‘He’ is used to refer to a boy or a man, but it can also be used to refer to God. ‘He’ has the same rules for animals as ‘she’. Take a look at the following examples:

Andrew is a workaholic . He needs to take it easy and rest for a while .

'He' here is referring to a man.

Many religions refer to God as an almighty being ; they believe He can solve all problems .

'He' here is referring to God.

Using He for God

When using 'He' to refer to God you should always write it with capital letters.

3 - ‘It’ is used to talk about objects, animals, and generally anything but humans (except for babies; before the gender of the baby is known they are referred to as ‘it’). Pay attention to the following examples:

I like this book ; I think it’s really interesting .

'It' here is referring to an object.

Jason saw a sick cat on , it was not in a good shape .

'It' here is referring to an animal.

Chris and I are having a baby and I feel like it’s a boy .

'It' here is referring to a baby.

Beware!

Using 'it' for referring to adult people can be impolite, be careful when using pronouns for people.

‘It’ as a Dummy Pronoun

A dummy pronoun is a pronoun that refers to nothing. It does not show or do anything; it is just there so the sentence has a subject. One of the uses of ‘it’ is as a dummy pronoun. It is usually used in sentences to talk about time, weather, date, etc. Take a look at the following examples:

Sam took his umbrella because it was raining .

‘it’ is used to talk about weather.

It was in the 1920s that America suffered from the Great Depression .

‘it’ is used to talk about a date.

It’s 2 o’clock .

‘it’ is used to talk about a time.

Personal Pronoun 'They'

Using ‘They’ to talk about institution

When you are talking about institutions, organization or governments, you use ‘they.’ In this sense you are talking about a group but you do not know the members of the group. Therefore, you generally refer to them as ‘they.’ Here are some examples:

The United Nations should not stay silent . They need to take action .

'they' here is referring to an organization (The United Nations).

Amazon has a few problems with shipment ; they need to fix it if they don’t want to lose their customers .

'they' here is referring to a company (Amazon).

Using ‘They’ to avoid gender

Sometimes the speaker may not know someone’s gender, or the gender may not be important. In this case, ‘he’ and ‘she’ can be replaced by ‘they’. Take a look at these examples:

Someone has missed their bus .

Here the subject is singular but instead of 'he' or 'she' we use 'they' to avoid gender.

A detective needs to know their own strengths and weaknesses .

Here instead of using a 'his' or 'her' we use 'their' to avoid gender.

Objective Personal Pronouns

Objective personal pronouns (or object pronouns) are used when we want to substitute a name that has the role of the object in a sentence. The object in a sentence is the noun that the action of the verb happens to it.

Objective Pronouns Person Number
Me First Singular
You Second Singular
Him Third (male) Singular
Her Third (female) Singular
It Third (neutral) Singular
Us First Plural
You Second Plural
Them Third Plural

Look at these examples:

I saw Jane today . → I saw her today .

In this example Jane is a third person singular and can be replaced by pronoun 'her'

He gave his food to his friend . → He gave it to him .

In this example 'his food' (an object) and 'his friend' (a male person) or substitute with pronouns 'it' and 'him'

Usages of objective personal pronouns beyond object

Objective personal pronouns do not always play the role of the object in a sentence. Some of the most important exceptions are:

1 - In existentials: When we want to answer short, usually in first person singular:

Who wants to eat this food ? – me .

I liked the movie . – me too .

Who is going to clean this mess ? – not me .

2 - In existential clauses: For example, when we want to introduce ourselves on the phone or show our presence:

It's me again .

Who is it ? -It's me .

3 - In coordinative phrases: in informal speech when we want to use two people as subject with the use of ‘and’:

Me and him are going to the theater .

In formal speech it is better to use it in this way:

He and I are going to the theater .

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