Personal Pronouns

A personal pronoun is a word that substitutes a name to avoid repetition. Personal pronouns show us the grammatical person and gender of the name they refer to.

intermediate
"Personal Pronouns" in the English Grammar

What Are Personal Pronouns?

Personal pronouns are those that have a grammatical person, number, and gender. These pronouns refer to specific individuals or things and are used to replace nouns in a sentence.

Characteristics

Each personal pronoun has a particular:

  • grammatical person
  • grammatical number
  • grammatical gender
  • grammatical case
  • grammatical formality

Grammatical Person

Grammatical person is related to the different ways we can refer to the participant(s) in an event.
In English grammar, we have three distinct persons:

  1. first-person: the participant is the speaker(s) → I, me, we
  2. second-person: the participant is the addressee(s) → you, yourselves
  3. third-person: the participant is the other(s) → he, her, himself, they, them

Grammatical Number

In English, first-, second-, and third-person pronouns are typically also divided into two groups:

  • singular forms → I, me, myself, she, him, itself
  • plural forms → we, us, yourselves, they, themselves

Grammatical Gender

Grammatical gender is a system in which nouns or pronouns are divided into different categories based on their gender value. Some languages, such as Spanish or French, have a grammatical gender system where nouns or pronouns are classified as masculine or feminine. While English does not have a grammatical gender system for nouns, it does have gender-specific pronouns for people.

  1. Masculine → he, him, himself
  2. Feminine → she, her, herself
  3. Neutral → we, it, they

Grammatical Case

The case of a noun or pronoun is that particular noun’s or pronoun’s relationship to other words in the sentence. In other modern languages, adjectives have case, but in English, case applies only to nouns and pronouns. Old English had five cases: nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, and instrumental.
Modern English has three cases:

  1. Nominative (also called subjective): used for the subject of a sentence or for predicate nominatives
  2. Accusative (also called objective): used for the direct object of a verb or for the object of a preposition.
  3. Genitive (also called possessive): used to show possession or ownership.

I am happy

'I' is the subject (nominative)

The book is on the table

table is the object of the preposition (accusative)

The cat's tail

the tail belongs to the cat (possessive)

Grammatical Formality

In English, there are often multiple ways to express a grammatical or lexical concept, and the choice of form depends on the level of formality. For example:

  1. formal
  2. informal

"Would you like some tea?" vs. "Wanna cuppa?"

making an offer in formal style

"Wanna cuppa"?

making an offer in informal style

In these examples, the same concept is expressed in different ways depending on the level of formality. The polite/formal expressions are appropriate in more formal settings, such as in business or academic contexts, while the informal/casual expressions are more common in everyday conversation among friends or family. The choice of form can also depend on factors such as the relationship between the speaker and the listener, the situation, and the purpose of communication.

Using 'They' as the Subject Pronoun

The basic personal pronouns of modern English are:

Subject Pronouns

Subject pronouns are a commonly used set of personal pronouns that function as the subject subject of a verb. In the table below, you can see the list of subject personal pronouns:

Singular Plural
First-person I we
Second-person you you
Third-person he/she/it they

Object Pronouns

Object pronouns are personal pronouns that are used typically as a grammatical object: the direct or indirect object of a verb, or the object of a preposition. In the table below, you can see the list of object personal pronouns:

Singular Plural
First-person me us
Second-person you you
Third-person him/her/it them

Possessive Pronouns

Possessive pronouns are a type of personal pronoun that indicate ownership or possession of something by someone. They can be used to replace possessive adjectives (such as 'my,' 'your,' 'his,' 'her,' 'its,' 'our,' and 'their') and help to make sentences more concise.
Possessive pronouns are often used to avoid repetition, especially when referring back to something that has already been mentioned. The following table displays a list of possessive pronouns and their respective possessive adjectives in English:

possessive adjective possessive pronoun
First-person (singular) my mine
Second-person (singular) your yours
Third-person (singular) his/her/it his/hers/its
First-person (plural) our ours
Second-person (plural) your yours
Third-person (plural) their theirs

Reflexive Pronouns

Reflexive pronouns are personal pronouns ending in -self or -selves that are used when the subject and the object of a sentence are the same. They can act as either objects or indirect objects. In the table below, you can see the list of reflexive personal pronouns:

Singular Plural
First-person myself ourselves
Second-person yourself yourselves
Third-person himself/herself/Itself themselves

Archaic Pronouns

Like every other word, personal pronouns, mainly the second person, have gone through changes over time. Along with the standard, non-standard, and informal personal pronouns in English, there are also archaic pronouns which were used in the past, but are now mostly replaced by standard pronouns. While these forms are no longer commonly used in modern English, they can still be found in literature, historical documents, and some dialects.

Subjective Objective Possessive Reflexive
thou thee thine thyself

Review

Personal pronouns are words that are used to refer to a person, animal, or object in place of a noun. They can take on different forms depending on various factors such as their number (singular or plural), case, gender, and formality.
Number refers to whether the pronoun is singular (referring to one person or thing) or plural (referring to multiple people or things). Case refers to the grammatical function of the pronoun in a sentence, such as whether it is the subject or object of a verb. Gender refers to the distinction between masculine, feminine, and neuter pronouns, although English only has gender-specific pronouns for people. Formality refers to the level of politeness or formality of the pronoun, such as using 'you' versus 'thou' in older forms of English.

  • Subject Pronouns
  • Object Pronouns
  • Possessive Pronouns
  • Reflexive Pronouns
  • Archaic Pronouns

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Emphatic Pronouns

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