Definition

A pronoun is a word that takes the place of a noun. Pronouns are used to avoid repetitive use of the same noun within a sentence or narrative. The following is an example of a sentence written without pronouns:

When the angry bear became hungry, the angry bear ate.

The essential counterpart of a pronoun is its antecedent, and an antecedent is defined as the word to which a pronoun refers. For example, in the previous example, he is the pronoun and bear is the antecedent.

Agreement in Person and Number

Pronouns must agree with their antecedents in person and number. Pronouns can be first person (I, we, me, us), second person (you), or third person (he, she, it, they, him, her, them). Number, of course, means singular or plural.

1. I like to read fiction because reading is an entertaining way for you to spend a lazy afternoon. (disagreement in person‹first person antecedent, second person pronoun)

2. All courses at this school are excellent; it can help you become an educated person in the classical sense. (disagreement in number‹plural antecedent, singular pronoun)

In addition to the personal pronouns listed above, our language also has several indefinite pronouns, most of which are considered singular, some plural.

Singular indefinite pronouns: anybody, anyone, anything, each, everybody, everyone, no one, nothing, one, somebody, someone, something

Plural indefinite pronouns: a couple, a few, both, many, several

*all, some, and none can be singular or plural:

· All of the hard work has been completed.

· All of the students are ready for the exam.

If these pronouns refer to a noun that is measured by amount, they are singular. If they refer to a noun that is measured by number, they are plural. Work, is measured by amount; students can be counted individually.

Ambiguous Pronoun Reference

If a personal pronoun is used following multiple antecedents, the reader may be unsure which antecedent the pronoun is referring to. Demonstrative pronouns (this, that, these, those) are often used in an ambiguous manner.


Pronoun Function in the Sentence: Subject or Object

Correct pronoun usage is also determined by the function of the pronoun within the sentence. Is the pronoun the subject, or is it the object of a verb or preposition? The subject forms of the personal pronouns are: I, we, you, he, she, it, and they. The object forms are: me, us, you, him, her, and them.

A. DUAL CONSTRUCTION: Using another noun together with any of these pronouns does not change the form that is correct. For example, children often say, “Me and Bobby are going out to play.” Mother replies with great emphasis, “You mean, Bobby and I are going out to play,” and the child soon concludes that whenever another person is involved, the correct pronoun to use is “I.” Thirty years later, this child is a high school teacher saying things like: “The test results will be delivered to you and I on Thursday,” and “Please congratulate Dana and he on your way out of the classroom.” If you ever wonder which form to use in a dual construction, eliminate the other person, and you will automatically choose the correct pronoun.

1. Those flowers were given in honor of Andrew and I. (Eliminating Andrew helps you realize that the correct word for the object of the preposition “of” is “me.”)

2. Stop hitting Sharon and I up for quarters, OK? (Even in colloquial talk, this sounds bad. “Me” should be used because it is the object of the verb “hitting.”

B. WHO AND WHOM: The relative pronouns — who, whoever (subject forms) and whom, whomever (object forms) — are often misunderstood, as well.

1. At whom did you throw the bouquet? (object of the preposition)

2. Who is the speaker at the banquet? (subject of the sentence)

3. I will choose whoever speaks up first. (subject of the dependent noun clause)

4. Sean slugged whomever he wanted. (direct object of the verb in the dependent noun clause)

Special Pronoun Usage

A. POSSESSIVE PRONOUNS: Remember, they do not need apostrophes because by definition they are already possessive. Nouns, by definition, are not possessive, so that’s why they need apostrophes. Possessive pronouns are his, her, hers, their, theirs, our, ours, its, your, yours, my, and mine. The most common error here consists of “it’s” used as a possessive.

B. COMPARATIVES: Here is another often misunderstood pronoun situation.

1. Dan loves Susan more than I.

2. Dan loves Susan more than me.

In sentence #1, Dan loves Susan more than I do; in sentence #2, he loves Susan more than he loves me. So, it might be wise to consider your pronouns carefully before you open mouth and insert foot!

1. Jan received a larger bonus than he. (received)

2. The students at CSU pay lower tuition than we. (pay)

Mentally providing the extra verb after the pronoun will help you choose the correct form in these comparatives.

C. REFLEXIVE PRONOUNS: myself, yourself, himself, herself, themselves, ourselves. There is no such word as “theirselves.” “Myself” should never be used as a substitute for “I” or “me” in dual constructions.

Correct usage of reflexive pronouns:

1. I will write the essay myself. (emphasis)

2. I myself will write the essay. (emphasis)

3. I slipped and hurt myself. (direct object)

Incorrect Usage

1. Please return the completed forms to either Bob or myself. (use “me” for object of preposition “to”)

2. Sharon and myself will lead the seminar. (use “I” for the subject of the sentence)