Pronoun Definition & Types

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A pronoun stands in place of a noun to prevent us having to keep repeating the noun. Here we will look at the pronoun definition and types.

So what are pronouns, and how do we use them?

If you are talking about a girl called Susan, and about Susan’s cat, you don’t want to keep repeating Susan’s name every time you mention Susan or Susan’s cat, so instead you could substitute Susan with a pronoun – she, her, hers, herself, or other pronouns, depending on the context.

So a pronoun stands in place of a noun. 

TYPES OF PRONOUNS

There are different types of pronouns, which replace nouns in different constructions.

The list of pronouns below, shows the different pronouns. 

PERSONAL PRONOUNS

There are two types of personal pronoun: 
– subject pronoun
– object pronoun

Looking at the personal pronouns list, the subject pronouns are very familiar even to beginner learners. 

The difference between subject and object pronouns and their use is dependent on the position held by the noun which is being replaced by the personal pronoun. 

Subject pronouns are used when the noun is the subject of a sentence – that is the one doing the action of the verb.

They are happy – they is the subject 
She is German.
I want a sandwich.
He walked home.

Object pronouns are used when the noun is the object of the verb – that is the one effected by the action of the verb.

I like her.  I is the subject and her is the object.
Mary paid us.
We liked it.
They saw her

POSSESSIVE PRONOUNS

Possessive pronouns indicate who or what something belongs to. They express ownership or possession.

Like all pronouns, possessive pronouns replace the noun or noun phrase. For possessive pronouns this includes replacing any possessive adjectives present.

These examples of possessive pronouns use demonstrates this:

my car is blue
my is the possessive adjective to the noun car 
my car –  can be replaced with the possessive pronoun ‘mine
mine is blue

Amy’s dog is bigger than your dog 
Amy’s dog is bigger than yours.
Hers is bigger than yours.

Is this your drink? – Is this yours?
I like her house – I like hers.

This’s mine. 
It’s theirs. 

More on use and examples of Possessive Pronouns & Possessive Adjectives

DEMONSTRATIVE PRONOUNS

Demonstrative pronouns indicate if the noun is singular or plural, near or further away. 

this, that – with singular nouns
these, those – with plural nouns

this, these – nearby 
that, those – further away

nearby and further away can encompass a range of meanings, for example:
nearby – here, within arm’s reach, within sight, the nearest of several
further away – over there, not here, out of arm’s reach, out of sight, furthest of several.

Examples of the demonstrative pronouns in use:

The bike [here] is her bike > This is her bike. (singular noun, nearby)
That [there] is my favourite cheese. (singular noun, further away)
These [here] are very good pizzas. (plural noun, nearby)
Those [there] are very loud trumpets. (plural noun, further away)

More on Demonstrative Pronouns & Demonstrative Adjectives

REFLEXIVE PRONOUNS

These are used when someone or something effects an action on themselves – when the subject and the direct object of the verb are the same.

I‘m always talking to myself.
She couldn’t trust herself not to eat the whole box of chocolates.
We pride ourselves on being the best.

Some verbs are commonly used with the reflexive:
to teach oneself – She taught herself English.
to enjoy oneself – We all enjoyed ourselves at the party.
to cut oneself – He cut himself badly.
to hurt oneself – I fell over and hurt myself on the knee.
to introduce oneself – Please all introduce yourselves briefly.

RELATIVE PRONOUNS

Relative pronouns are used to link a noun and a relative clause (also known as an  adjective clause) to allow more information to be given about the noun; to be described further. 

The relative pronoun that we use depends on what we are referring to:

who – only for people and the subject
whom – only for people and the object
whose – to show possession
which – only for animals, plants, things, not people 
that – in essential clauses – see below

The man, who ate all the pies, was not popular. (subject)
The friend, to whom I lent my phone, dropped it. (object)
Tim, whose office we renovated, has left the company. (possession)
The house, which we were thinking of buying, has sold. 

Notice that the relative clauses are within commas, and if removed they do not change the meaning being expressed in a significant way, and the sentences still make sense.

The use of that and which is an ongoing debate.
In everyday language they are often used almost interchangeably, however some language experts consider this to be technically incorrect, and correct use is:

that – used only with essential clauses
which – used with non-essential clauses

A non essential clause is one that if removed, does not significantly change the meaning being expressed, as we saw in the examples above contained between commas. 

An essential clause is one that if removed, does significantly change the meaning.

Tables that don’t have even legs wobble. 
Cars that don’t have petrol don’t run.

If you were to take out the clauses beginning with that, the meanings in both sentences would no longer be the same: 
Tables wobble. 
Cars don’t run.
These are obviously not the intended meanings and so the that clauses are essential to maintaining the intended meaning.

More on Relative Pronouns and Clauses

INTERROGATIVE PRONOUNS

Interrogative pronouns are used to ask questions, and refer to the noun that the question is being asked about.

who – used with people
whom –  with people, rarely used
whose – person is the possessor
which – when the options are known
what  –  when the options are unknown

Examples of interrogative pronouns use:

Who is cooking tonight?
Whose is this?
What shall I wear?

For full details and explanations on Interrogative Pronouns & Interrogative Adjectives

PRACTICE EXERCISES

1. Complete the sentences with the correct subject pronoun 
_____ is my Mum.
_____ am the shortest in the room.
_____ is a chair.
This is Tom, _____ is 5 years old. 
Our class took the bus to the museum. _____ arrived late.

2. Replace the words in bold with the correct object pronoun
I gave the book to Harry.
They moved the furniture for 
Ella and Jim.
We told the police about 
the robbery.
I bought my sister a present.
He made supper for 
me and his mother.

3. Complete the sentences with the correct reflexive pronoun
Adam fell down and hurt ____.
Lucy and I were warming ____ by the fire.
My sister is making ____ a skirt.
The cat always washes ____ after eating.
She is looking at ____ in the mirror.

Answers
1. she, I, it, he, we
2. him, them, it, her, us
3. himself, ourselves, herself, itself, herself