What Is a Pronoun?

What is a pronoun?
How is a pronoun used in a sentence?
What are all types of pronouns?

A pronoun is classified as a transition word and a subcategory of a noun that functions in every capacity that a noun will function. They can function as both subjects and objects in a sentence. Let’s see the origin of the pronouns.

The meaning of a pronoun usually depends on an antecedent. An antecedent is a word (noun or noun phrase) that is mentioned in a sentence and replaced by a pronoun in the sentence or story.

Origin of Pronouns

The word pronoun, like most English words, originates from the word “pro-nomen”, which directly translates to “in place of” or “for and “name”. In literal translation, a pronoun is a word that can be used in place of a noun. So instead of writing, “Mary went to the salon to fix up Mary’s hair, afterward, Mary went out for lunch.” It will be “Mary went to the salon to fix up her hair, afterward, she went out for lunch.” This makes sentences more coherent and easier to understand.


To give clearer meanings to pronouns and sentences altogether, antecedents are needed. An antecedent is a word, usually a noun or a noun phrase that can either act as a determinant for a pronoun in a sentence, or is replaced by a pronoun in a sentence.

Antecedents mostly occur at the beginning of a sentence before being replaced with a pronoun. Although in some cases, the pronoun can be mentioned before the antecedent, but it is not advisable to use it in long sentences as it makes the sentences difficult to understand.


            The table was too far away for Thelma to use it.

            My sister is lovely, she got me these shoes.

The antecedents here occur before the pronouns You’ll see the changes in sentences below.

            It was too far away so Thelma couldn’t use the table.

            She got me these shoes; my sister is lovely.

The antecedents all came before the pronouns in these sentences.

Types of Pronouns

Pronoun definition and example

10 different types of pronouns can be used in different sentence constructions to make transitions and communication smoother. Some pronouns fall under one or more categories because of their versatility. They can be used in different forms to mean different things. Let’s look at the 10 below.

1. Personal Pronouns

She and her, I, me and you, he and him, we and us, they and them, and it. These are the personal pronouns that we were taught in school.  The word personal is not limited to people, but can also refer to animals and groups.

This group of pronouns is used with a grammatical person in mind in either first person (I), second person (you), or third person (he, she, it, they). Personal pronouns take different forms; either gender (he, she) or singular and plural (they, them).

Personal pronouns are further divided into 2 groups: objective and subjective.

  • Objective personal pronouns: These are pronouns that act as the object in a sentence; that is, they are used independently in a sentence. Examples: he, she, it, I, we, you, they.
  • Subjective personal pronouns: This set of pronouns act as subjects in a sentence; that is they are the dependent words in a sentence. Examples: him, her, it, me, us, you, them.


They went to the store to get him some bandages for the injury that she had caused by pushing him down the stairs.

They went to the store to get him some bandages for the injury. | She had caused it by pushing him down the stairs.

When the sentence is split into 2, it is easier to see the dependent and independent phrases which make the objective and subjective pronouns more visible. In the first half of the sentence, “him” is the subjective pronoun that depends on “they” as an object, while “she” is independent and an object for “him” in the second half of the sentence.

2. Relative and Interrogative Pronouns


Relative pronouns include who, whom, whose, what, which and that and are used to introduce additional information in a sentence. They rely on antecedents to associate relative clauses and independent clauses together. “Who” traditionally refers to individuals, while “which” and “that” refer to things and animals.


The man who came yesterday didn’t leave the parcel.

All the cats that are at the zoo will be loved.

My truck, which is barely 10 years, still runs well.


When relative pronouns are used in an interrogative setting, they are termed interrogative pronouns. They are pronouns used to ask questions like who, what, what, which, whose, etc.


            Who wants some candy?

            What is your name?

            Whose coat is this?

            What food do you want to eat?

The Struggle Between Subject and Object Pronouns

“Who” and “Whom”

These two pronouns cause the most confusion among relative pronouns. Here is what you need to know, “who” is a subject pronoun just like I, she, we, and they, so it acts as a subject to the verb or preposition it follows.

On the other hand, “whom”, just like me, him, her, us, and them are object pronouns. So when a pronoun is the object of a verb or preposition, you use an object pronoun as well.

Object pronouns come before the verb or preposition that they modify, but it is different for “whom”. “Whom” occurs after the verb or preposition that it modifies.


Incorrect        Kindly mail it to I

Correct           Kindly mail it to me

Incorrect        Peter stopped they from bullying the other kids

Correct           Peter stopped them from bullying the other kids

Incorrect        Is this candy for we

Correct           Is this candy for us

In each of the cases above, we try to use the subject form of the pronoun after the verbs and prepositions, and they all turned out to be incorrect, but when replaced with the object form, the sentences became grammatically correct.

Let us try it in the case of “whom”


Incorrect        Whom should I say is calling?

Correct           Who should I say is calling?

Incorrect        Who did you speak to earlier?

Correct           Whom did you speak to earlier?

Incorrect        A girl, who has never attended the class was asking about you.

Correct           A girl, whom I have never seen before was asking about you.

In the examples above, “whom” is only correct in the sentence when it occurs before the object verb/preposition. Another way to check if the use of “whom” is grammatically correct is to substitute a personal pronoun, whether in subject or object form and see if it makes sense. If the subject pronoun sounds right use “who” and if the object pronoun sounds right use “whom”.


who/whom did you speak to earlier? | Did you speak to he/him earlier?

A girl, who/whom has never attended the class was asking about you. | Have I seen she/her before?

Who/whom should I say is calling? | Should I say she/her is calling?

“You” and “I”

The same case of “who/whom” applies to the pronouns- “you” and “I”. “You” is the subject and “I” is the object. So when a pronoun is the object of the sentence, an object pronoun should be used, and when a pronoun is the subject of the sentence, a subject pronoun should be used.


Incorrect        Jane is meeting Jack and I this afternoon.

Correct           Jane is meeting Jack and me this afternoon.

Incorrect        There are no barriers between you and I.

Correct           There are no barriers between you and me.

Incorrect        It doesn’t mean anything to him or I.

Correct           It doesn’t mean anything to him or me.

In the sentences above, the incorrect form is often used and generally perceived as the correct form when speaking, but when you use the pronoun on its own without the name or other pronoun, the grammatical blunder becomes glaring.


            Jane is meeting I this afternoon.

            There are no barriers for I.

            It doesn’t mean anything to I.

If the correct pronoun was used in the sentences above, the absence of the noun and other supporting pronouns will not make a difference.


            Jane is meeting me this afternoon.

            There are no barriers for me.

            It doesn’t mean anything to me.

3. Demonstrative Pronouns

They are deictic pronouns that are used to indicate entities that are referred to in a sentence and distinguish that particular entity from others. These pronouns always represent a noun or noun phrase when pointing to something specific in a sentence. Whether the noun is known or unknown, a demonstrative pronoun will capture it and point it out. This, that, these, and those are types of demonstrative pronouns.


            This letter has no return address.

            These smell better than food.

            What are those?

4. Distal and Proximal demonstratives

In the English language, there is a two-way distinction between demonstrative pronouns. The first set is the proximal demonstrative pronouns that indicate objects close to the speaker, and the other set is the distal demonstrative pronouns that refer to objects farther away from the speaker. In both cases, the distance can be either physical or metaphorical.

“That” is used to represent singular items that are far away, while “those” is used to represent multiple items that are far away.


            A restaurant like that will be a nice place to eat.

            I’d like to try some of those.

            Those are not horses.

5. Indefinite Pronouns

These pronouns are used when you need to refer to a person, place, thing, or idea that doesn’t need to be specifically identified. Indefinite pronouns are the largest group of pronouns and this broad class is separated into the two groups. The first includes compounds, as in something, anything, everything, nothing. While the second group includes, many, more, both, most and can appear as a stand-alone pronoun.

Indefinite pronouns are also used to represent countable and non-countable nouns, as in the case of “everything” for uncountable nouns, and “anything” for non-countable nouns.


            Everything can go into the pot.

            Anything can be left outside.

Indefinite pronouns are further distinguished into pronouns that can be used in affirmative and non-affirmative contexts. As in the case of “something” and “anything” respectively used for the former and the latter.


            Something can be done about the situation of things in the country.

If anything is left outside, I will hold you responsible.

They as well occur in the categories listed below:

  1. Universal (everyone, everything)


Everyone should be outside before sunrise.

If everything goes as planned, it will be alright.

  1. Assertive existential (somebody, something)


            Somebody needs to get this done.

            Something should be done about the situation.

  1. Elective existential (anyone, anything)


            There will be consequences if anyone goes out before sunrise.

            Anything is allowed on board.

  1. Negative (nobody, nothing)


            Nobody deserves to be treated that way.

            Nothing can be done to erase the past.

Singular and Plural Indefinite Pronouns

When an indefinite pronoun functions as the subject of the sentence, it usually takes a singular verb and when it is functioning as the object in a sentence, it takes a plural verb.

Possessive Forms

These are constructed by adding an apostrophe (‘s) for a singular pronoun or just an apostrophe after a plural pronoun (s’)


            Anybody’s bread can be eaten.

            One should mind ones’ words.

Compound Indefinite Pronouns

Indefinite pronouns can also be used in combination and be made possessive by adding an “s” or an apostrophe at the end.


            People should love one another.

            We should respect each other’s political beliefs.

6. Reflexive and Intensive Pronouns


Reflexive pronouns are used when a person or thing takes action on itself. That is they are used to show that the pronoun as a subject is receiving the action of the verb. Reflexive pronouns can only occur as subjects in a sentence because they depend on the verb or preposition to function effectively in a sentence. They refer to a noun phrase somewhere else in the sentence.

They all reflexive pronouns end in self (singular) and selves (plural) as in myself, themselves, ourselves, itself, yourself, himself, herself. With reflexive pronouns, the object and subject of the sentence are the same.

Every personal pronoun has its own reflexive form as seen below.

I — myself

you — yourself/yourselves

he — himself

she — herself

one — oneself

it — itself

we — ourselves

they — themselves

Singular forms

Some reflexive pronouns can only occur in the singular form. Itself, myself, himself, herself can only occur in the singular forms.


He cursed himself for the mistake he had made.

I helped myself to the potatoes.

Plural forms

Other reflexive pronouns like themselves, ourselves, can only occur in the plural form because the pronoun attached to it (them-, our-) are plural pronouns.


We consider ourselves superior to the other team.

They chose to bring the table out by themselves.


Intensive pronouns also called self-intensifier take the same form as reflexive pronouns. The difference here is that intensive pronouns add emphasis to a specific noun or verb in a sentence. Intensive pronouns occur before or close to the subject of the sentence.


Reflexive         Alfred bought a book.

Intensive         Alfred bought himself a book.

Reflexive         I crossed the road.

Intensive         I crossed the road myself.

The first two sentences above almost mean the same thing, the first states that Alfred bought a book and the second emphasizes his purpose for buying the book. Same as the second set of sentences, “I crossed the road by myself” emphasize that I did not only cross the road but I did it myself.

Both reflexive and intensive pronouns make use of an antecedent to function in a sentence.

7. Possessive Pronouns

As mentioned earlier, some pronouns belong to more than one category. You’ll see that most of the pronouns under this category have previously been mentioned under others.

Possessive pronouns just as the name indicates are used to state the possession of a noun or verb in a sentence. Some possessive pronouns are dependent (limiting) or independent (absolute). Pronouns are used to avoid the repetition of information that has already been previously mentioned in a sentence. Some possessive pronouns are mine, my, yours, its, his, hers, ours, theirs, and whose.


                        This is my house, not your house.

                        This house is mine, not yours.

The first sentence above sounds repetitive, but when we make use of possessive pronouns in the second sentence it passes a clearer message and sounds less repetitive.

Dependent/Limiting Possessive Pronouns

This category of possessive pronouns cannot stand independently in a sentence and needs an antecedent, usually a noun, to make more meaning of it. It acts as a determiner in a sentence. My, your, its, his, her, our, their, and whose all belong to this group.


            I found my wallet in the kitchen.

            Sarah practiced her presentation after school.

            Whose car is parked outside?

In the last example, “whose” is used as an interrogative possessive noun.

Independent/Absolute Possessive Pronouns

These can occur as independent phrases as in mine, yours, hers, ours, theirs. In this case, the pronoun can be substituted for the possession that belongs to the antecedent.


            The car is mine.

Is that yours?

Are you finished with your meal? Sarah has finished hers.


  • “Its” and “yours” can be used as both dependent and independent possessive pronouns. It simply depends on its position and function in the sentence.


Jacob’s horse walked on all its four limbs. (Dependent)

The book was yours in the past. (Dependent)

Its doors will always be open to you. (Independent)

Yours was left behind. (Independent)

In the first set of sentences, “its” and “yours” function as dependents because there is a noun as an antecedent. While in the second set of sentences, they both act as independent possessive pronouns.

  • In both forms of the possessive pronoun, they replace a possessive noun.
  • Possessive personal pronouns don’t include apostrophes.
  • The antecedents attached to a dependent possessive pronoun are called a possessive determiner.

Formality In English Pronouns

Many languages have different pronouns to address individuals based on the level of formality, familiarity, as well as the age difference between the individual speaking and the individual being referred to.

For example, in the French language, the word “tu” is used when there is a high level of familiarity between the speakers, and “Vous” is used when the speakers are less familiar or more formal. Russian, German, Chinese, Japanese, etc follow a similar pattern.

In some other languages, the age difference between the speakers determines the pronouns that will be used to address the individuals

Other languages like Japanese and Korean have pronouns that reflect some societal categories. They have a set of nouns that refer to a category of individuals. For example, in Japanese, an adult in a formal setting is referred to as “Watashi” by his/her peers, while the younger adults refer to each other as “Boku”.

However, in the English language, the pronouns have no distinction in age, formality, or familiarity. Instead, it is the antecedents and proper nouns preceding the pronouns that show a distinction in the age, and formality or familiarity levels of the speakers. “She” and “he” refers to every male and female regardless of their societal standing, age class, and level of familiarity.

What Is a Pronoun? 1 | Scientific Editing

To Wrap It Up

Pronouns are very useful in the English language to create coherent and clear sentences that will be easily understandable. Without pronouns, we will be continuously repeating nouns and this will make our spoken and written sentences repetitive and redundant. So, to construct correct sentences, pronouns must be used.

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By Bizhan Romani

Dr. Bizhan Romani has a PhD in medical virology. When it comes to writing an article about science and research, he is one of our best writers. He is also an expert in blogging about writing styles, proofreading methods, and literature.

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