What Are the English Pronouns? The Ultimate Guide to Master Them All
Pronouns are my favorite class of word.
He can be my dad, your neighbor or Michael Jackson.
This can be a pen, Mary, your cousin and even a school.
Which can be my dog or a Tyrannosaurus Rex (or both!).
Pronouns can mean almost anything, so they are one of the best tools you can use to make your English adventure easier.
But what exactly is a pronoun?
Simply put, a pronoun is a word that can substitute a noun or a noun phrase.
It refers to people, animals, objects, places, things or ideas mentioned anywhere else in the sentence or understood in the context, and it works by itself—that is, it cannot be followed by a noun.
In one of the examples above, I said he can be my dad, your neighbor or Michael Jackson. Here is the proof:
My dad loves animals → He loves animals.
Your neighbor is very impatient. → He is very impatient.
Michael Jackson was a great singer. → He was a great singer.
However, this is just one type of pronoun (the personal one).
English has a total of nine different types of pronouns, and each is used for different purposes.
And you are about to learn them all. (Yes, you and them are two more examples of pronouns!)
What Are the English Pronouns? The Ultimate Guide to Master Them All
English pronouns can be divided into nine categories.
The bad news is that, if you include every English pronoun in existence, you get over 100.
The good news is that all pronouns follow the two rules mentioned before (they substitute a noun or noun phrase and they work on their own).
Besides, you possibly already know about half of them without even realizing it.
Let’s start with the most basic ones, the personal pronouns.
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1. Personal Pronouns
Despite the name, personal pronouns do not only refer to people. They can also substitute for animals and objects. Personal pronouns are probably the type of pronoun that you are most familiar with, since they are taught very early on to beginner English learners.
This type of pronoun changes depending on the grammatical person (who you are talking about), its gender (in the third person singular) and its number. This will become clear with examples, so read on to see some!
There are two kinds of personal pronouns, depending on their function in the sentence.
Subject Personal Pronouns
Subject personal pronouns function as subjects.
They substitute the person, animal or object performing the action of the sentence.
The eight subject personal pronouns are below. For this first group, we will explain in what situations to use each pronoun:
I (first-person singular, masculine or feminine) — used to refer to yourself
you (second-person singular, masculine or feminine) — used to talk about or to the single person that you are talking to
he (third-person singular, masculine) — used to talk about one male
she (third-person singular, feminine) — used to talk about one female
it (third-person singular, neuter) — used to talk about things and animals we do not love
we (first-person plural, masculine or feminine) — used to talk about a group of people that includes yourself
you (second-person plural, masculine or feminine) — used to talk about or to the group of people that you are talking to
they (third-person plural, masculine or feminine) — used to talk about a group of people that does not include yourself
Here are a couple of examples with them:
You must be very tired.
They love eating in that restaurant.
Did you do the homework? It was very difficult.
Object Personal Pronouns
Object personal pronouns function as objects.
There are three types of objects in English (direct, indirect and prepositional), but do not worry, they all look the same.
Direct objects answer the question who(m) or what:
I saw her. (Who did I see? Her.)
Indirect objects answer the question to who(m), for who(m) or for what:
I bought her a present. (For whom? For her.)
Prepositional objects are objects that are governed by a preposition:
I bought this for her. (Her is governed by the preposition for. The pronoun is the object of the preposition.)
Here’s the full list of object personal pronouns:
me (first-person singular, masculine or feminine)
you (second-person singular, masculine or feminine)
him (third-person singular, masculine)
her (third-person singular, feminine)
it (third-person singular, neuter)
us (first-person plural, masculine or feminine)
you (second-person plural, masculine or feminine)
them (third-person plural, masculine or feminine)
And a couple of examples:
We love him so much.
Mary bought it with the insurance money.
She brought it for them.
2. Possessive Pronouns
Possessive pronouns (not to be confused with possessive adjectives) are the pronouns that help us talk about possession and ownership (who owns what).
Possessive pronouns also have different forms depending on the grammatical person. They can also change depending on the gender of the noun (in the third person singular), but they do not show number in English:
This is my book. → It is mine.
These are my books. → They are mine.
As with the personal pronouns, we have one possessive pronoun for each grammatical person:
mine (first-person singular, masculine or feminine)
yours (second-person singular, masculine or feminine)
his (third-person singular, masculine)
hers (third-person singular, feminine)
its (third-person singular, neuter)
ours (first-person plural, masculine or feminine)
yours (second-person plural, masculine or feminine)
theirs (third-person plural, masculine or feminine)
Let’s see them in action:
This pencil is mine. Where is yours?
The pink one is hers, but you can use it.
I think she is a friend of theirs. (One of their friends.)
3. Demonstrative Pronouns
Demonstrative pronouns are the pronouns we use to refer and point to specific people, animals and things.
The four main demonstrative pronouns are:
this (near in distance or time, singular)
that (far in distance or time, singular)
these (near in distance or time, plural)
those (far in distance or time, plural)
As you can see, the only two things we have to take into account when using them is the distance (in space or time) from the speaker and the number of the noun they are referring to:
This is John. (Near, singular.)
I want to buy that. (Far, singular.)
These are John and Mary. (Near, plural.)
Do you want those? (Far, plural.)
4. Indefinite Pronouns
Indefinite pronouns are pronouns that refer mainly to non-specific people, animals, things and quantities.
This means they do not refer to specific nouns. Instead, they refer to any noun of the category the speaker is talking about:
Anybody can do it. (Any person can do it.)
I already have enough to build a castle. (I have a non-specific amount of something, perhaps sand, to build a castle.)
The group of indefinite pronouns is the biggest one. The main pronouns included in this group are:
another, other, anybody, anyone, somebody, someone, nobody, no one, everybody, everyone, nothing, anything, something, everything, each, either, neither, one, enough, less, little, much, more, both, few, fewer, several, many, others, all, any, most, least, some, such, none
As you can see, they are super varied and could be grouped into several subcategories, for example:
- Indefinite pronouns that only refer to people: anybody, anyone, somebody, someone, nobody, no one, everybody, everyone.
- Indefinite pronouns that only refer to things: anything, something, nothing, everything.
- Indefinite pronouns that only refer to countable nouns: few, fewer, several, many, others.
- Indefinite pronouns that only refer to uncountable nouns: little, less, least.
These are just four examples of categories, but there are many more (like “pronouns that can refer to people, animals and things,” “pronouns that can refer to both singular and plural nouns,” etc.).
In general, it is not necessary to divide this group into subgroups if you know how to use each of its members. You will probably learn how to use each word one by one as you learn them in your English studies.
Here you are some sample sentences:
Nobody loves me.
Everybody loves Mary.
Something’s going on.
I like everything here.
I bought less than expected.
I have seven, but he has more.
I love some. Others, not so much.
Little did I know, that would be the last time I’d see her.
5. Relative Pronouns
Relative pronouns are a small group of pronouns that introduce relative clauses.
They are called “relative” because they refer to the noun described or modified by the relative clause. A basic way to tell if a part of a sentence is a relative clause is to remove it—if the sentence still makes sense without it, then it is a relative clause! Try it with the examples below.
The main English relative pronouns are:
who/whom (used to refer only to people)
which (used to refer to animals and things)
that (used to refer to people, animals and things)
whose (has a possessive meaning, used with people, pets and things [formally])
Let’s have a look at some examples:
The man, who is not even 40, is very ill.
This is the table which is going to be used.
I broke a painting that had been sold the night before.
That little girl, whose brother is in the army, cries every day because she misses him.
6. Interrogative pronouns
The set of interrogative pronouns looks almost identical to the relative pronouns (except for that becoming what).
This group of pronouns does not describe or give information about a noun.
Instead, interrogative pronouns are used to ask questions about people, animals, things and possessors:
who/whom (used to ask about people)
which (used to ask about animals and things)
what (used to ask about people, animals and things)
whose (has a possessive meaning, used with people, pets and things [formally])
I am pretty (quite) sure you know how to use some interrogative pronouns already, but let me give you some examples anyway:
Who are you, Sir?
Which is faster, a turtle or a rabbit?
What is going on?
Whose is this?
7. Reflexive pronouns
The reflexive pronouns are used when a person, animal or object performs (does) an action on themselves, such as bathing or washing (oneself).
This is another group of pronouns that has a different form for each grammatical person.
Additionally, the reflexive pronouns distinguish gender (in the third person singular) and number (self/selves):
myself (first-person singular, masculine or feminine)
yourself (second-person singular, masculine or feminine)
himself (third-person singular, masculine)
herself (third-person singular, feminine)
itself (third-perso- singular, neuter)
ourselves (first-person plural, masculine or feminine)
yourselves (second-person plural, masculine or feminine)
themselves (third-person plural, masculine or feminine)
Notice how the second person singular and the second person plural are different, which happens very rarely in English.
You might be asking why we need a set of reflexive pronouns to refer to a subject when we can just use the same subject once again. Well, reflexive pronouns help us avoid misunderstandings and sentences that would sound very weird or just be ungrammatical.
Have a look:
I love myself. (Instead of *I love I.)
Are you enjoying yourself? (Instead of *Are you enjoying you?)
John cut himself yesterday. (Instead of John cut John yesterday, which would actually mean John cut another person also named John.)
Denise and Peter need to start believing in themselves. (Instead of Denise and Peter need to start believing in Denise and Peter, which would refer to two completely different people, but definitely not our Denise and Peter.)
8. Reciprocal Pronouns
Reciprocal pronouns are a very special type of English pronoun.
There are only two of them:
They are used when two or more people perform a reciprocal action: An action that everyone in the situation is either doing or having it done to them.
Each other is used when we are talking about two people:
John and Mary love each other. (John loves Mary and Mary loves John.)
We love giving each other presents for Christmas. (I give someone presents and they give me presents, too.)
One another is normally used when we have three or more people doing the same action:
John, Mary and David congratulated one another. (All of them congratulated and got congratulated by the rest.)
We love giving presents to one another for Christmas. (My whole family takes part in this tradition. We all give a present to every person and get one present from every person.)
Try not to confuse reflexive and reciprocal pronouns. Sometimes they make sentences look very similar in meaning to learners, but they only seem similar. The reality is different:
We love ourselves. (I love myself and my friend loves himself, but we do not love each other.)
We love each other. (I love her and she loves me, but I do not necessarily love myself or she herself.)
In a perfect world, we would love each other and ourselves, but that is a story for another day.
9. Intensive pronouns
The intensive pronouns are used to add emphasis or importance to the subject or antecedent of a sentence.
They look identical to the reflexive pronouns, but they are used differently.
While reflexive pronouns refer to a subject performing an action on itself, intensive pronouns refer to a subject that is not doing anything on itself. We just want to emphasize the subject of the sentence:
I did it myself. (I did it on my own, no one helped me.)
She wrote the article herself. Can you believe it? (She wrote the article without any help.)
A quick trick to decide if a pronoun is reflexive or intensive is to try to remove it from the sentence. If this is possible, the pronoun is intensive. If it is not possible, the pronoun is reflexive:
I cut the paper myself. (I cut the paper makes total sense, so this is an intensive pronoun.)
I cut myself last week. (I cut last week does not make sense, so this is a reflexive pronoun.)
And that was all for today!
As you can see, English pronouns are as varied as they are necessary.
We may not be aware of this, but we constantly use pronouns when we speak or write in English, so the sooner you learn them, the better.
Each set of pronouns has its own characteristics, but remember that all pronouns share two traits: They substitute a noun and they work on their own.
Some English pronouns are much more often used than others, but they are all equally important because each of them has a specific function in the sentence.
Now that you have finished reading the post, pick a couple of pronouns from each group and try to write some sample sentences with them. Remember that practice makes perfect, and this is especially true when we are dealing with grammar topics.
Let’s see each other in the next post. Or one another, if you bring a friend with you.
Stay curious, my friends and, as always, happy learning!