What Are Personal Pronouns?
Pronouns are great for making sure debaters don't have to keep repeating the other guy's name over and over again, but they have many other uses too! In fact, pronouns, you could say, make reading readable. In part one, we'll cover personal pronouns and how they're used before moving on to more esoteric varieties.
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What Are Pronouns?
Pronouns. Where would we be without them? Wait, let’s see: ‘Pronouns. Where would be without?’
Pronouns , you see, are words that replace nouns (or other pronouns) that help make sentences more agile. For instance: ‘Stan went to the grocery to pick up a gallon of fish oil but Stan forgot his money, so Stan went back to his Winnebago to see if Stan had left his money there.’
Whoa, that’s pretty cumbersome right? Pause the video and take a second to see if you can improve the sentence with a few pronouns. I know we haven’t gotten into what pronouns really are yet, but try anyway. Just try to make it better.
Okay, so here’s what I have. ‘Stan went to the grocery to pick up a gallon of fish oil but he forgot his money, so he went back to his Winnebago to see if he had left it there.’
Is that similar to what you’ve got? Here ‘he’ is a subjective personal pronoun that stands in for Stan after the first time he’s mentioned in the sentence. ‘It’ is an objective personal pronoun that stands in for ‘the money’ which is the object of the verb ‘had left.’ But even without knowing the technical terms, you probably figured out at least some of those answers all on your own, which is to say that pronoun use is a natural part of everyday English speech and writing.
But let’s talk a little bit more about each of these personal pronouns. Subject pronouns are just what they sound like: they replace the subject of the sentence.
Subject pronouns can be singular. Those are: I , you , he , she and it , or plural: we , you and they . Take this dialogue below, where we’ll highlight the subject pronouns.
’ You can’t take my pet Godzilla?’ Dory said.
‘No,’ I said. ‘Morgan and I agreed. We think it will burn the house down.’
Here ‘you’ replaces the speaker’s name or the name of the couple (whomever Dory is talking to), whereas ‘I,’ which is in the first-person, replaces the name of the speaker. Then ‘we’ replaces ‘Morgan and I’ (first-person plural), while ‘it’ is a neutral singular pronoun referring to Dory’s pet Godzilla.
Pronouns can also refer to the objects of a sentence. Here, they serve the same function as before - replacing a noun or other pronoun - but are the object of the subject. Object pronouns are the objects of verbs, infinitives and prepositions. These can act on pronouns as well as nouns, which is how we get the idea of an object pronoun. For instance:
‘I love Japanese monster movies.’
‘I’ is the subject pronoun (the subject of the sentence), and ‘movies’ is the object (Japanese monster movies, specifically). But in this sentence:
‘And Japanese monster movies love me.’
Well, ‘me’ is an object pronoun here (because it’s the object of the subject ‘movies’), but it’s a pronoun because it’s still replacing the ‘I’ in the sentence (the person that it’s supposed to be). So, that’s how you get the idea of an object pronoun.
Your singular object pronouns are me , you , him , her and it , while the plural object pronouns are us , you and them . You might notice that ‘you’ is listed as both a subject and an object pronoun, that’s because it is! It all depends on how it’s used. See if you can pick out the subject and object pronouns from the sentences that follow. We’ll display the text, then pause the video and give you a chance to give it a try.
‘We’re here to see Oz,’ Dorothy said. ‘That shouldn’t matter to you.’
‘Do you know him personally?’ the monkey asked.
‘No, but we must see him. Our tin man needs a heart, you see.’
‘How did you all get here?’
‘A strong wind blew us in.’
Let’s see how you did.
First, we have ‘we’re,’ a contraction of ‘we are,’ where we is a first person plural pronoun referring to Dorothy and her companions. Next, we have ‘you,’ which is ‘you’ functioning as a singular object pronoun . Then we have ‘you’ again, which is the monkey addressing Dorothy in the second person singular subject pronoun , followed by the third person male object pronoun ‘him,’ which fills in for ‘Oz.’ Next, ‘we’ again refers to Dorothy and her companions, ‘him’ again refers to Oz, and ‘you,’ again refers directly to Dorothy. Finally, ‘us,’ is the plural first person object pronoun referring to Dorothy and her companions, where ‘us’ is the object of the verb ‘blew.’
Phew! After that exercise, pronouns may sound dry and boring to you, but consider this: your pronoun use may reveal a lot about you and others. For instance, people tend to say ‘we’ or use sentences without first-person pronouns more often if they’re lying than people who are telling the truth, according to a 2011 Harvard study. People who use the first-person pronoun ‘I’ more often tend to be more self-centered and more likely to be depressed than emotionally stable people, the same study found.
Now that you know the personal pronouns, it’s important to make sure that they agree when you’re using them in a sentence. It’s this aspect of pronoun usage that trips most students up. Remember that the gender and number of the pronoun should match the gender and number of the subject. For instance:
‘Shondra wouldn’t be coming to school today, since she is vacationing in Roswell.’
‘She’ makes sense here because Shondra is a female name and the subject is just one person. But, in many cases the gender of the subject is more ambiguous. Take this:
‘A visitor must check-in with security before he visits the alien spacecraft,’ the guard said.
Here, the subject is singular, ‘visitor,’ but it’s not clear whether the visitor is male or female. This is confusing! In these cases, replace the single gender with both. So: ‘a visitor must check in with security before he or she visits the alien spacecraft.’ A quick note here, in modern usage the plural ‘they’ is often also an acceptable replacement for ‘he or she,’ since it’s less cumbersome. But, it’s technically not grammatically correct, so not all teachers or standardized tests agree. Tread carefully when replacing a gender-ambiguous subject with a plural pronoun.
To re-cap, personal pronouns:
Replace nouns or other pronouns, making sentences easier to read and follow.
Can be the subject or the object of a sentence. ‘I’ is the first-person subject pronoun, while ‘me’ is the first-person object pronoun, for instance.
Can be singular or plural.
Must agree in gender and number with the words they’re filling in for.
Now that you understand personal pronouns and their uses, we can move on to the many different other kinds of pronouns and their special rules and tricks - but for that you’ll have to go on to the next lesson!
After watching this lesson, you should be able to:
Define pronoun , subject pronoun and object pronoun , and be able to identify them in a sentence
Understand pronoun agreement
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