Pronouns: Definition & Usage

We can see pronouns are used in a sentence or our daily speaking. In fact, even if we don’t know what pronouns are, we use them—and in this sentence, we’ve now used pronouns.

According to Oxford Language, pronoun is a word that can function by itself as a noun phrase and that refers either to the participants in the discourse (e.g., I, you ) or to someone or something mentioned elsewhere in the discourse (e.g., she, it, this ).
a third-person pronoun by which an individual wishes to be referred to in order to indicate their gender identity.
noun: preferred pronoun; plural noun: preferred pronouns
“he then publicly announced in September that he is changing his pronouns to “they/them””

According to grammarly.com, pronouns are words (or phrases) you substitute for nouns when your reader or listener already knows which noun you’re referring to.

Pronouns do a whole lot more than helping us avoid repetitiveness. They provide context, make your sentences’ meanings clearer, and shape how we perceive people and things. Read on to learn about the different ways we use pronouns and how to use them to construct sentences.

What is a pronoun?
In English grammar, pronouns are a type of generic noun that can represent any other noun. Their job is to make communication faster and more efficient because you don’t have to repeat the same word.

Pronouns are one of the eight parts of speech, and they are also sometimes understood as making up a small subcategory of nouns. The distinguishing characteristic of pronouns is that they can be substituted for nouns.

Pronouns can replace both proper and common nouns. Certain pronouns have specific rules about when they can be used, such as the way it should never be used to refer to a human being. We explain all of the different types and their associated rules below. Notice that some pronouns (such as which and whose) can function as more than one type, depending on how they’re deployed in a sentence.

What is an antecedent?

Remember how we mentioned that in order to use a pronoun, you need to introduce the noun first? That noun has a name: an antecedent.

Antecedents are necessary because pronouns are versatile. Think about it—it can refer to a bike, a tree, a car, or a city, and we just used it to refer to something else entirely: pronouns’ versatility.

Antecedents aren’t necessary when the reader/listener knows who or what you’re discussing. Generally, you don’t need an antecedent for a pronoun like I, you, we, our, or me. But sometimes you do need an antecedent in this kind of situation—like when you’re giving a speech where you introduce yourself and your credentials before discussing the subject of your speech.

There are also circumstances where you might not introduce the noun first and instead reveal it only after using pronouns to refer to your subject. You might do this for dramatic or poetic effect in a piece of creative writing, for example.

Personal pronouns
When you think of pronouns, you most likely think first of personal pronouns. Personal pronouns are pronouns that change form based on their grammatical person—that is, based on whether they refer to the person speaking or writing (the first person), the person or thing being spoken to (the second person), or the person or thing being spoken about (the third person). Here is a list of the main personal pronouns :

I/me
she/her
he/him
they/them
It
we/us
you


Relative pronouns
Relative pronouns are another class of pronouns. They connect relative clauses to independent clauses. Often, they introduce additional information about something mentioned in the sentence. Relative pronouns include these words:

that
what
which
who
whom


Who vs. whom—subject and object pronouns
Knowing when to use who and when to use whom trips a lot of writers up. The difference is actually pretty simple: Who is for the subject of a sentence or clause, and whom is for the object of a verb or preposition.

Demonstrative pronouns
That, this, these, and those are demonstrative pronouns. They can point directly to an antecedent or replace one that has already been mentioned or is clear through context.

This is used for singular items that are nearby. These is used for multiple items that are nearby. The distance can be physical or metaphorical.


Indefinite pronouns
Indefinite pronouns are used to refer generally to a person or thing that doesn’t need to be specifically identified or has already been mentioned. Here are some common indefinite pronouns:

one
other
none
some
anybody
everybody
no one

Reflexive pronouns
Reflexive pronouns are forms of personal pronouns that end in –self or –selves:

myself
yourself
himself
herself
itself
oneself
ourselves
yourselves
themselves
You can use a reflexive pronoun as the object of a verb or preposition to refer back to the subject of the sentence or clause.

Using myself when you mean me is a common mistake writers and speakers make. Reflexive pronouns are correct only when the subject and object of a verb are the same. If you’re using a pronoun as an object but it refers to an antecedent that is not the subject of the sentence or clause, you use an object pronoun.


Intensive pronouns
Intensive pronouns look the same as reflexive pronouns, but their purpose is different. Intensive pronouns add emphasis by repeating their antecedent noun or pronoun. Conceptualizing the difference between them and reflexive pronouns can be challenging because the emphasis isn’t always obvious.


Possessive pronouns
As their names imply, both possessive pronouns and possessive adjectives show ownership.

Possessive pronouns are sometimes called independent possessive pronouns or absolute possessive pronouns. They show possession of a noun by replacing it. They look like this:

mine
yours
ours
his
hers
theirs
its
When you use an independent possessive pronoun, you drop the noun that the pronoun is expressing a relationship to.


Possessive adjectives also clarify who or what owns something. Unlike possessive pronouns—which replace nouns—possessive adjectives go before nouns to modify them. They include the following:

my
your
our
his
her
their
its


Each possessive pronoun also has a form called the independent possessive. They look like this:

mine
yours
ours
his
hers
theirs
its
When you use an independent possessive pronoun, you drop the noun that the pronoun is expressing a relationship to.


Interrogative pronouns
Interrogative pronouns are used in questions. These are the interrogative pronouns:

who
whose
whom
what
which


Reciprocal pronouns
There are only two reciprocal pronouns: each other and one another.

These pronouns describe a mutual relationship between two or more elements.


Distributive pronouns
Distributive pronouns refer to nouns as individual elements of larger groups. They enable you to single out individuals while acknowledging that they’re part of a group. Distributive pronouns include the following:

either
each
neither
any
none

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