In this lesson we’re going to cover the types of personal pronouns found in English and how they are used. A pronoun is a word that takes the place of a noun. The noun that the pronoun refers to is called the antecedent. English has four types of personal pronouns that refer to specific persons, places, or things: subject pronouns, object pronouns, possessive pronouns, and possessive adjectives.
We’ll be covering just the basic use of personal pronouns in this lesson. We’ll get to more advanced pronoun-related topics at a later date. Also note that we won’t be covering who, whom, and whose just yet. These tricky pronouns deserve their own lesson.
Pronouns in Action
Let’s start with a couple examples of pronouns and their antecedents:
I went to the store [antecedent]. It [pronoun] was busy.
“It” refers back to “the store.”
Jane saw a movie [antecedent]. It [pronoun] was exciting.
“It” refers back to “a movie” that Jane saw.
Using pronouns can add some much needed variety to your writing. Notice how repetitive the last example sounds if we replace “it” with “Jane.”
Jane saw a movie. The movie was exciting.
Singular vs. Plural
A singular pronoun is used to refer to a singular noun:
Jane watched a comedy [singular]. It [singular] was funny.
A plural pronoun is used to refer to a plural noun:
Jane watched three comedies [plural]. They [plural] were funny.
The subject pronouns I, you, she, he, it (singular) and we, you, they (plural) are used as the subjects of sentences:
Jane [antecedent] owns a motorcycle. She [subject pronoun] rides it on the weekends.
Jane and Mark [antecedent] watched a movie. They [subject pronoun] found it boring.
Object pronouns function as the objects of verbs or the objects of prepositions. The singular object pronouns are me, you, him, her, and it. The plurals are us, you, and them.
As the object of the verb:
Jane [antecedent] went to the movie. I met [verb] her [object pronoun] there.
As the object of the preposition:
Jane had dinner with [preposition] me [object pronoun] after the movie.
This type of pronoun is used in place of a possessive noun. Unlike possessive adjectives (which we’ll get to in a minute), possessive pronouns are not immediately followed by nouns. They stand alone. The singular possessive pronouns are mine, yours, hers, his, and its. The plurals are ours, yours, and theirs:
That car is his [possessive pronoun].
Ours [possessive pronoun] is over there.
Its vs. It’s
Unlike possessive nouns, possessive pronouns do NOT take apostrophes. Native English speakers commonly commit this error with “its” because the possessive pronoun is easily-confused with the contraction for “it is.”
I saw a school bus. Its [possessive pronoun] color was yellow. (The color belongs to the school bus.)
It’s [contraction] time to go home. (“It’s” is functioning as a contraction of “it is.”)
I saw a school bus. It’s [contraction] color was yellow. (This is the same as writing “It is color was yellow.”)
Its [possessive] time to go home. (The possessive “its” cannot be expanded to “it is.”)
Possessive pronouns can also be used as adjectives. They must immediately be followed by a noun when used in this role. Singular possessive adjectives use the following construction: my/your/her/his/its + [name]. The plurals are essentially the plural possessive pronoun forms minus the final –s: our/your/their + [names]:
His [singular possessive adjective] car [singular noun] is in the garage.
Their [plural possessive adjective] cars [plural noun] are in the garage.
Note that “your” can be both a singular and plural possessive adjective. Whether it is singular or plural depends on noun that immediately follows it:
Your [singular possessive adjective] book [singular noun] is on the kitchen counter.
Your [plural possessive adjective] books [plural noun] are on the kitchen counter.
Your [plural possessive adjective] book and phone [multiple nouns] are on the kitchen counter.