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Introduction to Pronouns & What is a Pronoun
A pronoun is one of the most important components of writing and speaking. Without them, we’d be cluttering up our language by repeating the names of things over and over again. In order to make your communication skills as effective as possible, you have to have a strong understanding of how they can be used. In this article, you’ll learn all about pronouns, how to use them, and how to avoid confusion when using them in your writing and speech. After going over this article, you can find more information if you click here.
What is a Pronoun?
Let’s get the basics out of the way with a starter pronoun definition. A pronoun functions the same as a noun in that it names a person, place, thing, or idea. How do we define pronoun specifically, then? We define it as a replacement for or reference to a preceding specific noun. Our pronouns definition can be further broken down into a few categories: personal, possessive, reflexive, indefinite, relative, and interrogative. Let’s take a look at each definition of pronoun individually.
Let’s Get Personal
Personal pronouns are the ones you probably think of first. These are words that refer to a particular subject or object: I, me, you, he, him, she, her, it, they, them, we, us. They come in two varieties: subject, which indicate who or what is doing an action, and object, which indicate who or what is being acted upon.
- Michael and I went to the movies. We saw a comedy.
I in the first sentence indicates the speaker, and we in the second sentence replaces Michael and I from the first. Both are subjects.
- Sarah was nervous because the teacher asked her to present to the class.
In this example, her refers back to Sarah and is the object of the verb asked.
Yours, Mine, and Ours
These types do not replace a preceding noun, but indicate ownership: my, mine, your, yours, her, hers, his, its, our, ours, their, theirs.
- The shoes are mine.
Mine tells us the shoes in question belong to the speaker.
- His office is clean.
In this sentence, his tells us to whom the clean office belongs.
Right Back At You!
The reflexive category is pretty straightforward: they’re when someone or something (denoted by a regular noun) acts upon itself. The dead giveaway is the suffix -self at the end of the word.
- I cut myself when I was chopping onions.
Myself explains who the speaker cut.
To Infinity And…
A pronoun doesn’t have to refer to a specific person, place, thing, or idea—it often refers to something unspecific: many, anyone, everyone, each, nobody, both, most.
- Nobody wants to fail.
Nobody is the subject of the sentence, but not a specific noun.
- Most agreed to cease the argument.
Most here refers to most of some group that’s been previously mentioned, but does not specify whom exactly.
It’s All Relative
When we look at the pronoun definition, we have to understand that its defining characteristic is its relationship to previously named things. Relative pronouns are often found in relative clauses and replace a previously defined noun as more information is given.
- We live in a house that is a century old.
The word that links the two clauses and substitutes for house in the second clause.
- Students who study do better on tests.
In this sentence, who is a reference to students and defines the subgroup that the sentence describes: not just students, but ones who study.
We’re almost there, one more group to discuss! Ready?
Question and Answer
In considering what is a pronoun, we tend to think only about words that can substitute for previously-named nouns. That’s not always the case! The interrogative variants, as you might guess, ask questions that would then be answered with an identifying noun, reversing the usual relationship.
- Who opened the box?
Who asks for a person to be named in answer.
- What is the book about?
What asks for a slightly more complex answer, perhaps an abstract noun or a full sentence.
Pronouns and Antecedents
Recall how this part of speech generally refers back (or sometimes forward) to some other noun? That related noun is called the antecedent and is the key to avoiding confusion when using these words. In most cases, it will be clear which preceding noun is the antecedent.
- I met Charlie yesterday. He is the store owner.
He very clearly can only refer to Charlie.
- The crowds began cheering when they saw the star walk by.
In this case, they refers back to the crowds.
There may be instances where there could potentially be more than one antecedent. In sentences like these, you must rely on context clues.
- Jane asked Mary for her opinion on the project.
Her could, out of context, refer to either Jane or Mary. However, Jane wouldn’t need to ask Mary about Jane’s own opinion; her must refer to Mary. In general, the possible antecedent closest to the pronoun is probably correct.
In some cases, though, this still results in an unclear interpretation.
- Joe accidentally backed his car into the trashcan and dented it.
What got dented, the car or the trash can? Either one could make sense. When writing in this way, make sure to phrase the sentence in a way that removes the ambiguity. For instance, this sentence could become:
- Joe dented his car when he accidentally backed it into the trash can.
Now that you’re comfortable with the pronoun definition and its structures, it’s a great time to take the next step in organizing your writing and familiarize yourself with MLA format and APA format. These are the two most common formatting and citation styles you’ll encounter, but it’s always a good idea to learn about more styles too! Happy writing!