Getting To Know ‘You’: Using Personal Pronouns and First Person Pronouns
What is a personal pronoun? These are the nouns you probably think of first when you think about pronouns: words that refer to a specific person, place, thing, or idea without using its proper name. In most cases, they replace the proper name after it has already been used, but a few of these words name people without any antecedent.
Subjects and Objects
A list of these particular pronouns would be fairly short: I, me, you, he, him, she, her, it, we, us, they, them. Essentially, there is a form for each person and number, depending on whether the noun it is replacing is the subject or object of the sentence.
- I, he, she, it, we, and they are subjects
- Me, him, her, us, and them are objects
- You and it can function in both capacities
So, what are personal pronouns and how do they fit into sentence structures? In general, a personal pronoun replaces a previously-named noun (its antecedent) with a clear correlation between the two.
- Joan and I met in college. We work at the same company now.
- Bob was supposed to pick up the cake, but he forgot.
In both of these sentences, the pronoun is clearly replacing its predecessor: Joan and I becomes we, and Bob becomes he. Let’s look more closely at each group.
You and I
The majority of personal pronouns are replacements for a previous proper noun: a name that clearly identifies someone, somewhere, or something. However, there are two words that exist as their own entities because they are the only way to identify the concepts they represent: I and you.
I is the most basic among first person pronouns, serving to identify the speaker. Its object form is me, also identifying the speaker but as an object of a verb or preposition rather than the subject. You, in both its singular and plural forms, identifies the person or people to whom the sentence is addressed. Its form does not change when it is used as an object.
These words are set apart from the others in their categories because they are their own concepts; there is no other way to identify the persons to whom they refer.
When we study the question of what is a personal pronoun, we have to consider the concept of person. When we talk about person as a grammatical concept, we don’t just mean person in the sense of a living human being. Person refers to whether a part of speech is tailored to refer to the speaker, the addressee, or an outside being or object. We’ll break these down below, and you can always use our grammar check and plagiarism checker to double-check your own writing.
First Steps First
The concept of the first person in grammar is a way of indicating the speaker’s involvement in the sentence that is being narrated. I, we, and us are the first person pronouns, with I as the singular and we and us as the plural forms. I is used when the narrator of the phrase is referring to themselves, and we or us refers back to a group of two or more that includes the speaker.
- John, Mary, and I wanted to go to the movies, but we couldn’t agree on what to see.
In this sentence, we in the dependent clause refers back to John, Mary, and I earlier in the sentence. As we’ve previously discussed, I is also a first person pronoun but does not replace anything. See this for even more details.
Just a Second!
The next category, as you might guess, is the second person. This category actually only consists of a single word: you, which is incredibly versatile in that it can be used as a subject or an object, and as a singular or plural noun. Is you a personal pronoun? Absolutely! You, like first person pronouns, does not have to replace anything but instead stands as its own concept. In general, you is used to indicate the noun (usually a person or people) being addressed by the narrator of the sentence. Let’s start with examples of the singular you.
- You are one of the top candidates being considered for the promotion.
- Sally, did Jane give the file to you?
In the first sentence, you indicates that the speaker is talking directly to the person who is being considered for a promotion, and the inclusion of the phrase “one of the top candidates” gives us a context clue that the speaker is addressing one person, not several.
In the second sentence, you is the object of the preposition to and indicates to whom the files were supposed to be given. The speaker addresses the other person by name earlier in the sentence, so we can see that this is addressed to just one person. Let’s see how you works in a plural context.
- Class! You have to pay attention, or you will not pass the test.
- I’ll forward the email to you.
In the first sentence, the context makes it clear that you refers to the class as a whole, consisting of many people who need to pay attention. The second sentence is not as clear: you could be singular or plural, because there’s no context to make sense of it. Because this situation is very common, you will often see phrases such as you all (or you guys or y’all if you’re in an informal context) to clarify.
Easy as One, Two, Three
The final category of personal pronouns is third person, and it’s the most exhaustive category: he, him, she, her, it, they, and them. With the exception of it, all of these pronouns have different forms for subject usage and object usage. In general, a third person personal pronoun must have a clear antecedent in order to make sense.
- She is reading a new book.
If this sentence stands alone, it makes no sense: who is she? It needs a preceding sentence that gives a proper name. If the sentence “Sara is on her lunch break” preceded the above sentence, then it would become clear that she is replacing Sara.
A quick note on a common question: while they and them are traditionally used as the third-person plural personal pronouns, they are increasingly used in colloquial English in a singular context when the gender is unknown. This is because it is generally considered incorrect to use to refer to a human being. The evolution of the singular they is ongoing; generally check the conventions of the style you’re using, whether it’s MLA format, APA format, or something else. You can read up on more styles on our site to ensure that your grammar and style is impeccable!