Grammar Guide: Pronouns

PronounsWhat is a pronoun?

A pronoun is a word that is used in place of a noun in a sentence. These function in the same way as nouns; a pronoun is also a “person, place, or thing.” However, there is a slight difference. A pronoun replaces a noun–that noun is called the “antecedent.” You have to make sure your pronoun works with the antecedent. There are three forms of pronouns. Let’s go over the three types, and then look at common mistakes.

Subjective Case

Situations where the pronoun functions as the subject of a sentence are called “subjective cases.”  The following pronouns are used for subjective cases: I, you, he, she, we, it, they, who, whoever. Let’s look at some examples:

  • I want to go to the store.
  • We went for a walk.
  • Kelly and I liked the book.

However, pronouns aren’t always used as subjects, and therefore there are different cases for them.

Objective Case

In the “objective case,” the pronoun is the object of the verb (get it? Objective? Object?). Objective case words include: me, you, him her, it, us, them, whom, whomever. (By the way, if you have trouble remembering who/whom, check out my post about it here.) Let’s look at some examples:

  • My cats like me.
  • The dog belongs to him.
  • Kelly came with us.

There are a few different types of objects, such as a direct object, an object of a preposition etc., but we’ll go over that in a different post. 😀

Possessive Case

The “possessive case” occurs when the pronoun is used to express that someone or something owns some quality or object. The possessive pronouns are: my (mine), your (yours), his, her (hers), its, our (ours), their (theirs), whose. Now you may have noticed I put some of the words in parentheses. Those words may be used alone in place of a noun. So words like her, our and their work like an adjective, describing a noun. The parenthetical words do not need a noun to describe.

  • This is your cat.
  • The cat is yours.
  • Her book is blue.
  • The blue book is hers.

Common problems

Pronoun appears after multiple antecedents: This happens most frequently with “this,” “that,” “which,” and “it.”

  • Incorrect: I have a cat and dog. It’s brown. (Reader cannot discern whether “it” refers to the cat or dog.)
  • Correct: I have a cat and dog. They are brown. (Plural pronoun acknowledges both antecedents.)
  • Correct: I have a cat and dog. The cat is brown. (No pronoun.)

Pronoun is too far away from the antecedent: The farther away the pronoun, the harder it is to distinguish the correct antecedent. To make sure your sentence is clear, restate the antecedent if the pronoun is far away.

  • Incorrect: New York City is a place people dream of going to and living in. As a “hot-spot” for the latest trends and fashions, millions of people go to shop and walk amongst the exciting places and dazzling lights. Because of this, the rate of tourism has skyrocketed for it. (Antecedent too far away–causes confusion).
  • Correct: New York City is a place people dream of going to and living in. As a “hot-spot” for the latest trends and fashions, millions of people go to shop and walk amongst the exciting places and dazzling lights. Because of this, the rate of tourism has skyrocketed for New York City. (Restate the antecedent for optimal clarity.)

Pronoun refers to a nonexsistant antecedent: Sometimes you simply forget to put the antecedent, which leave an unclear train of thought.

  • Incorrect: The mall is located in New York City. She cannot wait to go! (Who is she?)
  • Correct: The mall is located in New York City. Kelly cannot wait to go! (Specify the antecedent, so that pronouns can be used after)

Single antecedent with a plural pronoun: I see this a lot when people try to make things gender neutral. If your antecedent is singular, your pronoun must also be singular.

  • Incorrect: Does everyone have their pencil ready? (EveryONE is singular, yet “their” is plural. It doesn’t agree)
  • Correct: Does everyone have his or her pencil ready? (Everyone is singular, “his or her” is singular, and it covers both genders).
  • Incorrect: That’s why someone sweats–because they’re hot. (Again–“someone” is singular, “they” is plural)
  • Correct: That’s why someone sweats–because he or she is hot. (Matching singular words)

Using an objective pronoun instead of subjective: While the inverse is also true, this is the more common problem. If you can’t remember objective pronouns, look at the list above. After I give you an example, I’ll teach you a trick so you use the right pronoun!

  • Incorrect: My husband and me went to the store.
  • Correct: My husband and I went to the store.

Ok, so obviously it’s “I” because it’s a subjective pronoun situation, but let’s say you didn’t know that. If you have a situation like this with “_________ and (me or I)” eliminate the part before the pronoun. If the sentence still makes sense, you’re correct. So let’s look at that example again.

  • Incorrect: Me went to the store.
  • Correct: I went to the store.

I know the example I gave you was kind of simple, but it works with more complicated lists too. I know I use this trick a lot, so I hope it helps you too! 😉

In conclusion

While many native speakers think pronouns are easy, they can be a bit tricky. Play close attention to your antecedent, and hopefully you’ll be on your way to great pronoun usage!

Posted in Grammar Guides.