© 2013 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.
In Part 3, we looked at nouns. This time, we look at pronouns. A pronoun (abbrev. pron. or pr.) is a word that can be used in place of a noun or noun phrase.
Let's start with the most common kind of pronouns, those that indicate who or what is doing something; that is, the personal pronouns used as the subject of a sentence or a clause:
he, she, it
Some examples are:
- "I love ice cream!"
- "You may go to the movies tonight."
- "She is busy right now."
- "It was already broken."
- "They were late."
In most cases, we must first establish the noun being replaced before we can use the abbreviated, pronoun form. For example, in the sentences above, to whom or what do you, he, she, it, we, and they refer? And in the case of you, is it one person or more than one? However, once the noun is established, a pronoun can make things much simpler. For example, "The President came on stage. He thanked everyone for coming; he gave a great speech; and then he received a standing ovation." As we see, once the subject noun is established, all subsequent pronouns that could possibly replace that subject, do so. Consider the following: "John came to the picnic. Bob came too. However, he was late." Presumably, Bob arrived late. If, in fact, it was John, we'd need to use John instead of he. However, if we replace Bob with Mary, the he would now refer to John.
English had the archaic second-person thou (singular) and ye (plural). The word thou is still seen in literary and Biblical contexts, as in "Thou art my God."
While I is always capitalized, the other subject pronouns usually are not. But, of course, English is full of exceptions. For example, "He was married to She Who Must be Obeyed!", and "I know that He is the Chosen One!"
When a noun phrase includes multiple subject pronouns or such a pronoun and a noun, and the pronoun is I, that pronoun goes at the end of the list. For example, "You and I have been invited to the party." And "My parents and I went to the movies."
You might have heard we being used in an unusual manner. For example, Her Majesty might ask one of her subjects, "And how are we today?" (In fact, your family doctor might say the same thing.) Of course, the correct reply: "We is fine, you foxy Mama!" Apparently, such uses are known as the patronizing "we". Then there is the royal "we" (or Majestic plural), the editorial "we", the author's "we", and the non-confrontative "we", all of which you can read about here.
Many sentences contain a predicate having a direct and/or indirect object. The personal pronouns used as objects are:
him, her, it
Some examples are:
- "We saw them at the theater."
- "Mary gave it to me."
- "The man helped her to find us."
- "I last spoke to you on Friday."
Like most subject pronouns, we must first establish the noun being replaced before we can use the abbreviated, object pronoun form.
English had the archaic second-person thee (singular) and ye (plural). The word thee is still seen in literary and Biblical contexts, as in "With this ring, I thee wed." When referring to God, for example, Thee is capitalized.
When a noun phrase includes multiple object pronouns or such a pronoun and a noun, and the pronoun is me, that pronoun goes at the end of the list. For example, "Father gave the tickets to you and me." and "Uncle Jack gave my parents and me a ride home."
Here are some common, but very wrong, examples:
- "Me and Jimmy went hunting." Correct form: "Jimmy and I went hunting.", because the pronoun is in the subject.
- "Him and me each shot a deer." Correct form: "He and I each shot a deer.", because the pronouns are in the subject. [We could say, "The deer were shot by him and me." or more simply, "The deer were shot by us.", but that doesn't say clearly that we each shot one. Perhaps we both shot all of them, 25 times, after drinking a case of beer; BURP!]
When an object is the same as the subject, we have a reflexive situation, and as the object will be a pronoun, its reflexive form must be used. The reflexive pronouns are:
himself, herself, itself
The Royal "we" equivalent is ourself, and the indefinite version is oneself. For example, "One can always improve oneself."
Some examples are:
- "I appointed myself arbitrator."
- "He patted himself on the back for a job well done."
- "They voted themselves out of office."
The reflexive form of thou and thee is thyself.
It is not uncommon to hear people mistakenly use a reflexive pronoun with an unrelated subject. For example, "Please send a copy to Mary and myself." The correct pronoun is me. On the other hand, the opposite mistake can be made; "I'm gonna catch me a wascaly wabbit!" Of course, the correct pronoun is myself, but who are we to argue with the dialog of a Bugs Bunny cartoon? [For that matter, many country (and other) music songs introduce such mistakes intentionally to get the words to rhyme.]
The reflexive pronouns can all be used as corresponding intensive pronouns to add emphasis. For example, "I did all the work myself!" The difference here is that the pronoun can be omitted without losing any meaning, whereas in a reflexive context it cannot.
The terms one another and each other are reciprocal pronouns in which members of a set perform a reciprocal action on other members of that set. Examples are, "They helped each other put on their armor." and "They competed with one another for the prize."
A dummy pronoun is one used where a noun or noun phrase is required syntactically, yet none is needed or even exists. For example:
- "It is hot."
- "It is clear that …"
- "It rained itself out!"
Conveniently, possessive pronouns indicate possession. These pronouns are:
his, hers, its
- "The blue car is mine." "Mine is green."
- "Which containers are yours?" "Hers have her name on them."
- I believe this is theirs." "No, theirs was the red one."
The archaic version is thine.
Demonstrative pronouns are used to distinguish one or more things from a set. For example:
- "This is my hat."
- "Are these your gloves?"
- "She goes out in public in that?"
- "Are those clean?
- "Please pass me that one."
There are numerous indefinite pronouns; these refer to unspecified things. Examples include one; no one, everyone, someone, and anyone (and their -thing equivalents), and none, some, neither, and both.
The relative pronouns are which, that, and who. For example:
- "He arrived late, which was rude."
- "The DVD that I bought yesterday was on sale."
- "The man who left early was a retired military officer."
There has been, and continues to be, a debate about the use of that vs. which. Here is the rule I use: If the pronoun and whatever immediately follows it is necessary to qualify the noun to which it is being applied, use that without a comma; otherwise, use a comma, followed by which. For example, in the following:
- "Painting Number 10, which the artist painted while drunk, sold for $1 million."
could just as easily have been written instead as:
- "Painting Number 10 (which the artist painted while drunk) sold for $1 million."
- "Painting Number 10—which the artist painted while drunk—sold for $1 million."
The fact that the artist was drunk at the time has no bearing on the intended meaning. Removing that clause is just fine.
On the other hand, in "The car that is standing at the curb is mine.", the qualifier is needed.
Finally, we look at interrogative pronouns, words used to ask a question. Examples include:
- "What is today's lunch special?"
- "Since when?"
- "Who stole my cheese?"
- "To whom shall I address the letter?"
The word who is a subject pronoun while whom is its equivalent object version.
I'm reminded of the old joke in which the English teacher asks an inattentive student, "Give me two pronouns." Caught unawares, the student replied, "Who? Me?"
Over the years, I've recommended highly Patricia T. O'Conner's book Woe is I. Should the title of a book on English grammar contain an incorrect pronoun? Of course, like so many other examples in that easy-to-read book, this one is a pun on the very subject it covers.