Personal Pronouns in English

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A pronoun is a word that replaces a normal noun in a sentence. A noun is the name of a person, thing, idea or concept.

A personal pronoun replaces the name of a person in a sentence. They can be used as the subject or object.

Example:

man
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This is Mark. Mark lives in London. (without a personal pronoun)
This is Mark. He lives in London. (with the personal pronoun “he“)

 

 

 

 

In this example, we have replaced the noun “Mark” with the personal pronoun “he“. The sentence is better with this personal pronoun because we are no longer repeating Mark’s name. The style is better.

In the above example, “He” is the subject of the sentence. Therefore “He” is a subject personal pronoun.  There is also a second type of personal pronoun called object personal pronouns which are used as the object of the sentence.

Example:
Jane is my wife. I love her.

In the above example, “I” is the first person singular subject pronoun.  “I” is the subject of the verb “love”.
“her” refers to Jane and is the third person singular feminine object pronoun. It is an object pronoun because “her” is the object of the verb “love”.

Here is the list of all the personal pronouns in English:

  Subject pronoun Object pronoun
First person singular masculine or feminine I me
Second person singular masculine or feminine you you
Third person singular masculine he him
Third person singular feminine she her
Third person singular neuter it it
First person plural masculine or feminine we us
Second person plural masculine or feminine you you
Third person plural masculine, feminine and neuter they them

Masculine or feminine for the third person singular?

In the third person singular, we use “he” (subject) and “him” (object) to refer to a male and “she” (subject) and “her” (object) to refer to a female. Sometimes when we are talking about someone in the third person, we do not know the gender of the person because we have not met the person or perhaps we do not know even know their name. This means it is not clear which personal pronoun to use in the third person (masculine or feminine). We have 2 solutions to this problem in English:

1)Use both pronouns in our sentence separated by “or” to make it clear that we are not sure.

Examples:
“Ask your teacher. He or she will help.”
“I will talk to him or her tomorrow.”

2)Use the third person plural pronoun “they” or “them” (even when referring to one person)

Example:
“Ask your teacher. They will help you.”
“I will talk to them tomorrow.”

When to use “it”

We use “it” for singular things, ideas, concepts and most animals. “it” is used as a subject or object.

Examples:
I like my new car. It is very fast.

cow
Look at the cow. It is eating the grass.
David has a new house. I saw it yesterday.

There are 2 exceptions to this rule:

Exception 1: If the animal is a family pet, for example a cat or a dog, we can use “he” (subject) and “him” (object) for a male animal or “she” (subject) and “her” (object) for a female because we consider the animal as a member of the family. The animal is like a person.

Examples:

dog
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Where is Toby?
He is in the garden.

Do you like my cat?
Yes I like her a lot!

Exception 2: Ships are always female.

Example:
The Titanic was a British ship. She sank in 1912.

We can also use “it” as a subject to describe the weather, temperature, time and distance.

Examples:
It’s raining.
It’s 30°C outside.
It’s four o’clock.
It’s fifty miles to London.

We also use “it” to identify somebody.

Examples:
“Who is that?”
“It’s Brad Pitt.” correct
“He’s Brad Pitt.” wrong

(on the telephone)
“Hello mum, it’s David……” correct
“Hello mum, I’m David……” wrong

We use “it” to make a general comment or remark.

Examples:
It’s terrible. My sister is too ill to go to London.
It’s important to eat well.

Subject personal pronouns

Subject pronouns are the subject of the verb.

Subject pronouns – examples

I am making a phone call
You are shaking my hand.
He is drinking a cup of coffee.
She is drinking a cup of tea.
It was very expensive.
We are having breakfast.
You were having dinner together.
They are shaking hands.

Object personal pronouns

We use object personal pronouns in 3 situations:

1 – as a direct object

Examples:
Jane likes him.
Mark saw us in London today.

2 – as an indirect object

Examples:
David gave me a present.
She is telling them a joke.

3 – as an object of a preposition

Examples:
Mark talked to her this morning.
I am waiting for you.

Object pronouns – examples

Jane is pointing at me.
I love you.
Jane is helping him.
Mark is annoying her.
John made it this morning.
“Come to see us in London!”
I saw you last night in the pub.
John is not with them.

Shafey Barakat
CELTA Certified English Instructor
Professionals' Development Analyst
Moodle Administrator

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