Pronouns have traditionally been regarded as one of the parts of speech, but some modern theorists would not consider them to form a single class, in view of the variety of functions they perform cross-linguistically. An example of a pronoun is "their", which is both plural and singular. Subtypes include personal and possessive pronouns, reflexive and reciprocal pronouns, demonstrative pronouns, relative and interrogative pronouns, and indefinite pronouns.:1–34
The use of pronouns often involves anaphora, where the meaning of the pronoun is dependent on an antecedent. For example, in the sentence That poor man looks as if he needs a new coat, the antecedent of the pronoun he is dependent on that poor man.
The adjective associated with pronoun is pronominal.[A] A pronominal is also a word or phrase that acts as a pronoun. For example, in That's not the one I wanted, the phrase the one (containing the prop-word one) is a pronominal.
Pronouns (antōnymía) are listed as one of eight parts of speech in The Art of Grammar, a treatise on Greek grammar attributed to Dionysius Thrax and dating from the 2nd century BC. The pronoun is described there as "a part of speech substitutable for a noun and marked for a person." Pronouns continued to be regarded as a part of speech in Latin grammar (the Latin term being pronomen, from which the English name – through Middle French – ultimately derives), and thus in the European tradition generally.
In more modern approaches, pronouns are less likely to be considered to be a single word class, because of the many different syntactic roles that they play, as represented by the various different types of pronouns listed in the previous sections.
Linguists in particular have trouble classifying pronouns in a single category, and some do not agree that pronouns substitute nouns or noun categories. Certain types of pronouns are often identical or similar in form to determiners with related meaning; some English examples are given in the table on the right. This observation has led some linguists, such as Paul Postal, to regard pronouns as determiners that have had their following noun or noun phrase deleted. (Such patterning can even be claimed for certain personal pronouns; for example, we and you might be analyzed as determiners in phrases like we Brits and you tennis players.) Other linguists have taken a similar view, uniting pronouns and determiners into a single class, sometimes called "determiner-pronoun", or regarding determiners as a subclass of pronouns or vice versa. The distinction may be considered to be one of subcategorization or valency, rather like the distinction between transitive and intransitive verbs – determiners take a noun phrase complement like transitive verbs do, while pronouns do not. This is consistent with the determiner phrase viewpoint, whereby a determiner, rather than the noun that follows it, is taken to be the head of the phrase. Cross-linguistically, it seems as though pronouns share 3 distinct categories: point of view, person, and number. The breadth of each subcategory however tends to differ among languages.
The use of pronouns often involves anaphora, where the meaning of the pronoun is dependent on another referential element. The referent of the pronoun is often the same as that of a preceding (or sometimes following) noun phrase, called the antecedent of the pronoun. The grammatical behavior of certain types of pronouns, and in particular their possible relationship with their antecedents, has been the focus of studies in binding, notably in the Chomskyan government and binding theory. In this binding context, reflexive and reciprocal pronouns in English (such as himself and each other) are referred to as anaphors (in a specialized restricted sense) rather than as pronominal elements. Under binding theory, specific principles apply to different sets of pronouns.
In English, reflexive and reciprocal pronouns must adhere to Principle A: an anaphor (reflexive or reciprocal, such as "each other") must be bound in its governing category (roughly, the clause). Therefore in syntactic structure it must be lower in structure (it must have an antecedant) and have a direct relationship with its referent. This is called a C-command relationship. For instance, we see that John cut himself is grammatical, but Himself cut John is not, despite having identical arguments, since himself, the reflexive, must be lower in structure to John, its referent. Additionally, we see examples like John said that Mary cut himself are not grammatical because there is a intermediary noun, Mary, that disallows the two referents from having a direct relationship.
On the other hand, personal pronouns (such as him or them) must adhere to Principle B: a pronoun must be free (i.e., not bound) within its governing category (roughly, the clause). This means that although the pronouns can have a referent, they cannot have a direct relationship with the referent where the referent selects the pronoun. For instance, John said Mary cut him is grammatical because the two co-referents, John and him are separated structurally by Mary. This is why a sentence like John cut him where him refers to John is ungrammatical.
It is important to note however that the type of binding that applies to subsets of pronouns varies cross linguistically. For instance, in German linguistics, pronouns can be split into two distinct categories — personal pronouns and d-pronouns. Although personal pronouns act identically to that of English personal pronouns (i.e. follow Principle A), d-pronouns follow yet another principle, Principle C, and function similarly to nouns in that they cannot have a direct relationship to an antecedent.
The following sentences give examples of particular types of pronouns used with antecedents:
Some other types, such as indefinite pronouns, are usually used without antecedents. Relative pronouns are used without antecedents in free relative clauses. Even third-person personal pronouns are sometimes used without antecedents ("unprecursed") – this applies to special uses such as dummy pronouns and generic they, as well as cases where the referent is implied by the context.
The table below lists English pronouns across a number of different syntactic contexts (Subject, Object, Possessive, Reflexive) according to the following features:
|Person||Number/Gender||Subject||Object||Dependent possessive (determiner)||Independent possessive||Reflexive|
|Epicene/Plural||they||them||their||theirs||themselves / themself|
In addition to the personal pronouns exemplified in the above table, English ask has other pronoun types, including demonstrative, relative, indefinite, and interrogative pronouns, as listed in the following table. For more detailed discussion, see the following subsections.
|this||that||something / anything / nothing (things)||who / whom / whose|
|these||who / whom / whose||someone / anyone / no one (people)||what|
|that||which||somebody / anybody / nobody (people)||which|
|former / latter|
Personal pronouns may be classified by person, number, gender and case. English has three persons (first, second and third) and two numbers (singular and plural); in the third person singular there are also distinct pronoun forms for male, female and neuter gender.:52–53 Principal forms are shown in the adjacent table (see also English personal pronouns).
English personal pronouns have two cases, subject and object. Subject pronouns are used in subject position (I like to eat chips, but she does not). Object pronouns are used for the object of a verb or preposition (John likes me but not her).:52–53
Other distinct forms found in some languages include:
Possessive pronouns are used to indicate possession (in a broad sense). Some occur as independent noun phrases: mine, yours, hers, ours, theirs. An example is: Those clothes are mine. Others act as a determiner and must accompany a noun: my, your, her, our, your, their, as in: I lost my wallet. (His and its can fall into either category, although its is nearly always found in the second.) Those of the second type have traditionally also been described as possessive adjectives, and in more modern terminology as possessive determiners. The term "possessive pronoun" is sometimes restricted to the first type. Both types replace possessive noun phrases. As an example, Their crusade to capture our attention could replace The advertisers' crusade to capture our attention.:55–56
Reflexive pronouns are used when a person or thing acts on itself, for example, John cut himself. In English they all end in -self or -selves and must refer to a noun phrase elsewhere in the same clause.:55
Reciprocal pronouns refer to a reciprocal relationship (each other, one another). They must refer to a noun phrase in the same clause.:55 An example in English is: They do not like each other. In some languages, the same forms can be used as both reflexive and reciprocal pronouns.
Demonstrative pronouns (in English, this, that and their plurals these, those) often distinguish their targets by pointing or some other indication of position; for example, I'll take these. They may also be anaphoric, depending on an earlier expression for context, for example, A kid actor would try to be all sweet, and who needs that?:56
Indefinite pronouns, the largest group of pronouns, refer to one or more unspecified persons or things. One group in English includes compounds of some-, any-, every- and no- with -thing, -one and -body, for example: Anyone can do that. Another group, including many, more, both, and most, can appear alone or followed by of.:54–55 In addition,
Relative pronouns in English include who, whom, whose, what, which and that). They rely on an antecedent, and refer back to people or things previously mentioned: People who smoke should quit now. They are used in relative clauses.:56 Relative pronouns can also be used as complementizers.
Relative pronouns can be used in an interrogative setting as interrogative pronouns. Interrogative pronouns ask which person or thing is meant. In reference to a person, one may use who (subject), whom (object) or whose (possessive); for example, Who did that? In colloquial speech, whom is generally replaced by who. English non-personal interrogative pronouns (which and what) have only one form.:56–57
In English and many other languages (e.g. French and Czech), the sets of relative and interrogative pronouns are nearly identical. Compare English: Who is that? (interrogative) and I know the woman who came (relative). In some other languages, interrogative pronouns and indefinite pronouns are frequently identical; for example, Standard Chinese 什么 shénme means "what?" as well as "something" or "anything".
Though the personal pronouns described above are the contemporary English pronouns, older forms of modern English (as used by Shakespeare, for example) use a slightly different set of personal pronouns as shown in the table. The difference is entirely in the second person. Though one would rarely find these older forms used in literature from recent centuries, they are nevertheless considered modern.
Some special uses of personal pronouns include:
Demonstratives (abbreviated DEM) are words, such as this and that, used to indicate which entities are being referred to and to distinguish those entities from others. They are typically deictic; their meaning depending on a particular frame of reference and cannot be understood without context. Demonstratives are often used in spatial deixis (where the speaker or sometimes the listener are to provide context), but also in intra-discourse reference (including abstract concepts) or anaphora, where the meaning is dependent on something other than the relative physical location of the speaker, for example whether something is currently being said or was said earlier.
Demonstrative constructions include demonstrative adjectives or demonstrative determiners, which qualify nouns (as in Put that coat on); and demonstrative pronouns, which stand independently (as in Put that on). The demonstratives in English are this, that, these, those, and the archaic yon and yonder, along with this one or that one as substitutes for the pronoun use of this or that.Dependent clause
A subordinate clause or dependent clause is a clause that provides a sentence element with additional information, but which cannot stand as a sentence. A dependent clause can either modify an adjacent clause or serve as a component of an independent clause.
The different types of dependent clauses include content clauses (noun clauses), relative (adjectival) clauses, and adverbial clauses.Dummy pronoun
A dummy pronoun, also called an expletive pronoun or pleonastic pronoun, is a pronoun used to fulfill the syntactical requirements without providing explicit meaning.Dummy pronouns are used in many Germanic languages, including German and English. Pronoun-dropping languages such as Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, and Turkish do not require dummy pronouns.A dummy pronoun is used when a particular verb argument (or preposition) is nonexistent (it could also be unknown, irrelevant, already understood, or otherwise "not to be spoken of directly") but when a reference to the argument (a pronoun) is nevertheless syntactically required. For example, in the phrase "It is obvious that the violence will continue", it is a dummy pronoun, not referring to any agent. Unlike a regular pronoun of English, it cannot be replaced by any noun phrase.The term dummy pronoun refers to the function of a word in a particular sentence, not a property of individual words. For example, it in the example from the previous paragraph is a dummy pronoun, but it in the sentence "I bought a sandwich and ate it" is a referential pronoun (referring to the sandwich).English relative clauses
Relative clauses in the English language are formed principally by means of relative pronouns. The basic relative pronouns are who, which, and that; who also has the derived forms whom and whose. Various grammatical rules and style guides determine which relative pronouns may be suitable in various situations, especially for formal settings. In some cases the relative pronoun may be omitted and merely implied ("This is the man [that] I saw", or "This is the putter he wins with").
English also uses free relative clauses, which have no antecedent and can be formed with the pronouns such as what ("I like what you've done"), and who and whoever.Interrogative word
An interrogative word or question word is a function word used to ask a question, such as what, when, where, who, which, whom, whose, why, and how. They are sometimes called wh-words, because in English most of them start with wh- (compare Five Ws). They may be used in both direct questions (Where is he going?) and in indirect questions (I wonder where he is going). In English and various other languages the same forms are also used as relative pronouns in certain relative clauses (The country where he was born) and certain adverb clauses (I go where he goes).
A particular type of interrogative word is the interrogative particle, which serves to convert a statement into a yes–no question, without having any other meaning. Examples include est-ce que in French, ли li in Russian, czy in Polish, ĉu in Esperanto, কি ki in Bengali, 吗 ma in Chinese, mı/mi in Turkish, pa in Ladin, か ka in Japanese and ko/kö in Finnish. (The English word whether has a similar function but only in indirect questions; and Multicultural London English may use "innit", even in the absence of the pronoun "it".) Such particles contrast with other interrogative words, which form what are called wh-questions rather than yes–no questions.
For more information about the grammatical rules for forming questions in various languages, see Interrogative.It (pronoun)
It is a third-person, singular neuter pronoun (nominative (subjective) case and oblique (objective) case) in Modern English.Luchazi language
Luchazi (Lucazi, Chiluchazi) is a Bantu language of Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Namibia and Zambia. Luchazi is the principal language of the Ngangela Group. Ngangela is a term coined by the Vimbundu traders and missionaries in 18th century to describe the tribes occupying the area of eastern-central Angola. Ngangela simply means people of the east. Ethnically distinct varieties, many of which are subsumed under the generic term Ngangela, are all "fully intelligible". These are: Luchazi itself, Nyemba, Mbwela of Angola (Ambuella, Shimbwera, not to be confused with Mbwela of Zambia), Nkangala, Mbunda, Luimbi (Lwimbi), Yauma, Songo, Chimbandi and Ngondzela.Object pronoun
In linguistics, an object pronoun is a personal pronoun that is used typically as a grammatical object: the direct or indirect object of a verb, or the object of a preposition. Object pronouns contrast with subject pronouns. Object pronouns in English take the objective case, sometimes called the oblique case or object case.
For example, the English object pronoun me is found in "They see me" (direct object), "He's giving me my book" (indirect object), and "Sit with me" (object of a preposition); this contrasts with the subject pronoun in "I see them," "I am getting my book," and "I am sitting here."Old English grammar
The grammar of Old English is quite different from that of Modern English, predominantly by being much more inflected. As an old Germanic language, Old English has a morphological system that is similar to that of the hypothetical Proto-Germanic reconstruction, retaining many of the inflections thought to have been common in Proto-Indo-European and also including characteristically Germanic constructions such as the umlaut.
Among living languages, Old English morphology most closely resembles that of modern Icelandic, which is among the most conservative of the Germanic languages; to a lesser extent, the Old English inflectional system is similar to that of modern German.
Nouns, pronouns, adjectives and determiners were fully inflected with five grammatical cases (nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, and instrumental), two grammatical numbers (singular and plural) and three grammatical genders (masculine, feminine, and neuter). First- and second-person personal pronouns also had dual forms for referring to groups of two people, in addition to the usual singular and plural forms.
The instrumental case was somewhat rare and occurred only in the masculine and neuter singular. It was often replaced by the dative. Adjectives, pronouns and (sometimes) participles agreed with their antecedent nouns in case, number and gender. Finite verbs agreed with their subject in person and number.
Nouns came in numerous declensions (with many parallels in Latin, Ancient Greek and Sanskrit). Verbs came in nine main conjugations (seven strong and two weak), all with numerous subtypes, as well as a few additional smaller conjugations and a handful of irregular verbs. The main difference from other ancient Indo-European languages, such as Latin, is that verbs could be conjugated in only two tenses (vs. the six "tenses," really tense/aspect combinations, of Latin), and they have no synthetic passive voice although it still existed in Gothic.
The grammatical gender of a given noun does not necessarily correspond to its natural gender, even for nouns referring to people. For example, sēo sunne (the Sun) was feminine, se mōna (the Moon) was masculine, and þæt ƿīf "the woman/wife" was neuter. (Compare modern German die Sonne, der Mond, das Weib.) Pronominal usage could reflect either natural or grammatical gender, when it conflicted.Personal pronoun
Personal pronouns are pronouns that are associated primarily with a particular grammatical person – first person (as I), second person (as you), or third person (as he, she, it, they). Personal pronouns may also take different forms depending on number (usually singular or plural), grammatical or natural gender, case, and formality. The term "personal" is used here purely to signify the grammatical sense; personal pronouns are not limited to people and can also refer to animals and objects (as the English personal pronoun it usually does).
The re-use in some languages of one personal pronoun to indicate a second personal pronoun with formality or social distance – commonly a second person plural to signify second person singular formal – is known as the T–V distinction, from the Latin pronouns tu and vos. Examples are the majestic plural in English and the use of "vous" in place of "tu" in French.
For specific details of the personal pronouns used in the English language, see English personal pronouns.Possessive
A possessive form (abbreviated POSS) is a word or grammatical construction used to indicate a relationship of possession in a broad sense. This can include strict ownership, or a number of other types of relation to a greater or lesser degree analogous to it.Most European languages feature possessive forms associated with personal pronouns, like the English my, mine, your, yours, his and so on. There are two main ways in which these can be used (and a variety of terminologies for each):
Together with a noun, as in my car, your sisters, his boss. Here the possessive form serves as an adjective or determiner, and may be called a possessive adjective, possessive determiner or adjectival possessive pronoun.
Without an accompanying noun, as in mine is red, I prefer yours, this book is his. A possessive used in this way is called a substantive possessive pronoun or an absolute pronoun.Some languages, including English, also have possessive forms derived from nouns or noun phrases, such as Jane's, cows' and nobody else's. These can be used in the same two ways as the pronoun-derived forms: adjectivally, as in Jane's office; and substantivally, as in that one is Jane's.
Possessives are sometimes regarded as a grammatical case (the possessive case), although they are also sometimes considered to represent the genitive case, or are not assigned to any case, depending on which language is being considered. On the other hand, some languages, such as the Cariban languages, can be said to have a possessed case, used to indicate the other party (the thing possessed) in a possession relationship. A similar feature found in some languages is the possessive affix, usually a suffix, added to the (possessed) noun to indicate the possessor, as in the Finnish taloni ("my house"), where talo means "house" and the suffix -ni means "my".
The concepts of possessive forms and genitive forms are sometimes conflated, although they are not exactly the same. The genitive form, which does not exist in modern English as an inflection, represents an of relationship, which may or may not be possessive; in other words, the possessive is a subset of genitive. For example, the genitive form "speed of the car" is equivalent to the possessive form "the car's speed". However, the genitive form "pack of dogs" is not the same as the possessive form "dogs' pack" (though it is the same as "dog pack", which is not possessive).
The glossing abbreviation POS or POSS may be used to indicate possessive forms.Reflexive pronoun
In language, a reflexive pronoun, sometimes simply called a reflexive, is a pronoun that is preceded or followed by the noun, adjective, adverb or pronoun to which it refers (its antecedent) within the same clause.
In the English language specifically, a reflexive pronoun will end in ‑self or ‑selves, and refer to a previously named noun or pronoun (myself, yourself, ourselves, themselves, etc). Intensive pronouns, used for emphasis, in the same form.
In generative grammar, a reflexive pronoun is an anaphor that must be bound by its antecedent (see binding). In a general sense, it is a noun phrase that obligatorily gets its meaning from another noun phrase in the sentence. Different languages have different binding domains for reflexive pronouns, according to their structure.Relative pronoun
A relative pronoun marks a relative clause; it has the same referent in the main clause of a sentence that the relative modifies.
An example is the word that in the sentence "This is the house that Jack built." Here the relative pronoun that marked the relative clause "that Jack built," which modifies the noun house in the main sentence. That has an anaphoric relationship to its antecedent "house" in the main clause.
In English the following are the most common relative pronouns: which, that, whose, whoever, whomever, who and whom.
In linking a subordinate clause and a main clause, a relative pronoun functions similarly to a subordinating conjunction. Unlike a conjunction, however, a relative pronoun does not simply mark the subordinate (relative) clause, but also plays the role of a noun within that clause. For example, in the relative clause "that Jack built" given above, the pronoun "that" functions as the object of the verb "built." Compare this with "Jack built the house after he married," where the conjunction after marks the subordinate clause after he married, but does not play the role of any noun within that clause.
For more information on the formation and uses of relative clauses—with and without relative pronouns—see Relative clause. For detailed information about relative clauses and relative pronouns in English, see English relative clause.Singular they
Singular they is the use in English of the pronoun they or its inflected or derivative forms, them, their, theirs, and themselves (or themself), as an epicene (gender-neutral) singular pronoun. It typically occurs with an unspecified antecedent, as in sentences such as:
"Somebody left their umbrella in the office. Would they please collect it?"
"The patient should be told at the outset how much they will be required to pay."
"But a journalist should not be forced to reveal their sources."The singular they had emerged by the 14th century, about a century after plural they. It has been commonly employed in everyday English ever since then, though it has become the target of criticism since the late-19th century. Its use in formal English has become more common with the trend toward gender-neutral language, though most style guides continue to proscribe it.In the early 21st century, use of singular they with known individuals has been promoted for those who do not identify as either male or female.
"This is my friend, Jay. I met them at work."Subject pronoun
In linguistics, a subject pronoun is a personal pronoun that is used as the subject of a verb. Subject pronouns are usually in the nominative case for languages with a nominative–accusative alignment pattern. On the other hand, a language with an ergative-absolutive pattern usually have separate subject pronouns for transitive and intransitive verbs: an ergative case pronoun for transitive verbs and an absolutive case pronoun for transitive verbs.
In English, the subject pronouns are I, you, he, she, it, we, ye, they, what, and who. With the exception of you, it, and what, and in informal speech who, the object pronouns are different: i.e. me, him, her, us, you (objective case of ye), them and whom (see English personal pronouns).
In some cases, the subject pronoun is not used for the logical subject. For example, exceptional case marking (ECM) constructions involve the subject of a non-finite clause which appears in the object form (e.g., I want him to go.) In colloquial speech, a coordinated first person subject will often appear in the object form even in subject position (e.g., James and I went to the store.) This is corrected so often that it has led to cases of hyper correction, where the subject pronoun is used even in object position under coordination (e.g., Marie gave Susana and I a piece of cake.)They
They is the third-person plural personal pronoun (subjective case) in Modern English. Although still controversial, and not officially accepted in formal context, it is also used with singular meaning, sometimes to avoid specifying the gender of the person referred to: see gender neutrality in language.Third-person pronoun
A third-person pronoun is a pronoun that refers to an entity other than the speaker or listener.
The English pronouns he and she are third-person personal pronouns specific to the gender of the person (not to be confused with grammatical gender).
The English pronoun they is an epicene (gender-neutral) third-person pronoun that can refer to plural antecedents of any gender and, informally, to a singular antecedent that refers to a person, the "singular they".Many of the world's languages do not have gender-specific pronouns. A number of the ones with gender-specific pronouns have them as part of a traditional grammatical gender system, where all or the vast majority of nouns are assigned to gender classes and adjectives and other modifiers must agree with them in that; but a few languages with gender-specific pronouns, such as English, Afrikaans, Defaka, Khmu, Malayalam, Tamil, and Yazgulyam, lack traditional grammatical gender and in such languages gender usually adheres to "natural gender".Problems of usage may arise in languages like English which have pronominal gender systems, in contexts where a person of unspecified or unknown gender is being referred to but commonly available pronouns (he or she) are gender-specific. In such cases a gender-specific, usually masculine, pronoun is sometimes used with a purported gender-neutral meaning; such use of he was common in formal English between the 1700s and the latter half of the 20th century (though some regard it as outmoded or sexist). Use of singular they is another common alternative dating from the 1300s, but proscribed by some.Pronouns such as who and which are not discussed here, though similar but different consideration may apply to them.Who (pronoun)
The pronoun who, in English, is an interrogative pronoun and a relative pronoun, used chiefly to refer to humans.
Its derived forms include whom, an objective form the use of which is now generally confined to formal English; the possessive form whose; and the indefinite form whoever (also whosoever, whom(so)ever, and whos(eso)ever; see also -ever).You
The personal pronoun (you) is the second-person personal pronoun, both singular and plural, and both nominative and oblique case in Modern English. The oblique (objective) form, you, functioned previously in the roles of both accusative and dative, as well as all instances following a preposition. The possessive forms of you are your (used before a noun) and yours (used in place of a noun). The reflexive forms are yourself (singular) and yourselves (plural).
Lexical categories and their features