Not sure how to correctly use words like me, herself, his, or theirs? You’re not the only one! These tiny and seemingly easy words can be tricky to get your head around if you’re beginning to learn English.
The most common type of English pronouns - the one you learn in your first English lesson - are subject pronouns: I, you, he, she, it, we, you, and they. If you’ve taken a few English classes, you’ve got these under control by now.
But the fun doesn’t end with simple subject pronouns. In fact, the English language employs the use of object pronouns, possessive pronouns, reflexive pronouns, relative pronouns… and a few more.
Yes, that’s a lot to take in. But don’t worry! We’ll explain the most common types in this article and provide examples of how to use them in practice.
What is a pronoun?
Nouns are extremely common in English. They’re everywhere! In fact, they do so much work in the English language that they need assistants to replace them. Pronouns are words that replace nouns to help us avoid repeating the same noun over and over again in sentences.
Imagine if you were telling your friend a story of how your dad made dinner for your family on Sunday:
My dad loves cooking. My dad always cooks dinner for us on the weekends. My dad is a pretty good cook! My dad made delicious pasta with tomato sauce.
Well, that would make your storytelling sound boring and repetitive! This is why we need pronouns. Here’s how your story would sound with pronouns:
My dad loves cooking. He always cooks dinner for us on the weekends. He’s a pretty good cook! He made delicious pasta with tomato sauce.
In English, there are 7 types of pronouns:
- Personal pronouns:
- Subject pronouns (I, you, he, she, it, we, you, they)
- Object pronouns (me, you, him, her, it, us, you, them)
- Possessive pronouns (mine, yours, his, hers, its, ours, yours, theirs)
We know it can be a lot of information to absorb. That’s why we’re here to explain it all in simple terms.
English personal pronouns
As the name suggests, personal pronouns refer to the speaker or the person (or animal) the speaker is talking about.
There are three types of personal pronouns in English:
- Subject pronouns
- Object pronouns
- Possessive pronouns
Let’s explain each one of them.
English subject pronouns
The pronoun fun in English starts with subject pronouns. They are the most common. As you may realize intuitively, these are simply words that are used to replace a noun or a name function as a subject of the sentence.
- I is used when referring to yourself.
- You is used when referring to the person you’re addressing.
- He is used when referring to a third person of masculine gender.
- She is used when referring to a third person of feminine gender.
- It is used when referring to a thing, place, or animal.
- We is used when referring to a group of people that you’re a part of.
- You is used when referring to the group of people you’re addressing.
- They is used when referring to a group of people you’re not a part of.
Here are some examples of how to use subject pronouns in a sentence.
|English subject pronouns||Example sentences|
|I||I ate a delicious pizza this afternoon.|
|You||You are smart, so you will get an A on the test tomorrow.|
|He||He is Kate’s boyfriend from London.|
|She||She likes video games and football, just like her brother.|
|It||Look at this cat! It is so cute!|
|We||We are looking forward to the party tonight.|
|You||You are the best friends in the world!|
|They||They all have blue eyes and blond hair.|
English object pronouns
All pronouns in the English language have the same job: to replace the noun. As the name suggests, object pronouns in English replace the object of the sentence.
Sounds easy, right? But wait, there's more!
Object pronouns can be divided into direct object pronouns (they replace the direct object) and indirect object pronouns (they replace the indirect object).
A direct object of the sentence is the noun that receives the action (verb) from the subject. An indirect object of the sentence is the noun that receives the direct object.
As this may leave you scratching your head, let’s illustrate it in the following sentences:
- John gave me a book. (me is the indirect object, a book is the direct object)
- She bought him a gift. (him is the indirect object, a gift is the direct object)
- I sent them a letter. (them is the indirect object, a letter is the direct object)
Here are some examples of how to use object pronouns in sentences.
|English object pronouns||Example sentences||Direct vs. Indirect|
|Me||John gave me a book||Indirect|
|You||I love you.||Direct|
|Him||I saw him at the mall yesterday.||Direct|
|Her||My boss thinks very highly of her.||Direct|
|It||The dog chased the ball, but didn't bring it back.||Direct|
|Us||They gave us a beautiful wedding gift.||Indirect|
|You||We invited you to the party.||Direct|
|Them||I gave them the keys.||Indirect|
Possessive pronouns in English
Possessive nouns are quite straightforward. They’re just pronouns that express ownership or possession of something and are most commonly used to avoid repeating nouns or entire phrases.
For example, instead of saying:
“Your cat is bigger than my cat.”
You can say:
“Your cat is bigger than mine.”
By replacing “my cat” with “mine”, we’re simply avoiding repeating the word “cat.”
|Possessive pronouns||Example sentence|
|Mine||My brother’s house is prettier than mine.|
|Yours||My kids are better at math than yours.|
|His||This is not my car. It’s his.|
|Hers||I took my boyfriend to the party and she took hers.|
|Its||The cat chased its tail for hours.|
|Ours||That is your house, and this one is ours.|
We’ll call our parents, and you’ll call yours.
|Theirs||The motorcycles are theirs.|
The easiest and most logical explanation of reflexive pronouns that I have managed to come with is that these are pronouns that reflect back to themselves.
In other words, reflexive pronouns are ones that refer back to the subject of the sentence. For example:
|Reflexive pronouns||Example sentences|
|Myself||I'm going to treat myself to a nice dinner tonight.|
|Yourself||You should be proud of yourself for all your hard work.|
|Himself||He hurt himself while playing basketball.|
|Herself||She taught herself how to play the guitar.|
|Itself||The cat cleaned itself after eating.|
|Ourselves||We are going to challenge ourselves to run a marathon next year.|
|Yourselves||You can help yourselves to some snacks in the kitchen.|
|Themselves||They need to take care of themselves before they can help others.|
Intensive pronouns in English
Intensive pronouns may sound like another terrifying grammar issue, but they’re not.
In fact, intensive pronouns are exactly the same as reflexive pronouns, but their job in the sentence is different: they’re just meant to emphasize the subject of the sentence.
|Myself||I myself cannot believe that I accomplished this goal.|
|Yourself||You yourself said that you didn't want to come.|
|Himself||He himself fixed the car's engine.|
|Herself||She herself prepared the dinner for the party.|
|Itself||The computer itself shut down because of a power outage.|
|Ourselves||We ourselves decided to take a day off.|
|Yourselves||You yourselves should be proud of the progress you've made.|
|Themselves||They themselves couldn't believe they had won the lottery.|
Other types of pronouns
In English, there are four more types of pronouns. These are way different from the previous ones, but still have the same job: to replace the noun in the sentence.
Those four types are demonstrative, interrogative, reflexive, and indefinite pronouns. Let’s explain the role of each of them.
- Demonstrative pronouns point at a person, thing, or place.
- Interrogative pronouns are question words that ask about people, things, or places.
- Reflexive pronouns are slightly more complicated and have lots of rules you need to remember to use them correctly. These pronouns are used to connect clauses within sentences. We’ll have another article covering that in detail.
- Indefinite pronouns simply refer to nouns that are unknown or undefined in a sentence.
Take a look at this table to better understand this explanation.
|English Pronoun Type||Example Pronouns||Example Sentences|
|Demonstrative||this, that, these, those||This is my car. That is yours. These are my shoes. Those are hers.|
|Interrogative||who, what, which, whom||Who is your favorite musician? What time is the meeting? Which movie do you want to watch? Whom did you invite to the party?|
|Indefinite||anyone, someone, something, nothing, all, both, few, many, several||Someone left their jacket here. Anything is possible if you put your mind to it. Both of the books are good. Many people enjoy hiking.|
|Relative||who, whom, whose, which, that||The person who called earlier left a message. I don't know whom to ask for help. This is the house whose roof needs to be repaired. The book which I borrowed from the library was very interesting. The bike that I bought last week is already giving me problems.|
They, them as a singular
Here’s a fun fact that will seem counterintuitive to every grammatical rule you have learned in English so far.
While the pronouns “they, them” are plural, they can also be used in the singular form. This is widely used in conversation and written text to refer to someone in a gender-neutral way. You can use “they” in singular if you don’t know the gender of the person you’re referring to.
It’s important to remember that even if you’re using “they” to refer to one person, it will still be followed by a plural verb.
For example, you can say:
- When someone arrives at the airport, they should go directly to the baggage claim area.
- If a student needs extra help, they should speak with their teacher after class.
- A person can become anything they want.
What’s more, you can use “they, them” to refer to a person who identifies as non-binary.
You vs. Them
Mastering the use of pronouns is crucial to communicate effectively in English. That's because using them allows you to add more flow to your sentences and avoid sounding like a poorly designed robot.
In fact, dominating the use of pronouns is just as important to expanding your English vocabulary. It will help you stand out from other English learners and make your conversations in English more fun, and growing your language confidence through fun is what we're all about.