The English Pronouns.

October 9, 2012 § 3 Comments

Dear Colleagues,

Today we will talk about the use of English pronouns. Pronouns are used in place of a noun that has already been mentioned or that is already known, often to avoid repeating the noun. For example:

Kate was tired so she went to bed.

Michael took the children with him.

Kieran’s face was close to mine.

That is a good idea.

Anything might happen.

Personal pronouns

Personal pronouns are used in place of nouns referring to specific people or things, for example I, me, mine, you, yours, his, her, hers, we, they, or them. They can be divided into various different categories according to their role in a sentence, as follows:

  • Subjective pronouns
  • Objective pronouns
  • Possessive pronouns
  • Reflexive pronouns

Subjective pronouns

The personal pronouns I, you, we, he, she, it, we, and they are known as subjective pronouns because they act as the subjects of verbs:

She saw Catherine.

We drove Nick home.

I waved at her.

Objective pronouns

The personal pronouns me, you, us, him, her, it, and them are called objective pronouns because they act as the objects of verbs and prepositions:

Catherine saw her.

Nick drove us home.

She waved at me.

Here’s a table setting out the different forms:

SINGULAR

PLURAL

subjective

objective

subjective

objective

first person

I

me

we

us

second person

you

you

you

you

third person

he/she/it

him/her/it

they

them

Notice that the personal pronouns you and it stay the same, whether they are being used in the subjective or objective roles.

Possessive pronouns

The personal pronouns mine, yours, hers, his, ours, and theirs are known as possessive pronouns: they refer to something owned by the speaker or by someone or something previously mentioned. For example:

That book is mine.

John’s eyes met hers.

Ours is a family farm.

Reflexive pronouns

Reflexive personal pronouns include myself, himself, herself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, and themselves. These are used to refer back to the subject of the clause in which they are used:

I fell and hurt myself.

Daisy prepared herself for the journey.

The children had to look after themselves.

Now I ask you to please share your most common difficulties when dealing with pronouns.

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§ 3 Responses to The English Pronouns.

  • Silvia Schrage says:

    Tony,
    It might be good to also mention possessive adjectives, which are a kind of personal pronoun working as adjectives, as in:
    My house, your house, his/her name, its owner, our language, your language, their language. Sometimes people have problems distinguishing between the possessive adjective and pronoun, and think they should say: “mine book”.

    Another topic that is important in relationship to the choice of pronouns, is understanding the difference between a direct object and a predicate nominative, which requires understanding what a copula or a linking/ copulative verb is. This becomes relevant in choosing between: “It is I” vs. “It is me”.

    Copulative or linking verbs do not transfer action from the subject to the object, but rather connect a noun with another noun or with an adjective (or a prepositional phrase). In more richly inflected languages, whatever noun or adjective follows a copula would be in the nominative case, and never in the accusative.

    Some people would want to insist on always saying “It is I” (keeping pronoun in the subjective or nominative case after the copula), though I think that in modern American English, the objective and subjective case are in variation in that particular position, and in popular/informal speech, the difference between the subject or nominative case and the accusative or objective case is disappearing.

    I would not want to tell a kid to go correct his/her parents if they say: “It’s me”. I would simply note that a lot of people say “It’s me”. On the other hand, I have mentioned to students that in the Gospels, when the disciples see Jesus approaching them, walking on the waves, we all feel more comfortable with His response being: “Do not fear. It is I.” vs. “Do not fear. It’s me.” The distinction between these two seems to be becoming a matter of register.

    For professional interpreters, it is important to be able to match the register of those we interpret for, so it would be important to use the more informal or formal versions of these, as applicable.

  • Sasha says:

    It doesn’t really matter if people make mistakes using pronouns (from the interpreter’s perspective). Once upon a time “they” meant several persons. Nowadays you have to be very careful. Ah! But there is something even more fascinating than pronouns: articles and commas, although commas are rather in the realm of translation.

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