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Pronouns are one of the basic parts of speech, along with nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. A pronoun is the part of speech that substitutes for nouns or noun phrases and designates persons or things asked for, previously specified, or understood from the context.
For example, consider the sentence "John gave the coat to Alice." All three nouns in the sentence can be replaced by pronouns to give: "He gave it to her." If the coat, Joan and Alice have been previously mentioned, the listener can deduce what the pronouns "he", "it" and "her" refer to and the understand the meaning of the sentence.
In the English language, which pronoun is used to replace a noun can depend on inflection, gender and number. For example, the speaker uses "I", "me", "myself" depending on the role he plays in the sentence; pronouns such as "he" and "she" depend on grammatical gender, and "I" and "we" depend on the number of people.
Other languages may use different distintions. Kinuvo, a language spoken in Tanzania uses grammatical gender to distinguish between humans, animals, body parts and so on. The English dialect spoken in Dorset also does this to a certian extent, using "ee" for animate beings and "er" for inanimate.
Cherokee has several pronouns corresponding to the English "we" to mean "you and I", "another person and I" and "several other people and I".
Pronouns are unusual in English in that, unlike the nouns they replace, they are inflected, i.e. there are different versions of the word depending on the function it is serving in the sentence: so a speaker uses:
German is an example.
The remainder of this article explains the different kinds of pronoun in more detail.
A Personal pronoun refer to people or things. The English personal pronouns are:
First person is the speaker(s), Second is the person spoken to and third is someone else. Reflexive is when the doer of the action is the same as what the action was done to. Possessive pronouns are used to show ownership of something.
Personal pronouns in English
A Personal pronoun refer to people or things. The English personal pronouns are: First person is the speaker(s), Second is the person spoken to and third is someone else. Reflexive is when the doer of the action is the same as what the action was done to. Possessive pronouns are used to show ownership of something.
|2nd nom.||thou(1), you||you, ye, y'all(4), youse(4), you-uns(4), you-guys|
|3rd nom.||he, she, it, they(3)||they|
|2nd acc.||thee(1), you||you, ye(2)|
|3rd acc.||him, her, it, them(3)||them|
|2nd gen.||thy(1), your||your|
|3rd gen.||his, her, its, their(3)||their|
|2nd noun||thine(1), yours||yours|
|3rd noun||his, hers, its, theirs(3)||theirs|
|2nd refl.||thyself(1), yourself(5)||yourselves(6)|
|3rd refl.||himself, herself, itself, themself(3)||themselves|
- Sometime between 1600 and 1800, the forms of Thou began to pass out of common usage in most places, except in poetry, archaic-style literature, and descriptions of other languages' pronouns. Thou refers to one person who is familiar, though as in other European languages, it is also used of God. Thou still exists in northern England and Scotland, and in some Christian religious communities.
- In Scotland, ye is the plural you. In older times and in some other places, ye is the nominative case and you is the accusative case. Some English dialects generalised ye, while standard English generalised you. Some dialects use ye as a clipped or clitic form of you.
- Though using They as a singular pronoun when sex is not known or is not important is often condemned by traditionalists, its often found in informal speech. It is actually a revival of an earlier usage and may one day become standard usage because it is so common, and avoids ugly constructions like "he or she".
- Y'all, Youse and You-uns are often used in colloquial speech as a plural you. Saying you was and You were to distinguish the same thing is also done.
- The only common distinction between singular and plural you is in the reflexive and emphatic forms.
- English regional dialects often use variant pronouns.
The Disjunctive pronounThe disjunctive pronoun is the form used when the pronoun stands on its own, or with only the verb "to be": for example in answer to the question "Who wrote this page?". Disjunctive pronouns in English have caused some dispute. The natural answer for most English speakers in this context would be "me", parallel to the French "moi". Unfortunately, some grammarians have argued, and persuaded parts of the educational system, that the correct answer should be "I" (perhaps under the mistaken belief that English requires the subject and copula of the verb "to be" to agree; while this is true in Latin, it is untrue in other languages, e.g. French). This leads to affected sounding usages like, "It is I!".
Pronouns not found in English
Other languages may have more personal pronouns. Some languages have three different pronouns instead of "We": one meaning "Me and you", one meaning "Me and them" and one meaning "Me, you and them". Slavic languages have two different 3rd person Genitive pronouns (example from Serbian language:)
- Ana je dala Mariji njenu knjigu. - Ana gave her (Maria's) book to Maria.
- Ana je dala Mariji svoju knjigu. - Ana gave her (Ana's) book to Maria.
Table of correlativesMost of these other pronouns can be arranged in a table of correlatives like the one conceived by L. L. Zamenhof. Many languages form these pronouns in a similar way, so it might be just as valid for, say, another language. For English, the Table of Correlatives looks like this:
One of the most salient features of Indo-European languages is that pronouns are ambiguous. Is 'Who' relative or interrogative? Is it true that 'that' is a relative or demonstrative? Which kind is 'which?'
Most other language families don't have this ambiguity.
The French possessive pronouns (mon, ma, mes, ton, ta, tes, son, sa, ses, notre, notre, nos, votre, votre, vos, leur, leur, leurs) are technically adjectives because they decline into masculine, feminine and plural forms and further agree with their heads (not their antecedents).