Sunday, April 29, 2012

Personal, possessive and reflexive pronouns

All the words of the English language fall into one of these eight categories: nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, prepositions, conjunctions and interjections. Likewise, there are several types of pronouns:
  • personal: I, me,...
  • possessive: mine, yours,...
  • reflexive: myself, yourself,...
  • demonstrative: this, that,...
  • indefinite: some, any,...
  • interrogative: who, what,...
  • relative: which, that,...
Today we are going to see the first three types, which, like all pronouns, are used instead of nouns. Don’t get confused: personal pronouns do not only refer to persons. They are called like that because they refer to the three grammatical persons:
  • First: person who speaks
  • Second: person who is spoken to
  • Third: a person or thing different from the first and second.
Some personal pronouns can be the subject of a sentence, others can be direct or indirect objects. They can refer to the first, second or third person, and they can be plural or singular. Only the third person singular pronouns can be masculine (he/him), feminine (she/ her) and neuter (it).
You can find all these pronouns in the table below. Note also that I have included the possessive adjectives because their use is very close to that of the possessive pronouns.

PersonsSubject pronounsObject pronounsPossessive adjectivesPossessive pronounsReflexive pronouns
1st. p. singImemyminemyself
2nd p. sing.youyouyouryoursyourself
3rd p. sing. masc.hehimhishishimself
3rd p. sing. fem.sheherherhersherself
3rd p. sing. neut.itititsitsitself
1st p. pluralweusouroursourselves
2nd. p. pluralyouyouyouryoursyourselves
3rd p. pluraltheythemtheirtheirsthemselves

Let’s see how we can use these pronouns:
Subject and object pronouns:
If we had to change the nouns for pronouns in this sentence Paul loves Laura, which ones would you use? Taking into account that Paul is the subject and Laura is the direct object, the sentence would be He loves her. We cannot say *He loves she, as she is a subject pronoun, not an object pronoun. (See table above).
Object pronouns can also go after prepositions: Hurry up! They are waiting for us, not *They are waiting for we.
In comparative sentences we can use both subject and object pronouns after the words than or as. However, we should use the subject pronouns in more formal contexts, while object pronouns are used in more colloquial sentences.
He works harder than I. (formal) He works harder than me. (colloquial)
She is not as intelligent as he. (formal). She is not as intelligent as him. (colloquial)

Possessive adjectives accompany nouns, while possessive pronouns go alone.
That’s her car and this is mine.
        adjective                 pronoun
Possessives agree with the possessor and not with the thing possessed.
That’s my book. Those are my books.
Note that the possessive adjective remains the same with either singular or plural nouns.
Yours, mine, ours...
Reflexive pronouns are used in cases when the same person is the subject and the object of the sentence. Sarah is teaching herself to speak Spanish.
In this example Sarah both does and receives the action of the verb.
They can also be used as indirect objects: I bought myself a beautiful watch. And also as the object of a preposition: He is angry with himself for failing the exam.
Sometimes they are used for emphasis: I don’t think you need help with your homework. You can do it yourself.
Preceded by the preposition by, reflexive pronouns mean “alone”: He likes living by himself = He likes living alone.
Image by SweetOnVeg
Apart from these, which are widely used in the language today, there are also some personal and possessive pronouns which, though archaic, are still used in literary and religious contexts: thou (you), thee (you, object), thine (your, possessive before a word beginning with a vowel), thy (your, before consonant). They were originally used for the 2nd person singular in a familiar context, while you was more formal and used as a sign of respect, much like Spanish “usted” or French “vous”. However, this word drove out the use of thou, which today is only used in poetry and religion. Here’s an example of a well-known prayer:
Our Father, who art in heaven
hallowed be thy Name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those
who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever.
Finally, let’s practise what we have learnt today with these exercises:


  1. good post...could be better...but... is okay

    1. Thank you for the comment! I'll try to do better next time!

  2. My English sir give me this web to study English

  3. awesome!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. I prefer the term of neutral and not neuter.?

    did you take Latin.? That's where they tend to teach such wordage.

    1. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the term "neuter" refers to "...the class of words... that ordinarily includes most of the words referring to things that are neither masculine nor feminine". On the other hand, the dictionary describes "neutral" as "a person, country, etc., that does not support either side of an argument, fight, war, etc."
      So, in this case, the term "neuter" is correct, whereas "neutral" would be wrong.
      I must add that I did several years of Latin at university, but I don't think that it has influenced the way I teach English. All the "wordage" I use comes from the English I took at university and the studies I've done later in life.
      Thank you for your comment.
      Kind regards!

  5. Thank you for sharing. It helps!

  6. This is very declarative and well explained post and I love to use allKinds of Pronoun


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