pronoun

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

pronouns
A page from First Grammar Book for Children (W. Walker & Sons, 1900). (Culture Club/Getty Images)

Definition:

In English grammar, a pronoun is a word that takes the place of a noun, noun phrase, or noun clause. The pronoun is one of the traditional parts of speech.  Adjective: pronominal.

A pronoun can function as a subject, object, or complement in a sentence. Unlike nouns, pronouns rarely allow modification. (See Examples and Observations below.)

Pronouns are a closed word class in English: new members rarely enter the language.

There are several different classes of pronouns:

Also see:

Pronoun Exercises

Etymology
From the Greek, "interchange of names"

Examples

  • "Mr. Zuckerman did not allow her to take Wilbur out, and he did not allow her to get into the pigpen. But he told Fern that she could sit on the stool and watch Wilbur as long as she wanted to."
    (E.B. White, Charlotte's Web. Harper, 1952)
     
  • "Occasionally Mother, whom we seldom saw in the house, had us meet her at Louie's. It was a long dark tavern at the end of the bridge near our school."
    (Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Random House, 1969)
     
  • "The very next morning the attack came. The animals were at breakfast when the look-outs came racing in with the news that Frederick and his followers had already come through the five-barred gate. Boldly enough the animals sallied forth to meet them, but this time they did not have the easy victory that they had had in the Battle of the Cowshed. There were fifteen men, with half a dozen guns between them, and they opened fire as soon as they got within fifty yards."
    (George Orwell, Animal Farm, 1945)
     
  • "She got her looks from her father. He's a plastic surgeon."
    (Groucho Marx)
     
  • Chalmers: Well, Seymour, it seems we've put together a baseball team and I was wondering, who's on first, eh?
    Skinner: Not the pronoun, but rather a player with the unlikely name of "Who" is on first.
    Chalmers: Well that's just great, Seymour. We've been out here six seconds and you've already managed to blow the routine.
    ("Screaming Yellow Honkers," The Simpsons, 1999)
     
  • "We rolled all over the floor, in each other's arms, like two huge helpless children. He was naked and goatish under his robe, and I felt suffocated as he rolled over him. We rolled over me. They rolled over him. We rolled over us."
    (Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita)
     
  • "I used to be with it, but then they changed what 'it' was. Now, what I'm with isn't it, and what's 'it' seems weird and scary to me."
    (Abe in "Homerpalooza," The Simpsons)
     
  • "Why shouldn't things be largely absurd, futile, and transitory? They are so, and we are so, and they and we go very well together."
    (George Santayana)
     
  • "I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together."
    (John Lennon and Paul McCartney, "I Am the Walrus")
     

Observations:

  • Pronouns and Modifiers
    "Pronouns contrast with nouns. Nouns can take a range of modifiers, such as articles and adjectives, but pronouns stand on their own, and (with a handful of exceptions) take no modifiers before them. This is what one would expect from the fact that pronouns stand for whole noun phrases. . . .

    "The few cases where a pronoun takes a modifier before it, as in Poor you! and little me, are clearly quite exceptional. But pronouns can take modifying phrases after them, as in we who are about to die, or you at the back, or him with the hat on."
    (James R. Hurford, Grammar: A Student's Guide. Cambridge University Press, 1994)
     
  • Forms of Personal Pronouns
    "English personal pronouns are . . . inflected for number (compare singular I with plural me) and case (compare nominative I with accusative/dative me and genitive my/mine), though the changes are holistic rather than inflectional. (That is, the entire word changes rather than a suffix simply being added.) In addition, however, such pronouns are inflected for person, which differentiates between first person (the speaker, as expressed by I, me, we, us, my, mine, and our), second person (the addressee, as expressed by you and your), and third person (everyone else, as expressed by he, she, it, they, them, his, her, and their)."
    (Thomas E. Murray, The Structure of English: Phonetics, Phonology, Morphology. Allyn and Bacon, 1995)
     
  • Pronouns and Determiners
    Because there is a considerable overlap between pronouns and determiners, it is important to look closely at the context to distinguish between the two. A determiner precedes a noun, while a pronoun replaces a noun, noun phrase or noun clause.
    determiner: That book is worth reading.
    pronoun: That is worth reading.

    determiner: Both children are really hard workers.
    pronoun: Both are really hard workers.
    (Sara Thorne, Mastering Advanced English Language, 2nd ed. Palgrave Macmillan, 2008)
     
  • The Lighter Side of Pronouns
    "A pronoun is like the suit one gives a prisoner after he has been stripped of his identity."
    (Walter Kaufmann, Critique of Religion and Philosophy. Harper & Row, 1958)

    Steven: We need to be able to differentiate between them, them, and us.
    Peter: Yeah, I think the pronouns are really confusing.
    Gary: I don't even know what a pronoun is.
    Oliver: Well, it's a word that can function by itself as a noun which refers to something else in the discourse.
    Gary: I don't get it.
    Andy: You just used one.
    Gary: Did I?
    Andy: Yeah. "It" is a pronoun.
    Gary: What is?
    Andy: It!
    Gary: Is it?
    (Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan, Simon Pegg, Martin Freeman, and Nick Frost in The World's End, 2013)

Pronunciation: PRO-nown