Personal pronouns are the set of English pronouns that refer to people: I, you, he, his, she, hers, we, us, they, them, etc. Personal pronouns are very useful, as they eliminate the awkwardness of having to repeat the name of the subject or object of a sentence over and over again:
- Pam went to Pam’s room so Pam could get Pam’s computer off of Pam’s desk.
- Pam went to her room so she could get her computer off of her desk.
There are a few important things to know about personal pronouns. In this article, we’ll dig into what they are and how to use them properly.
What Are Personal Pronouns?
All pronouns are used as substitutes for nouns or noun phrases in English. In most cases, the antecedent—or, what the pronoun is replacing—must be previously defined or understood in the context.
Personal pronouns, specifically, replace names or refer to people in general. The personal pronouns in English are:
|First person||I, me||we, us|
|Third person||she, her, he, him, it||they, them|
These are further divided into subject and object pronouns.
|Singular||I, you, she, he, it||me, you, her, him, it|
|Plural||we, you, they||us, you, them|
The subject pronouns, which are in nominative case, replace the subject of the sentence:
- I went shopping.
- Hello, it‘s Jane.
- You can call this number for help.
- Helen works for charity every weekend. She is a great person.
- Joe is very athletic. He likes baseball best.
- The kitten is so cute! Now it is sleeping.
- We have a lot to do today.
- They say it’s going to rain later.
Object pronouns, you may have guessed, replace the object of a sentence:
- Harry told me that it would be my turn next.
- The next available customer service representative will be with you soon.
- Jessica told her a secret.
- Andy’s mom helped him move.
- Don’t blame us.
- The big project took them a long time to complete.
When using personal pronouns (or any pronouns, for that matter) in writing, you need to have a clear antecedent, that is, it should be obvious to the reader what subject or object the pronoun is referring to/replacing.
Sentences without a clear antecedent run the risk of becoming ambiguous:
- John and Eric had become very competitive since he won the “employee of the month” award. (Who won the award?)
- When Anita leaves and Laura arrives, make sure she locks the cabinet. (Make sure who locks the cabinet?)
How to Choose the Right Personal Pronoun
While most native English speakers use personal pronouns without thinking about it, choosing the right one can be tricky if you’re learning the language. Here are the things to think about when choosing a pronoun.
Is the pronoun representing something singular or plural?
Is the pronoun representing:
The speaker or a group that includes the speaker (first person)?
The audience of the speaker (second person)?
Someone else (third person)?
If you’re using a third person pronoun, is the pronoun representing someone who is male or female? Or is the pronoun referring to an indefinite subject or object? (If that is the case, you might want to read more about using indefinite third-person pronouns.)
Is the pronoun replacing the subject or the object of the sentence?
Need some help remembering all that? A mnemonic device can help!
Use Personal Pronouns Properly
Personal pronouns are very useful tools when writing or speaking in English. Using them correctly is essential for lending credibility to your writing.
If you’re writing a nonfiction book, there’s more to learn about personal pronouns in nonfiction book writing.
What are your grammar questions? Tell us in the comments below!
If you liked this article, you might also like:
- Using Personal Pronouns in Nonfiction Book Writing
- The Difference Between Whose and Who’s
- Who or Whom? Know the Difference
- Which or That? Grammar Explained
- Its or It’s: Grammar Explained by an Expert
- Writing in Perspective: First, Second, and Third Person
Melissa Drumm is a lifelong book lover. She is passionate about helping authors make their work the best it can be. You can find some of her writing here on the TCK blog, and learn more about her other projects at melissadrumm.com. When she’s not writing, editing, or reading, you’ll usually find her in the kitchen, baking.