2 Definition and role of pronouns Definition of a pronoun: a pronoun is a word that replaces a noun or noun phrase. If we only used nouns to refer to people, animals and things, our sentences, both spoken and written, would be very long and tedious. For example, think about the difference between: i) Susan went to a nightclub, where Susan drank too many cocktails. and ii) Susan went to a nightclub where she drank too many cocktails. In the second example, the pronoun she does the work that would otherwise have to be done by repetition of the earlier noun, Susan. Such repetition is tiresome and sounds bizarre. Someone reading or listening to the sentence may wonder whether there were two Susans at the nightclub.
3 More examples of how pronouns help us to be brief and elegant A pronoun is a word that replaces a noun or noun phrase. Two more examples: i) Under police questioning, Mr Wilson denied having been anywhere near the burgled house. However, a male witness said that he had seen him in the garden. (Which word has been replaced by which pronoun here?) ii) Peter and Sally are coming to the party. They will bring some food. (Here, the pronoun replaces a compound noun or noun phrase.)
4 8 kinds of pronouns with examples: Personal pronouns: - I, me, you, she Possessive pronouns her, their, ours Reflexive pronouns myself, yourselves Demonstrative pronouns these, that Interrogative pronouns who?, which? Relative pronouns that, which, whose, what Indefinite pronouns all, any, someone Reciprocal pronouns one another, each other
5 Personal pronouns Personal pronouns have different forms depending on their person (first, second or third) and, usually, number (singular and plural). Sometimes, in the third person singular, they take different forms according to gender (he, she). They also take different forms depending on whether they stand for the subject or the object of the sentence.
6 Personal pronouns continued First person pronouns are I, me, we, us. These pronouns refer to the person doing the speaking or writing. The second person pronoun, whether singular or plural, is always you, meaning the person or persons being spoken to or addressed. Third person pronouns refer to those being spoken or written about: he, him, she, her, it, they, them. (Most third person pronouns refer to people, although they and them can refer to things and it is sometimes used about babies and animals. There are, as always in English, odd exceptions, such as the customary use of she or her for a ship.) (King, p. 80) Academic writing generally requires the use of the third person.
7 Personal pronoun subjects and personal pronoun objects The subject of a sentence (or clause) is the person or thing doing something in other words, the subject of the verb. Subject pronouns are as follows: I, you, he, she, it, we, they, who, whoever. The object of the sentence is whoever or whatever is having something done to it; it is the object of the verb: me, you, him, her, it, us, them, whom, whomever.
8 The generic personal pronoun one One can stand for the average or generic person as in, One can never tell where speed traps are, these days. One can also substitute for the personal pronoun I, as in, One never has enough time to see all the films being shown at city cinemas. However, one should be used with great caution in this role or one can risk sounding like an imitater of the royal family! To sum up: use one as a substitute for the average person with confidence, but be careful about the second form of use, as a substitute for I. It can sound elegant in some contexts, but it may sound pretentious and pompous in others. Don t use one in academic writing.
9 Possessive pronouns There are two main types of possessive pronouns: Adjectival possessive pronouns (also a kind of determiner, because they tell us more about following nouns): my lecture notes, his jacket, our motor car, your house, their party. Pronominal possessive pronouns which are used on their own: that textbook is mine; yours is over there; his is under the table; hers is lying on the bottom stair; this land is ours; theirs is down the road.
10 Reflexive pronouns o Reflexive pronouns reflect the action back to the self or subject: myself, yourself, herself, himself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves for example, we often say Look after yourself to people we care about. o Sometimes, reflexive pronouns are used in an intensifying or clarifying way. For instance: The funeral, featuring hymns the dead man himself had selected, took too long ; Although the house itself was in good condition, its outbuildings were falling down.
11 Demonstrative pronouns These pronouns help us to demonstrate something or to point out things (King, p.85). Examples: This chicken dish looks delicious ; Those rocks look too dangerous for fishing ; These clothes are too warm for a sunny day. When demonstrative pronouns are used on their own, as in That is not fair! it is very important that the listener or reader knows what is being referred to.
12 Interrogative pronouns: who, what, which, whose, whom. Examples: What time is it? Who is the woman wearing the yellow scarf? Which room is mine? Whose bicycle was stolen? Whom is tricky, and is falling into disuse because many people do not know how to use it correctly. Who is a subject pronoun, while whom is an object pronoun; it should only be used as the object of a verb e.g. To whom shall I address the parcel?, By whom was the letter sent?, Whom shall I ask? If you re not sure which of who and whom to use, choose who.
13 Relative pronouns That, which, who, whom, whose, whatever, whoever, whomever. Relative pronouns are used to introduce relative clauses. Examples: I wish I knew whose shoes had made the carpet so muddy. The suit that she wore to the wedding was ruined by the rain. Newcastle buses, which usually run on time, terminate near the station. We re going on a picnic to the beach next weekend, whatever the weather is like. The mayor, who had once been a leading businesswoman,was accused of corruption. The assault victim had nobody to whom to turn for help. Whoever caused the company s bankruptcy should be held responsible. He should make reparation to whomever his crimes have affected. * That is used to introduce what we call a definitional relative clause a clause that provides an essential piece of information about a noun. For example: I want you to cut down the tree that hangs over the back fence. * Which is used to introduce a non-definitional clause in other words, a clause adding extra information not essential to understanding the main idea of the sentence. For example: He bought the Porsche, which everybody knows he can t afford, last month.
14 That & which what a dilemma! Let s immediately revise this important rule: That is used to introduce what we call a definitional relative clause a clause that provides an essential piece of information about a noun. Which is used to introduce a non-definitional clause in other words, a clause that adds extra information unnecessary to the understanding of the main idea of the sentence.
15 Indefinite pronouns All, any, every, everything, each, some, one, both, either, neither, few, little, less, least, many, everyone, someone, no one, something, anybody, nobody, more, most, nothing, enough, plenty, several. (King, p. 89) What do they have in common? They all concern number or quantity.
16 Indefinite pronouns continued: Some indefinite pronouns should only be applied to uncountable nouns, because they concern portions rather than numbers of something: a little sugar, much trouble, less fat. (Remember that when indefinite pronouns precede nouns like this, they are actually called indefinite determiners.) But, we say many cakes, many problems, fewer calories. Many and fewer are used to indicate number and so are used with countable nouns. Make sure that pronouns agree in grammatical number (singular or plural) with any nouns to which they may refer. For instance, each, one, either, neither, someone, anyone, no one, nobody and something are all singular. Make sure that an indefinite pronoun agrees in number with a verb or personal pronoun in a sentence e.g. Each (singular) one of us has (singular) problems ; Neither (sing.) of the actors could remember her (sing.) lines, but Few (plural) of the players are (plural) likely to turn up on such a cold day. (King, p. 89)
17 Reciprocal pronouns There are only two reciprocal pronouns: each other and one another. As the term reciprocal indicates, they express a mutual, give-and-take relationship. Each other refers to two people or things e.g. The brothers are no longer talking to each other. One another is usually meant to refer to more than two e.g. The people of the small community helped one another through family crises.
18 References: King, G. (2009). Improve Your Grammar. Glasgow, UK: Collins. Lester, M. (2008). ESL Grammar. New York, USA: McGraw-Hill. Practice resource: Murphy, R. (2004). English Grammar in Use (3 rd ed.). Cambridge, UK: CUP. Units 82-91
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