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1. General characteristics. The main forms of the pronouns include the following features:

  • some of the pronouns have different forms for the objective and subjective functions: I/me, who/whom;
  • some of the pronouns have gender distinctions - masculine, feminine, neuter: he/she/it;
  • some pronouns have distinctions of person/ non-person: everybody/ everything;
  • most pronouns are mutually exclusive as qualifiers: that book/your book/that book of yours;

NOTE: This does not apply to 'every' and 'both': we can say both these books.

  • the pronouns lack factual content, which must be deduced from the context or the situation: He took Mary's glasses and examined them carefully;
  • many of the pronouns act sometimes as pronouns, sometimes as adjectives.

2. Classes of pronouns. The classes of pronouns are: personal, possessive, 'self' pronouns, reciprocal, demonstrative, interrogative, relative, and indefinite pronouns.

a. Personal Pronouns

The personal pronouns differentiate between the 1st person (the person of speaking), the 2nd person (the person addressed), and the 3rd person (the person or thing mentioned).

Personal pronouns do not always occupy the same position as the nouns. A personal pronoun as subject cannot be separated from its verb by long sentence elements. The possessive pronouns act as the genitives of the personal pronouns. If pronouns function as direct and indirect objects, the direct object precedes the indirect object:

I gave it to him

The objective case may supplant the nominative when not immediately followed by the verb, or in exclamations without a verb:

They understood each other all right, Tony and her.

Come along! - Me?

In formal language a subjective predicative is in the nominative. Thus, It is I becomes, in informal language, It is me. If the pronoun has a relative clause attached to it, the attraction of this generally determines the form of the pronoun: It is I who gave her the book/It is them he puts the blame on.

After the conjunctions as, but, and then, the nominative is correct, but in colloquial speech the objective case is used:

Peter was three years older than Jack and I/me.

Why aren't other people as good as he/him?

Various expressions are used as neutral forms, in which case a verb may be added or the personal pronouns may be supported by a self form:

He is as old as I am.

He loves me more than you do.

They were no more likely to make such an error than he himself.

The self form may take the place of the personal pronoun:

No one could do this better than herself.

After the prepositions 'but', 'except', and 'like' the objective case is used:

Nobody else knew about it but me.

They are all clever except him.

People like us are always happy to give a helping hand.

We is used to mean:

  • the speaker plus others: We (the children) had taken so little care of our pets!
  • the speaker and everyone else: We live to learn.
  • the speaker (used by rulers, authors): We, the Queen of England, decrete .
  • the person addressed, with a patronizing tone to children and the sick:

Can't we open our mouth a little wider?

How are we this morning?

You is the form used for the 2nd persons singular and plural. We can make the number clear by additions: you sir, you are all welcome, you kids.

'You' may be used for the person(s) addressed plus others (even the speaker may be included): You can never tell.

'You' is not normally included with the imperative: Go home!, but it may be used for emphasis: You stay in!

It Refers to singular nouns designating a thing: a chair, a house, a book. When referring to collective nouns it or they is used. 'It' may refer to the content of (part of) a preceding clause or sentence. In content this 'it' approximates 'that', which is more emphatic: You are late! Is it really true? It is not my fault.

Certain verbs are to be found with 'it' as the object referring to some fact already mentioned; without an object, they refer more vaguely to the fact mentioned (find out, forget, know, manage, mind, refuse, remember, show, tell, try, understand):

It all happened a long time ago.

He was dying and he knew it.

'It' may refer to the content of/part of a following clause or sentence, and in this case it is called anticipatory it:

It is unbelievable; they actually welcomed us.

It might be of interest if you set down a few of my thoughts.

The 'anticipatory it' occurs:

  • in statements concerning time, distance, weather: it rains, it is sunny, it is Sunday, it is a long way to our house;
  • as an indefinite pronoun, subject of impersonal verbs: it appears, it says, it is easy;

The emphatic it gives information as to identity: Somebody sat behind him, I saw it was his brother.

The demonstrative it is used in the construction it + be + predicative in the nominative:

Who is it? - It is I.

It was he who discovered the missing clue.

'It' may function as a grammatical subject in the construction it + infinitive, gerund or an apposition:

It is nice of you to come.

It is no use crying.

Modifying it functions as object after a number of words which are usually nouns or adjectives.

We would sleep out on fine nights; and hotel it, and inn it, and pub it when it was wet.

The lack of common gender pronouns in the 3rd person singular creates a difficulty. In colloquial speech and informal written English, they is used. In very correct language, he or she is used:

Everyone, if they were honest, would say the same.

If a person had not got the money, then he/she could just not pay.

If the situation makes it plain that only one gender is in question, naturally only one pronoun is used. In literary English the masculine pronoun is used even when the statement applies to both sexes.

In the case of nouns denoting a person of either sex (friend, person, student), the use of pronouns acts as shown. For 'baby', 'infant', 'child', when we do not know the sex, 'it' is a solution.

The pronoun myself is preferred to the pronoun I in the following cases:

  • after 'but', 'than', and 'as': All were there but myself;
  • after a copulative verb: The students you ask about are Mary and myself;
  • in absolute constructions: The party went on, he and myself being in the rear;
  • after 'and' and 'like': It is not easy to find a good friend like myself.

Other self-forms may also replace the corresponding personal pronouns in some of the cases mentioned above.

The verbs 'write', 'sing', and 'play' are followed by the prepositional dative where there is no direct object expressed: Read to us or I wrote to her, but He is reading her the book or I wrote her a letter yesterday.

Verbs like 'describe', 'mention', 'propose', 'introduce', 'listen', 'prescribe', 'announce', 'suggest', 'prove', are always followed by the prepositional dative: Will you listen to me for a moment?

The indirect object of the verbs 'arrange', 'begin', 'propose' is usually put after the direct object: Who arranged things for you?

The pronouns 'it', 'you', 'we', 'they', may function as indefinite pronouns:

We do not have good results in our work when we are tired. They say he is a good painter.

You can never tell if a man is good or bad before you know him very well.

'It' may be used as subject for impersonal verbs: it seems, it happens, it is said.

b. Possessive Pronouns

The possessive adjective agrees in gender and number with the possessor and not with the thing possessed. It can be used only before a noun. The possessive pronoun stands alone. The possessive pronouns are: mine, yours, his, hers, its, ours, theirs.

The possessive pronoun 'its' is very rarely used, but it could be used in such a sentence as:

The cherry-tree gives its share of colour to the garden and the lilac-tree gives its.

The possessive pronouns are used in such phrases as My best wishes to you and yours from me and mine and in conventional ending to letters: yours sincerely/faithfully.

The possessive pronouns can act as:

  • the subject of a sentence: Your car is old, but ours is new.
  • a subject complement of the verb 'to be': This is not your book, it is mine.
  • the direct object of a verb: You are using Mary's pen today and Mary is using yours.
  • a prepositional object: Somebody parked his car in front of ours.
  • part of a comparison: My teacher of English is older than yours.

The possessive pronoun can also occur in preposition phrases beginning with 'of' to qualify a noun group; the construction suggests that we are referring to one of a group of persons or things: John is an old friend of hers.

c. 'Self' Pronouns

The self-pronouns are formed by adding 'self' or 'selves' to the possessive adjectives of the 1st and 2nd persons, and to the objective case form of the personal pronouns of the 3rd person. They are used both to show that the subject and the object of the verb are the same person or thing (reflexive) and to identify or emphasize (emphasizing).

The emphasizing pronoun is always strongly stressed and it is used for the sake of emphasis, generally to point a contrast such as:

You yourself told me the story.

It can go after the word it stands for, but it is usually placed at the end of the sentence:

I saw him do it myself.

In this case the person denoted by the subject and the person denoted by the object are not identical. The emphasizing pronoun could be omitted without altering the sense of the sentence.

Sometimes emphasizing pronouns have the meaning 'alone' or 'without help', in which case they generally have 'by' with them:

The little girl travelled from London to Moscow by herself.

'All' can be used with this construction as an intensifying word:

Don't you feel lonely living here all by yourself?

The meaning 'without help' can be suggested without 'by':

You can't do all the work yourself in a garden as big as this.

The reflexive pronoun indicates that the action expressed by the verb passes from the subject back again to the subject and not to any other person or thing:

He shaves himself every morning.

This pronoun may have either a strong stress or a weak stress. It has a strong stress when a contrast is stated or implied:

She thinks only about herself, never of other people.

The reflexive pronoun can be:

  • a direct object: The hunter shot himself accidentally.
  • an indirect object: You gave yourself a great deal of work.
  • part of the predicate of the verb 'to be', in which case it always has the strong stress: That's better! You are yourself again.
  • used after a preposition: She looked at herself in the mirror.

Note: If there is no doubt about the identity of the person denoted by the pronoun, the simple, not the reflexive form of the pronoun is used after a preposition: We have the whole day before us.

The reflexive pronoun is sometimes used instead of the ordinary personal pronoun in order to clear the meaning: She suspected that they recognized her sister but not herself, and sometimes because the self-form is felt to be more polite: My wife and myself were invited to the party.

A few verbs are practically always used reflexively: I pride myself on always having a tidy garden. Some verbs are reflexive in certain senses: I hope the children will behave themselves.

The verbs 'acquit', 'enjoy', 'behave', and 'apply', can be used non-reflexively: I enjoyed the concert very much.

Occasionally, the reflexive pronoun is used in a reciprocal sense: They were busy arguing among themselves. (= with each other).

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